First of all, here is the link to the Recruit Training Command (RTC) web site, you can save the link, add the site to your favorite places by clicking on the little heart in the upper right corner after the page loads. This is the link to the RTC Graduation web site; there you will find lots of good information.
The day of the PIR plan on being early to get the best seats. You will assemble at MCPON Hall; from there escorts walk large groups to the Drill Hall where the ceremony will take place. While waiting for the walk to the Drill Hall, you might want to go up to the second floor to see the simulated racks of the Ships where you new sailors have spent the last nine weeks of their lives. Also, there are display cases holding not only historical exhibits of the training center, but group pictures of all the Divisions graduating that day. There are commemorative coins, sailor caps, water, soda, and a few snacks available for sale – you might want to take advantage of buying some refreshments because it can be a pretty long wait before the ceremony starts. Wait until you see how BIG the building is where they have the ceremonies in! I know one Mom said she had a panoramic camera, but you will NEVER get this place all in. It's a pretty good walk, wear comfortable shoes (NO HEELS!) and in Chicago, winter comes early, warm clothes are necessary, it is right on the lake, even if you don't see it, you feel it! We dressed nicely, but casually, slacks are fine, I would rule out tank tops and see through shirts, the ceremony is extremely moving, and there is almost a reverence to it. (Seasonal note: Summer is just as hot as Chicago winters are cold; one Mom recommends a wide brimmed hat as summer PIR, depending on weather, is outdoors.)
Take tons of pictures and hopefully you won't be like a broken camera no pictures and me! The kids can order the video, be sure they get it, so you can pick out your sailor. Some moms tell of watching the video over and over, it’s great to have.
Once Liberty is called there is a mad rush – sailors race toward their families on the bleachers and families race toward their sailors on the drill deck. The sailors practice hours and hours for PIR, so should be able to suggest a good meeting place in the Hall (if the ceremony is held indoors), that will be helpful. Be prepared for the long, SLOW walk back to MCPON Hall, which is adjacent to where you will park you car. Also, at some point before your weekend is over, you may want to make sure you visit the NEX (your sailor has to be with you) because there are a LOT of Navy Pride type of items.
Most of the kids say they want to go shopping. Gurnee Mills is HUGE and easy to get to. There is one new store, Gifts to Cherish that has a LOT of great personalized Navy MOM (Dad/Brother/Grandma/etc.) items – such as, plaques, t-shirts, sweatshirts, etc. Many of them just want to go back to your motel/hotel/inn and veg as much as possible. Since they have to be in uniform at all times while in public, they want to get out of the Navy uniform and get comfortable. Take along their favorite “relaxers,” be it sweat pants, flannel PJ's or a T-shirt and mesh shorts, you know what your sailor likes to lay around in – don’t forget socks and/or slippers! Your sailor will set records for changing clothes, every time he/she gets to the hotel they will IMMEDIATELY get out of the Uniform and in to some sweats.
Food is also foremost in their minds. Something about the Navy turns them into eating machines. Take along some homemade goodies, cookies, cake, something they love the best. Feeding them seems to be the most important concern. There is absolutely every conceivable chain restaurant within 20 minutes of the base, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Denny's, McD's, etc., also some nice local restaurants. The base really pumps a lot of money into the local economy. Everywhere we went we were received so nicely. The Uniform is a great icebreaker.
Some of the sailors will have Watch Duty at any given time during Liberty Weekend. I’ve heard that they are usually done in four hours shifts, but my sailor’s shift was only two hours long. Curfew in April 2004 was 2100 on Friday and Saturday and 2000 on Sunday.
Some sailors may be leaving for their A School assignments immediately, so be prepared for a shortened visit with your sailor. Sailors are required to wear their uniforms when they are out in public. They are not allowed to smoke or drive. Follow the rules and make sure to allow enough time to return them to base!
So what to do with your time together? Chicago is WONDERFUL! Fabulous museums, the Aquarium, Sears Tower, Navy Pier (sort of a mega-shopping-amusement complex); there is so much to do and many places offer discounts for Military, some places for the whole family just because you are with your sailor. Go to the top of the Sears Tower, military are free. Take a Trolley around town. You will get discounts for being Military. There is a nice (and funny) guided tour of the city, and you can get on and off as many times as you like. There is Planet Hollywood in town; most sailors will be thrilled with that! Make sure you keep a good supply of quarters because there are quite a few tollbooths on the Chicago highways. The time goes so fast, before you know it you are saying good-bye, and making plans for their first trip home.
Are you still with me? Have I bored you to death? Having second thoughts about going? No, good! Go, enjoy and relish every moment. You will never be prouder of your child or feel more patriotic. My heart still rises in my throat when I hear the words “I am a Navy Sailor” as they recite the Navy Oath. Don't be surprised if your sailor seems changed, that's what Basic is all about. But under it all, they will still be your kid.
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