Great Lakes Naval Station brass are trying to boost the number of young sailors participating in a program dating to World War I by reminding them that local families want to do something nice by offering them a home-cooked meal on Thanksgiving Day.
This year, families living within a 50-mile radius of the base near North Chicago have an opportunity to participate in the Adopt-a-Sailor program. Navy officials said a lottery system is back to give everyone a fair chance to feed the special military guests from Training Support Center.
About 250 sailors were hosted by 125 families last year. While that's down from the roughly 600 Great Lakes participants adopted by 196 families in 2010, Training Support Center spokesman Matt Mogle said the higher participation likely was because more sailors were on the base at that time.
Mogle said the Navy wants more than 250 sailors to voluntarily leave the base for Thanksgiving on Nov. 28. He said the base is on pace to receive at least 300 requests by an Oct. 31 deadline.
"This year, we are really promoting the program to educate the sailors on what a great program it is," Mogle said. "I think this year our number of sailors will be up from last year, but I can't really guess."
Great Lakes' commanding officer, Capt. Henry Roux Jr., and Training Support Center Command Master Chief Jeffrey Kirby said the sailors should get out and experience something new. Roux said families have a "big heart" by registering to welcome young military personnel into their homes.
"Being on the base by yourself is very difficult at the holidays, so there is no reason to sit in your barracks when there are people willing to invite you to dinner," Roux said in a message to the sailors. "So take advantage and make your own memory."
Mogle said the base rotates opportunities for families and organizations to be part of Adopt-a-Sailor. He said the Training Support Center sailors are made available to families, while churches, American Legion posts and the like host Recruit Training Command personnel.
Sailors will be assigned to families in groups of two, three or the maximum four. Pickup will be no later than 8:30 a.m., and sailors must be returned to the base by 9:30 p.m.
Naval officials said underage alcohol consumption is prohibited, and a family is responsible for confirming a sailor is 21, the legal drinking age.
Great Lakes has the Navy's only boot camp at Recruit Training Command. The Training Support Center includes the Surface Navy School and has an average of 13,000 students passing through annually.
Adopt-a-Sailor applications are available on facebook.com/TrainingSupportCenterGreatLakes or netc.navy.mil/centers/tscgl/. Mogle said all forms must be received at Great Lakes by 3 p.m. on Oct. 31 to be eligible for the Nov. 13 lottery.
Training Support Center typically has a student population of 4,000. Some sailors who have friends and family in the area may join them for Thanksgiving or stay on the base for a galley spread staged by the Navy's Morale, Welfare and Recreation division and USO of Illinois.
Great Lakes' Adopt-a-Sailor program for Thanksgiving dates to World War I. Roux said he appreciates the Chicago-area civilians who participate.
"It's nice to have a community that's still willing to open up their homes for a day and make the sailors feel welcome and like they're home, even if it's for one day," Roux said.