Navy recruits get taste of home at Hammond club dinner

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November 27, 2014 – Elvia Malagon

U.S. Navy recruits got a break from rigorous boot camp training Thursday as they ate dinner and called their families.

The Hammond Mohawks Athletic and Conservation Club hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for 45 U.S. Navy recruits from the Training Support Center Great Lakes. The dinner is part of the Adopt-a-Sailor program, which dates back to World War I. Typically, families take in sailors and provide them with a home-cooked meal for the holidays.

Peter Vukovich, a member of the club, said club members started preparing for the dinner Wednesday afternoon.

Wearing shirts stating, “We serve those who serve,” club members and their families served the men Thanksgiving staples such as ham, green-bean casserole and mashed potatoes.

“We don’t want them standing in line,” he said. “We actually serve them a family-style meal at the table.”

AT&T donated prepaid phones for the recruits and gave them a prepaid phone card to take with them. Nick Zwier, the club’s president, said area businesses and restaurants also donated items for the dinner.

The club was lined with a large American flag and U.S. military service flags. Zwier said many of their members are veterans or come from families with a history of military service.

Club members left a small round table empty to symbolize military members who went missing or died in combat.

William Collins, 20, of South Carolina, said he was able to call his father during the event who was excited about the unexpected phone call. The two talked about his upcoming graduation from boot camp.

“The food was great,” Collins said about the dinner. “Better than our food we had in boot camp.”

After dinner, the recruits were free to go online or call their families. Other recruits watched the Chicago Bears football game or played video games.

Lance Basilio, 19, of San Francisco, said he liked that the dinner provided them with a more relaxed environment than boot camp.

“I see them every day but not like this,” Basilio said as he strummed an acoustic guitar.

Zach Hansen, 18, of South Dakota, said the dinner was a break from the stress of training. He said he also liked talking to “regular people” at the dinner. The last time he had spoke to his family before the dinner was about three weeks ago.

“It’s good to catch up with everyone,” he said.

Steve Krzanowski, the club’s second oldest club member, joined the group for the day. The 89-year-old man said he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

He said he advised the recruits to take advantage of educational opportunities provided by the U.S. Navy.

“They’re a real nice bunch of fellas,” he said.