The Lone Sailor statue near the main gate at Recruit Training Command (RTC) stands as a testament to countless graduates of the Navy’s only boot camp.
Braced against the weather, with the collar of his pea coat turned up, the Lone Sailor stares bravely into the future, accompanied only by hopes, dreams and a tightly packed full sea bag at his side.
What’s in that sea bag, and just how did it became so full?
The answer can be found at three points that mark a recruit’s boot camp experience and provided by dedicated individuals working behind the scenes at Uniform Issue. They ensure a detailed process with a demanding schedule is handled professionally, accurately and delivered on time.
Lynn Kretzer, who has been department head at Uniform Issue for more than 20 years, says it’s a process that continues to evolve and grow.
“This is part of a history-making process here,” Kretzer said. “One of the goals was to reduce the number of items in the sea bag and streamline the process. So there’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of good people involved in our process and we all keep it moving forward.”
The water-resistant nylon sea bag measures 42 inches long and 25 inches wide. When fully loaded with more than 80 items that make up the full sea bag, it weighs more than 45 pounds. It’s uncertain when the Sailors first used sea bags, but the two have long been synonymous.
“You see them lined up, you know people are getting ready to deploy somewhere,” said RTC Uniform Liaison, Chief Machinist’s Mate Michael Bedlington. “When you start seeing the sea bags come aboard the ships, you know, it’s everybody coming on board. You see them in the airports and it’s an instant connection. You see it – you know that person is serving or did serve, most likely. Their life, at least their Navy life, is in that sea bag.”
Ditty bag issue
Soon after Night of Arrival, recruits exchange a rainbow of colorful civilian attire for the standardized bright yellow physical training (PT) shirt, blue shorts, socks and gym shoes — the first Navy clothing they will receive.
Recruits make their way through Ditty Bag Issue, a large room filled with oversized bins that contain PT gear, sweats, underwear, hygiene items, towels and seasonal clothing.
The walls of the room are stocked with more items new recruits will need. An entire side wall and nearly half of another are filled with gym shoe boxes, ranging from sizes 2 youth to 16 adult in various widths. Staff members assist recruits in finding footwear with a proper fit that encompasses motion, control, stability and cushion – all considerations in reducing recruit injury risk.
Hundreds of backpacks waiting to be issued fill half a wall. The back wall has numerous shelves and bins containing both additional and optional hygiene products.
Ditty bag issue items are managed by the Navy Exchange (NEX), which works with Naval Station Great Lakes and RTC to ensure all issued items are in accordance with instructions and standards. NEX employs eight associates at Ditty Bag Issue and 11 associates at the NEX warehouse, a separate nearby site where items are first received and processed.
In addition to PT gear, hygiene items and a water bottle, recruits also receive the Blue Jacket’s Manual, recruit and Navy ball caps, a laundry bag and their sea bag. All those items are considered sea bag requirements and Sailors in the three lowest pay grades are subject to sea bag inspections at any time.
“From their night of arrival – the moment they get here – straight through graduation, everything that happens on the back end, it’s a seamless cooperation between RTC, the NEX and Goodwill Industries to make sure things happen when they’re supposed to and how they’re supposed to,” NEX Operation Services Manager Vicky Prelich said.
On the second day following Night of Arrival, NEX and Goodwill employees partner to issue additional items that will fill much of a recruit’s sea bag.
Included in this uniform issue are sea bag requirement items such as an all-weather coat, parka and liner, belts, blousing straps and watch cap. Recruits also are fitted for three sets of the Navy Working Uniforms (NWU) — the green camouflage shirts and trousers commonly referred to as Type IIIs — that they will wear throughout much of their boot camp training.
Goodwill Industries, which employs 26 associates at Uniform Issue, is tasked with helping recruits find the right pair of safety boots. For many recruits, it’s their first time in safety boots and they will wear-test them throughout First Issue, which usually takes about four hours to complete, to assure they have ample time to adjust.
NEX associates measure each recruit to ensure a proper fit of uniforms in accordance with Navy instructions and regulations. Each recruit receives 11 cloth name tags, which are sewn on to the uniforms by NEX tailors. These uniforms are laundered by NEX, which employs 26 tailors and 23 laundry associates to assure the uniforms are ready for recruits in their ship within 48 hours.
In 2017, 890,000 uniforms were fitted, sized and tailored and 2.8 million pounds of all items were laundered by NEX associates. More than 2.1 million sea bag items have been issued in the last year.
Recruits are fitted for their dress blues and dress whites along with the Navy Service Uniform and coveralls during their third week of training.
Additional body measurements are taken and all uniforms are fitted with recruits wearing their issued dress shoes, which they also receive at Second Issue. Other sea bag requirement items they receive are a fitness suit, white t-shirts, coveralls, various covers, including the garrison cap and Dixie Cup, coveralls, and additional uniform accessories.
Processing uniforms for as many as four divisions at a time, NEX tailors have 10 business days to make alterations, launder or dry clean, press and deliver these uniforms to recruit ships during the fifth week of training. They’ll stand ready for a final check to make sure everything fits and make corrections as needed.
“It’s exciting,” said Levy Mayo, Goodwill assistant director for Uniform Issue, a former chief petty officer who retired after 22 years in the Navy, including three years (1987-90) serving at Naval Station Great Lakes Uniform Issue. “There’s never a dull moment here, because doing business with the military, you have to be prepared for short notice and new changes. When I think about this job, it’s the people who surround me, and the people that work with us, to make this a very successful operation. Everyone has good communication and I’m so happy that every day I can come to work and I can rely on our staff. We have a good partnership. I’m very proud and I really enjoy coming to work.”
Except for inspections, recruits do not wear dress uniforms or dress shoes again until Pass-In-Review. In the hours and days following their graduation, recruits who have now become Sailors will fill their sea bags with all their required items.
Some will take a short bus ride to their “A” Schools at Naval Station Great Lakes. They’ll be greeted by new shipmates — many of whom are recently graduated in the weeks and months before them — who will help unload their sea bags from the bus and into their new barracks. Many other recruits will fly to out of state “A” schools, passing through Chicago’s O’Hare airport with the iconic sea bag at their side.
Boot camp is approximately eight weeks and all enlistees into the U.S. Navy begin their careers at the command. Training includes physical fitness, seamanship, firearms, firefighting and shipboard damage control along with lessons in Navy heritage and core values, teamwork and discipline. More than 30,0000 recruits graduate annually from RTC and begin their Navy careers.
For more news from Recruit Training Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/rtc/.