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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Recruit Training Command (RTC) at Naval Station Great Lakes, the U.S. Navy’s only boot camp, has added millions of dollars of safety precautions for America’s newest Sailors as they train to enter the fleet.
Once used primarily as a ceremonial space for the weekly recruit graduation ceremonies and other large-scale evolutions onboard RTC, Midway and Pacific Fleet drill halls are now equipped to house up to 1,400 recruits in a quarantined, restriction-of-movement capacity for COVID-19 related reasons.
Cmdr. Michael Keppen, military training director for RTC, is very happy with the results of the drill hall transformation.
“COVID has changed the way we operate on base,” commented Keppen. But to get this transformation complete, “everyone involved really moved mountains to make this happen in a short amount of time.”
Temporary partitions were installed in both drill halls allowing two Sailors to share one living area for privacy as well as social distancing. Existing facilities were converted into showers by Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Mid-Atlantic. Additionally, several trailers with shower facilities were brought in to accommodate the large number of Sailors. The procurement of these trailers was contracted out, but NAVFAC called upon the skills of their staff to install water, power, and sewer lines as well as emergency lighting and an entirely new mechanical room including water heaters at both drill halls. View a video of the effort here.
“All of this was done with the intent of making it reversible,” said Ens. Alexander Eleiott, assistant public works officer at NAVFAC Mid-Atlantic. “Once it’s time to use these spaces as drill halls again, we can quickly pivot.”
Lesley Palenske, production specialist for NAVFAC Mid-Atlantic, and a former enlisted Sailor herself, was impressed by the final results.
“The interior of the new drill halls mimic the shipboard life these Sailors will experience when they are out in the fleet,” commented Palenske.
Eric Weaver, Unaccompanied Housing (UH) complex manager for RTC, and a team of nine building managers, along with help from Sailors assigned to the temporary holding unit at RTC did the bulk of the heavy lifting. Seven hundred two-man bunkbeds called “racks” had to be moved into the drill halls to house the recruits.
“These racks weigh roughly 700 pounds each,” said Weaver. “You need a forklift to move them.”
Along with forklifts, Weaver’s team employed pallet jacks, one box truck, and two flatbed trucks to move the unused racks from the 14 barracks or “ships” at RTC into the covered parking structure for staging, repairing, and organization. From there his team distributed the racks to the two drill halls.
Weaver commented that his team moved 245 tons of “heavy metal,” not once, but twice.
“We were done on time and with smiles on our faces,” commented Weaver.
Fire and safety inspectors were instrumental in creating a safe, reliable facility.
“We had [fire and safety inspectors] out there regularly, telling us how to keep our Sailors safe,” Eleiott said.
“I’m proud of our team for coming up with a good, workable solution to keep the cost as low as possible,” Eleiott said. “I think we were able to give the Navy maximum value.”
The operation began with a planning phase in early April and was completed on June 30.
“This was, undoubtedly, the most unusual request NAVFAC has ever had,” explained Eleiott. “But that’s what made it so fun.”