'I feel respected': Navy recruits welcomed at Arlington Heights school for Christmas

About 40 recruits from the Great Lakes Naval Station near North Chicago were treated to a Christmas celebration in Arlington Heights on Tuesday.

The recruits - many of them teenagers away from home at the holidays for the first time - enjoyed a beef rib roast dinner. They were able to call or email loved ones across the country and enjoyed each other's company away from the rigors of boot camp.

The NorthWest Bible Church hosted the seventh annual gathering at Christian Liberty Academy.

The recruits arrived in white academy buses, escorted by Arlington Heights police and fire vehicles with lights flashing and sirens blaring.

Volunteers, including many waving U.S. flags, greeted them at the school's front entrance and wished them a merry Christmas.

Seaman Recruit Rashid Ackiss was touched by the reception.

"I feel respected," said Ackiss, 18, of Virginia. "No one has ever done anything this nice for me and probably everyone else."

In remarks at the start of the event, church member and event organizer Bob Stack praised the recruits for enlisting during wartime.

Stack was followed by Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes, a U.S. Army veteran and West Point graduate who teased the recruits by mentioning Army's 17-10 win over Navy in the academies' annual football game.

But despite the rivalry, "we're all brothers and sisters in arms on the battlefield," Hayes said as he welcomed the recruits to town.

"Although you're not from Arlington Heights, we want you to consider Arlington Heights your hometown today," the mayor said.

Seaman Recruit Marco Lopez, 18, called the celebration "amazing." He was looking forward to calling his mom back in Houston.

"I just want to tell her happy Christmas and tell her I'm sorry I can't be there right now," Lopez said. "(But) it's good that I have all my other shipmates here. I'm glad to be spending the day with them."

  U.S. Navy Recruit Joe Michael Fuentes of Texas calls home from Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights. Mark Welsh/
  Recruit Carl Ousley, 23, of Prestonsburg, Kentucky, is among the recruits greeted with cheers and flags at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights. Mark Welsh/
  Volunteers hold flags and greet nearly 50 recruits from Great Lakes Naval Station on Tuesday at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights. Mark Welsh/
  Ivory Aiello, 11, of Rolling Meadows holds a flag and welcomes recruits from Great Lakes Naval Station. Mark Welsh/
  Mayor Tom Hayes welcomes recruits from Great Lakes Naval Station to Arlington Heights. Mark Welsh/
  Nearly 50 recruits from Great Lakes Naval Station visited Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights for Christmas dinner. Mark Welsh/
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