What Is Navy Boot Camp Like? - Part One
Author at Navy Boot Camp in 1967
Navy Boot Camp Training
From June of 1967 until January of 1971, I served on active duty in the U.S. Navy. For me, the most challenging part of my time serving was boot camp training during the summer of 1967. During a nine week period, I transformed from a civilian into a member of the military. I learned how to swim, march, fight fires, shoot a rifle, and I became acquainted with basic naval seamanship.
Part one of this naval boot camp article recounts my Navy boot camp training at Great Lakes, Illinois, from June 15 through June 17, 1967. Part two then describes the nine weeks of formal recruit training leading up to our graduation.
Joining the Navy
Until I received an army draft induction notice around the middle of November of 1966, joining the U.S. Navy was the last thing on my mind. However, confronted with the possibility of going into the army right before Christmas or volunteering for the navy or air force, I chose the navy because chances were slim that I would be expected to fight in Vietnam.
I was a student at the University of Michigan when I received my draft notice. Since I was entitled to a 1S military deferment until the end of the school year in May of 1967, I had time to enlist in the navy.
During the break between semesters right before Christmas, I signed up for the navy at a recruiting station in Racine, which was about 20 miles away from my home. A lot of young men were enlisting in the navy at that time to avoid the draft, so I had to get on a waiting list and enter the navy on a 120-day delay program. The earliest I could be sworn into the navy was on February 15, 1967. After being on inactive reserve status for 120 days, I would begin my boot camp or basic training on June 15.
Seal of Recruit Training Command - Great Lakes, Illinois
Transitioning From Civilian to Naval Life
On the morning of June 15, my dad drove me down to the military induction center in Milwaukee. After a parting handshake, I was left on my own and I was on my way to a new stage of my life.
I remember signing a few forms and then being bussed with four or five other Wisconsinites to the train station for a short ride down to Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Great Lakes is located next to Lake Michigan, between North Chicago and Waukegan. It would be the site of my boot camp for the next nine weeks.
After about a 45-minute ride, we detrained and were met by navy personnel from Great Lakes. They quickly collected us and arriving recruits from other areas into a formation and marched us to the transient barracks on base.
The barracks were an old and wooden World War II-type of vintage. For the remainder of that day and night, we quartered there. Navy personnel who were constantly watching us barked commands. It seemed like we always had to get in line and hurry up and wait. When it started to rain in the afternoon, we were all issued ponchos while standing outside.
June 16 Processing
On the morning of the sixteenth, most of us in the transient barracks found out that we would be members of Company 266. The first order of business was going to the base barber to get very close hair cuts. Some of the recruits with almost shoulder-length hair just about cried when they lost their locks and looked at their buzz cuts. My hair was already cut short, so it was no big deal to me.
Following the haircuts, we were marched over to medical and dental personnel for check-ups. We were also given a bunch of immunizations via needles in a gun.
The final business of the day entailed going to the quartermaster and drawing our clothing allowance, which was deposited into individual sea bags. Our military uniform included two pairs of dungarees, two work shirts, white undershirts, sets of skivvies, pairs of navy blue socks, one pair of dress shoes, one pair of working boots, blue and black belts, a blue work jacket, peacoat, rain coat, watch cap, a neckerchief, and two or three white covers. We also drew a sewing kit, stationery, envelopes, and pens, shaving gear, Bluejackets Manual, and two pairs of white leggings. Before drawing our military issue, we were also measured by tailors for our dress white and dress blue uniforms.
After filling our sea bags, our company of about 60 recruits was marched to a cluster of barracks in a two or three-floor modern building. Our living area for the next nine weeks was in an open bay with bunk beds along both sides.
After finding our bunks and getting settled, it was necessary to stencil our identifying information onto all of our issued clothing. Under the guidance and orders of a petty officer, we were instructed regarding where on each item of clothing we were expected to stencil our names and service numbers. We also had to take our needles and spools of thread and use them to hem up the cuffs of our dungarees. After stenciling our peacoats, they were all deposited into a pile on the deck for rolling so that they would easily fit in seabags.
Prior to taps and lights out at around 2100 on that day, we were assigned to a watch schedule to guard the aft and front ladders of the deck (floor.)
June 17 - Processing
After reveille at around 0430, we marched to the galley for breakfast after shaving and getting dressed. Our uniform for that day was a pair of dungarees, a blue work shirt, leggings, and work boots.
Following a short time that was alloted for boxing up our civilian clothes and shipping them to our home addresses, we marched to the testing center to sit for two or three hours. In order to aid the navy in assigning recruits to suitable occupational specialties, we had to take a bevy of tests. The tests included English language and math competency, mechanical aptitude, a sonar tone test, hearing Morse code, and an artificial language test.
For one half hour following lunch, we all reported to the Natatorium for our first swimming test. Since I disliked the water and couldn't swim, the swimming test was absolutely terrifying. I had to go up into a tower and onto a diving board ten feet above water that was ten feet deep. In response to a command, I then had to jump feet first with my arms crossed over my chest into the water. After surfacing, I started thrashing in the water. Before my head went under the water, a long pole was extended for me to grab so I could be fished out of the water. Having been identified as a non-swimmer, I had to report later for swimming instructions.
Next, we were issued M1 rifles to be used for marching and doing exercises in the form of a 96 count manual of arms. The 96 count manual consisted of doing exercises together in precision with the M1. Besides using the rifle for present arms, right and left shoulder arms, and parade rest, we exercised by putting the rifle over our heads and to both sides of our bodies.
After the first 96 count manual practice and dinner, we returned to the barracks to set up our daily living routine. We were assigned to different platoons and given various duties in the barracks. While other platoons were responsible for cleaning the head (lavatory), windows, and company commander's office, our platoon had to sweep and mop the deck and all ladders (stairs.)
Following taking showers in a common area, it was time to wash our own uniforms. This was done by putting them on concrete slabs and using stiff brushes with soap for cleaning. Our washed uniforms were then either hung outside when the weather was good or put into a drying room when there was rain.
During the last 30-45 minutes of the day prior to taps or lights out at 2100, we were expected to study our Bluejackets Manual and memorize the orders of a sentry. There was also time to shine our shoes and write letters home.
In part two, I will describe our nine weeks of recruit training leading up to our graduation.
© 2017 Paul Richard Kuehn