GREAT LAKES, Ill. - Every enlisted Sailor’s training starts at one place: Recruit Training Command (RTC), but with the arrival of the coronavirus in March, so came a new normal. RTC implemented a 14-day restriction of movement (ROM) for future Sailors at off-site locations to help reduce the risk of bringing the coronavirus to the command should any individual be infected. After initially using local-area hotels for ROM, it is now at Fort McCoy, a U.S. Army training center in western Wisconsin.
“We are grateful to the Fort McCoy Army leadership for their outstanding support,” said Capt. Erik Thors, commanding officer, RTC. “We simply could not achieve the same level of success without this joint-service approach.”
In addition to working with the Army, Sailors from across the country joined RTC staff to help support this new mission.
“The ability to conduct remote ROM for recruits at Fort McCoy is vital to RTC and the Navy’s efforts to continue to train a large number of recruits at a time,” said RTC Command Master Chief David Twiford.
The supporting Sailors came from commands including the Office of the Chief of Naval Personnel, Navy Personnel Command, Navy Recruiting Command (NRC), Naval Service Training Command, Navy Band Great Lakes, Center for Surface Combat Systems Unit, and Training Support Center (TSC) Great Lakes. In addition to the short-term support, previous recruit division commanders (RDC) are assisting for longer periods in between commands, as well as on individual augmentee orders. There are also medical personnel supporting from Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center and Navy medicine reservists.
In preparation for receiving recruits, the transition to Fort McCoy began Aug. 17. A week later, the first recruits arrived for their initial 14-day ROM. The initial efforts to prepare Fort McCoy for the recruits entailed several logistical challenges.
“We had 14 barracks available to us when we first showed up that we needed to prepare to receive recruits,” said Lt. Antoine Washington, RTC’s officer-in-charge for Fort McCoy operations. “The team had [so much to do to] reformat the entire barracks to accommodate our ROM process.”
The knowledge and experience from the non-RTC staff immediately stood out to Washington. Having Sailors from various commands supporting the mission has provided an opportunity for out-of-the-box thinking. Previous RDCs who returned offered a pool of knowledge that was a key component to the successful transition.
“It’s invaluable,” Washington said. “It’s a key component to our success here having the knowledge from different commands and those who were RDCs way back in the day.”
Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Alejandro Calzada, who is temporarily assigned from NRC, believes having a variety of Sailors from multiple commands working as a team has been most beneficial for RTC staff who otherwise may have had a more difficult time in completing the mission.
“With the caliber of sailors at RTC, they could have achieved it, but it would have been very exhausting,” Calzada explained. “Coming here was short notice, but it allowed people to help and not make it as stressful for RTC staff.”
Leaders have even assumed duties outside of their specialty. Everyone contributed to writing procedures, establishing traffic patterns for marching, and deciding protective equipment best suited for use.
Chief Hospital Corpsman Lacy Cromwell, a Navy Reservist on mobilization orders out of Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC) Springfield, Oregon, leads the larger medical operations at Fort McCoy where basic medical care is provided for recruits on hand.
“We do daily and some twice-daily temperature checks to ensure no recruit is showing a fever or any symptoms. We also respond every morning to anyone who is requesting to see medical for any reason,” Cromwell said. “That could vary from an emergency situation or [non-emergent] things such as dermatitis or sunburn. We provide the basic medical care that they need to keep them on site and continue through their training.”
Electronics Technician Seaman Ashley Golden volunteered to assist with the Fort McCoy ROM as she awaits an October transfer from TSC to her next command. She works with the isolation team to get the barracks ready for the incoming recruits.
“The unique part of this mission is I just graduated a few months ago, so the boot camp experience is still fresh in my mind,” Golden explained. “The students here helping out have the best advice to give because we just experienced it. It is different coming from someone who is so much closer in age and experience to the recruits. RDCs just tell you what you should do. Advice sometimes is received better from a peer level.”
Chief Machinist’s Mate Nighel Jackson, who came from Transient Personnel Unit Jacksonville at the Brig, views his current assignment as a learning experience.
“Although I am a machinist’s mate, all of my shore duties have been something outside of my rate that helps me be versatile,” Jackson said. “Right now, I am learning the admin side.”
Jackson believes that everyone at Fort McCoy should harness the power of such a diverse group of Sailors.
“I told the junior people to take advantage of the situation they have here,” Jackson said. “There are prior RDCs that can teach you something beneficial. You can learn from everybody here and everybody can show you different techniques. Almost every job and every rate is here helping. I was able to meet one of my detailers out here to put a face to the name. The networking opportunities are amazing due to everyone coming together.”
The teamwork displayed by the Sailors at Fort McCoy is one of the many reasons for the success of ROM, but it is also crucial in helping the next generation of Sailors join the world’s strongest Navy.
“The Navy recognized early that keeping RTC mission capable during this pandemic was vital to our Nation’s national security,” said Twiford. “That is why you have seven separate commands supporting our efforts at Fort McCoy and scores more coming to help this fall.
“These Sailors assistance allows RTC Great Lakes to continue to meet mission during one of the more trying times in the past 100 years. I can’t say enough good things about having them here.”
The adjusted boot camp training schedule is approximately nine 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 40,000 recruits train annually at RTC and begin their Navy careers.