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Church offers Navy recruits a taste of home for Thanksgiving

Recruits stationed Naval StatiGreLakes were treated special Thanksgiving dinner last week New Life Lutheran Church Lake Zurich. | Natalie Hayes/For

Recruits stationed at the Naval Station Great Lakes were treated to a special Thanksgiving dinner last week at New Life Lutheran Church in Lake Zurich. | Natalie Hayes/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 1, 2014 3:36AM

A group of Navy recruits stationed far from home at the Naval Station Great Lakes were treated to a special Thanksgiving dinner last week by a Lake Zurich church community.

The trainees hadn’t watched TV, touched a cell phone or enjoyed a home-cooked meal in more than six weeks — so being able to enjoy a day of football, games and food proved quite a treat.

For the seventh year in a row, New Life Lutheran Church in Lake Zurich hosted the annual Thanksgiving celebration to honor the young servicemen, who at 18 to 19 years old were away from their families on Thanksgiving for the first time.

After finishing a traditional meal with all the fixings, the recruits sang songs for about 50 church members and neighbors.

Clearly pleased to see a TV for the first time in weeks, the 12 young men were all smiles as they caught part of the game between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions before heading outside for an old-fashioned soap box derby race.

Starting on ramps positioned at the top of a hill in the church’s Old Rand Road parking lot, the recruits raced in pairs down the hill in makeshift race cars while their fellow future soldiers cheered them on.

Later, they took a trip across town to Brunswick Zone to bowl and enjoy pizza for a few hours.

After the day of leisure and Thanksgiving fun, the recruits returned to the naval base, where their daily routines are quite different.

“It’s like following the laws of regular society, but then double that,” said Lou, one of the trainees. “There’s little mental stimulation and a lot of punishment on a daily basis, so it’s incredibly refreshing to take a step away and be here today.”

During the 12-week training to become a Navy sailor, the recruits live without TV or movies, social networking, cell phones or even being able to read the news or follow sports.

Sleeping in a room with 87 other recruits and waking up each day between 4 and 6 a.m. to shower, shave and clean means there’s little sleep.

Contact with family also is limited. Since the trainees first arrived at boot camp in mid-October, they’ve only been allowed to call home three times. Email and text also are prohibited, but they can send letters once-a-week on Sundays.

While describing all the hardships of daily life in boot camp, not one of the soldiers-in-training complained.

“I do this to protect my country, to provide for my family and to see the world,” said Lou (last names weren’t provided due to naval base privacy rules). “Plus when I saw the uniforms I decided they were pretty sweet.”

As an extra Thanksgiving treat, the 12 Navy trainees were allowed to call home and wish their families a happy holiday.

High school students Maksym Kolomagets and Malachi Skiby, both freshmen at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, were two of about 60 area residents and members of the church who helped the Navy recruits celebrate Thanksgiving.

Kolomagets and Skiby bundled up to help run the soap box derby outside.

“Spending time with them really makes you realize all the sacrifices they make, and helps you appreciate everything they do,” Kolomagets said.

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