Great Lakes

Welcome to the U.S. Navy family. My name is Master Chief Petty Officer (Ret) Don Garcia. I’m here to help you understand exactly what happens at Navy Boot Camp over the next 10 weeks. 

The Transformation Begins

This initial phase is where recruits are introduced to the military lifestyle in the most direct way possible. From the moment they arrive late at night, they’re swept into a whirlwind of activities — starting with in-processing, then moving on to haircuts, uniform and gear issue, and medical evaluations. They also face an initial strength test to gauge their readiness for the challenges ahead. This week culminates with recruits meeting the Recruit Division Commanders (RDC), who will guide, mentor, and push them to their limits throughout their training journey.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Camilo Fernan/Released

Why is this a critical time for your letters of encouragement? In this week of firsts and fast-paced changes, your words can serve as a crucial anchor, offering reassurance in a sea of uncertainty. A letter from home is a powerful reminder of the support and love waiting for them beyond the rigorous training environment. It’s your way of saying, “I believe in you,” providing a much-needed morale boost as they start this transformative phase of their lives.

Before diving into the specifics, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with some important resources, starting with the RTC Commanding Officer’s Letter and Graduation Information page. Have you visited it yet? After reading this week’s update, we highly recommend checking it out as it provides essential details about graduation dates, the Graduation Access Form, and links to RTC’s website that will address all your inquiries. Additionally, you’ll discover a link to the Navy’s Great Lakes area Morale Welfare & Recreation (MWR) page, which offers resources for visiting families.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Spencer Fling


Week One, known as P-Days, marks the true beginning. Recruits are assigned to their division and meet their RDCs. These RDCs transcend mere trainers; they serve as mentors, disciplinarians, and role models, fundamentally shaping the trajectory of every budding Sailor. Addressing them as “Chief” or “Petty Officer” establishes respect and discipline.

Navy uniforms and haircuts replace civilian attire, and they are given a brief call home. Following this, recruits exchange their civilian attire for Navy uniforms, undergo haircuts, and may have a brief opportunity to connect with home via a short phone call. They familiarize themselves with grooming standards, uniform regulations, barracks readiness, and military bearing. Additionally, medical and dental assessments ensure their readiness for the demanding training ahead. The first physical fitness assessment, the P.A.C.E.R, holds significant weight; passing it signifies progression without supplementary physical conditioning, while failure mandates additional training and a re-test in week two

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Olympia O. Martin

Building Endurance Beyond Limits

The first weeks at Great Lakes Naval Station constitute far more than a test of physical endurance; it’s a rigorous mental and emotional trial. Recruits are challenged to cultivate self-discipline, maintaining unwavering resolve and resilience amidst the strains of stress and fatigue. This phase aims to instill a mental fortitude that parallels their physical prowess. It delves deeply into the essence of composure and determination, preparing them to excel under the arduous conditions they’ll encounter throughout their naval careers.

Recruits dive into their military pay paperwork, transition to their designated training ship (barracks), and partake in a divisional commissioning ceremony, marking the official start of boot camp.

Honor, Courage and Commitment

Following P-Days, the rigorous training regimen unfolds, blending physical training, military drills, practical lessons, and classroom instruction. Recruits dive into Navy life, learning rank & recognition, insignia identification, naval terminology, shipboard navigation, and the core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Stephane Belcher

A crucial phase involves the initial swimming qualification, ensuring every Sailor possesses the essential skill to survive in open waters—a vital requirement for all naval personnel. Throughout the ten-week boot camp, recruits undergo a comprehensive series of lessons and tests to shape skilled and mentally tough Sailors, emphasizing seamanship, watchstanding, weapons proficiency, firefighting, damage control, and physical fitness.

With this in mind, recruits will work on four main areas, including:

• Seamanship: Line handling, ship operations, teamwork, and daily routines.

• Watchstanding & weapons handling: Maintaining order, security, and operations.

• Firefighting & damage control: Responding to emergencies.

• Physical fitness: Building discipline and endurance for job performance.

U.S. Navy photo by Austin Rooney/Released

United in Challenge

The voyage through Navy boot camp underscores from the start that success is based on teamwork. Recruits swiftly grasp the significance of solidarity and teamwork. They’re instilled with the understanding that the group’s collective strength far surpasses individual capabilities alone. This period lays the foundation for enduring camaraderie and fosters unwavering trust among Shipmates. Prioritizing teamwork not only equips them for the rigors of training but also ingrains a core tenet for their forthcoming Navy role, where seamless collaboration often proves pivotal to mission accomplishment.

Bridging the Distance with Letters

Letters from home are a powerful source of encouragement for recruits facing the challenges of training at Great Lakes. These messages offer a crucial morale boost and a reminder of the unwavering support waiting for them back home. In the face of demanding training, these letters become a beacon of hope, reminding them of the “why” behind their perseverance. They are more than just words on paper; they are a source of strength and encouragement during a challenging but transformative journey. 

You’re on this journey WITH your recruit, and the best way to stay connected is sending mail. Sandboxx Letters arrive on base the next day with return stationery, a pre-addressed envelope, the return postage paid, photos, and the option to add a gift card. If you’re unsure what to write, start with simple questions about their daily experiences or opt for the Daily Drive letter add-on for consistent support.

Over the next 10 weeks, I’ll share weekly updates about what your recruit is experiencing during their transformation into a Sailor. This path is tough and demanding, but at the end, your recruit will have EARNED the title U.S. Navy Sailor.

Stay tuned for more insights and stories from this foundational phase of your recruit’s journey. 


MCPO Don Garcia, USN (Ret)