In 1994, Recruit Training Command (RTC) Great Lakes became the U.S. Navy’s only recruit training facility. Better known as “boot camp,” recruit training involves a change in the mental and physical capacity of the new recruit. From the first day at RTC through graduation day when new sailors depart, recruits find themselves in a whirl of activity.
How long is Navy boot camp? Within the past year the length of U.S. Navy basic military training (BMT) has been extended from eight weeks to ten.
“We’ve added more leadership and professional development to the basic training toolkit, which sailors can rely on throughout their careers,” said Rear Adm. Jennifer Couture, commander, Naval Service Training Command in a 2022 press release. “This additional training reinforces character development with a warfighting spirit so our Navy is strong, lethal and ready.”
“Sailor for Life,” a new training phase in the additional two weeks, provides recruits with more training in mentorship, small-unit leadership, advanced warrior toughness training, and professional and personal development through the Navy’s MyNavy Coaching initiative.
“The additions were the result of fleet feedback and the hard work of all the staff here at RTC and throughout the Navy,” said Lt. Cmdr. Katy Bock, military training director, Recruit Training Command in a 2022 Navy press release. “Every recruit now graduates with more tools and skills to make them more effective and combat ready Sailors.”
Recruit Training Command continually builds on what it means to be a basically trained sailor. The 10-week BMT program enhances RTC’s ability to supply the Navy with basically trained, engaged and connected warfighters.
When the young men and women arrive at RTC, they know the answer to the question, how long is Navy boot camp? Their recruiters have prepared them.
The recruits are formed into divisions and assigned Recruit Division Commanders (RDCs). During the first week, known as in-processing days, forms are filled out, medical and dental exams given, inoculations administered and haircuts received. During their stay at RTC, the RDCs work together to mold the new recruits into sailors. RDCs are chief petty officers or senior petty officers specially selected for their leadership and teaching abilities. They represent and teach Navy tradition, customs and discipline.
Recruit training is not an endeavor to be taken lightly. The workload is heavy and the recruits must adjust to a completely new way of life. Classroom and skills instruction give recruits information on how to adjust to and succeed within the Navy. In addition to classroom instruction, recruits spend time learning the fundamentals of small arms marksmanship, seamanship, water survival, line handling, and firefighting. Long days and intensive training leave recruits little free time.
During the first training week, divisions enter into the competitive aspects of training. Excellence in academic achievement, military drill, cleanliness and athletics all count toward earning recognition flags. Competition encourages teamwork and develops pride in achievement. The climax of the competitive series is the pass-in-review practice where the best divisions can earn Battle “E,” CNO or Hall of Fame honors. At this point in the training, few are likely asking how long is Navy boot camp?
Toward the end of training, recruits undergo a final evaluation called Battle Stations 21. This 12-hour event culminates in the award of a Navy ball cap to replace the recruit ball cap that each recruit wears during training. The symbolic change of hats indicates their status as sailors in the Navy.
Each week, the commanding officer of RTC hosts an impressive pass-in-review ceremony that attracts more than 175,000 visitors annually. The pass-in-review ceremony marks a recruit’s public recognition as an American sailor.
Through the 1920s and early 1930s, Great Lakes had only an air base and a radio school. Recruit training slowed to a crawl, and was even halted for a time.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese Imperial Fleet. At the time, there were just about 6,000 sailors training at Great Lakes. Six months later, there were 68,000. By September 1942, more than 100,000 Great Lakes sailors were in training. Back then, it is likely nobody was asking how long is Navy boot camp? And if they were, it was because they wanted to get into the fight.
Between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the surrender of Japan Aug. 14, 1945, more than one million sailors were trained at Great Lakes.
By 1950, the Cold War was under way. Very quickly, Great Lakes was as busy as it had ever been. In one week in 1951 the base graduated 98 companies of recruits, matching its record in World War II.
New RTC barracks, mess halls, classrooms, and staff offices, costing upwards of $8 million were built over the next decade. Those buildings served for nearly half a century before the current RTC rebuilding began in the late 1990s.
Navy SEALs began finding new people at RTC. The first experimental company of 37 recruits graduated in December 1967. They were chosen from 250 volunteers and given special recruit training to prepare them for the more rigorous SEAL training to come at Coronado and beyond. Many served in combat in Vietnam.
In 1987, RTC cut the ribbon for the Golden 13 Recruit In-processing Center which now greets every new recruit who joins the Navy.
In 1993, in the wake of the drawdown after Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the Base Realignment and Closure commission decided to shut down Naval Training Center Orlando and NTC San Diego. As a result, in 1998 began the RTC Recapitalization Program, the most ambitious building program at Great Lakes since its founding in 1905.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Great Lakes, RTC continued to do what it did in WWI, in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, training new sailors with a sense of purpose. Supplying the fleet with top-quality, basically-trained sailors ready for follow-on training.
If you ask most sailors about their memories of RTC, the likely won’t reply that they often asked themselves how long is Navy boot camp because these days they likely miss the time they spent at Great Lakes and their time in the Navy.