Great Lakes Naval Station celebrated its 100th anniversary Friday with plenty of pageantry before about 6,000 spectators on a field named for the base's first commanding officer.
Nearly 800 recruits graduated at what's become the largest military installation in Illinois and the Navy's only boot camp. It was the first outdoor graduation in 10 years, Great Lakes officials said.
Dignitaries included Vice Admiral Ann E. Rondeau, president of the National Defense University and Great Lakes' former commander, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and Master Chief Petty Officer Rick D. West, who tops naval senior enlisted personnel.
Kirk praised the newly minted sailors and said they're about to see the world on missions that could range from protecting U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf to fighting pirates from Somalia.
"In almost every crisis, the president of the United States asks, 'Where are the carriers? Where is my Navy?'" Kirk said in a speech from a viewing platform at the entrance to Great Lakes' iconic clock tower building.
Great Lakes opened on July 1, 1911, six years after President Theodore Roosevelt first pushed to build a naval base on barren land in the Midwest and far from an ocean. Rear Admiral Albert Ross was the base's first commanding officer and whose name is attached to a field and theater.
Situated between Lake Bluff and North Chicago, Great Lakes expects to graduate nearly 40,000 sailors this year. It also is home to technical training schools for surface warfare.
Plenty of military pomp -- ranging from the Great Lakes band to a color guard that presented flags from all 50 states -- was witnessed by the roughly 6,000 spectators at the invitation-only graduation.
Rondeau came down from the reviewing stage to Ross Field for a close look at the 793 new sailors and saluted them. She thanked the sailors for their willingness to serve the United States, and their families for supporting the military's newest members.
"It is a profound honor to be able to wear the cloth of this nation," said Rondeau, in her dress-white uniform.
Great Lakes' commanding officer, Capt. John Malfitano, noted how the base nearly was closed as part of a realignment in the 1990s. He said support from leaders in Lake County and across Illinois have been important to the base.
"We've been through the good times and no-so-good times together," Malfitano said.
About $800 million has been spent to modernize Great Lakes since 2000. The new construction included replacing 1940s-era barracks and opening Battle Stations 21, a high-tech simulator designed to prepare recruits for any situation before they become sailors.
After the graduation, Kirk said Great Lakes may be in line for $108 million in 2012 for demolition of a health care clinic and construction of a steam energy system. It would come from a proposed $142 billion allocation that gained approval this week from the Senate's appropriations subcommittee on military construction and veterans affairs.
Great Lakes unveiled a rededication plaque with President Barack Obama's name on it at the clock tower building. President William Howard Taft is on the original 1911 dedication.