'It Feels Like Home': Athletic Club Hosts Thanksgiving Dinner for Navy Recruits

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Navy Recruit Training Command (RTC) staff members process family paperwork for RTC's Thanksgiving Adopt-A-Sailor program on Nov. 22, 2018. More than 660 recruits had the opportunity to spend the day with their families off base for the holiday or to be adopted by local civic organizations. The program has been in existence at Naval Station Great Lakes since World War II. (Camilo Fernan/U.S. Navy Released)
Navy Recruit Training Command (RTC) staff members process family paperwork for RTC's Thanksgiving Adopt-A-Sailor program on Nov. 22, 2018. More than 660 recruits had the opportunity to spend the day with their families off base for the holiday or to be adopted by local civic organizations. The program has been in existence at Naval Station Great Lakes since World War II. (Camilo Fernan/U.S. Navy Released)

HAMMOND, Indiana -- It was the first Thanksgiving Derrick Poe III had ever spent away from his family.

But despite being more than 2,000 miles away, the San Diego native managed to find a sense a home among his fellow naval recruits at the Hammond Mohawks Athletic and Conservation Club's seventh annual holiday dinner, providing them with a break from boot camp and the chance to leave the base where they've been stationed for the last eight weeks.

"I'm just so grateful that they were here to open their place up to us, especially on a day like this," Poe said. "It just feels like home to me or at least something close to it."

Thursday's event allowed Poe and 38 others -- who all graduate Dec. 6 from Training Support Center Great Lakes in Illinois -- to not only have an authentic Thanksgiving dinner, but use either a cellphone or computer to speak to their families and friends. They also were able to participate in various activities, like corn hole, and watch the Chicago Bears football game, which made it feel even more like home for Poe.

The 20-year-old's eyes were glued to the screen as he watched his favorite team square off against the Detroit Lions -- something he knew his father, a Chicago native who served 21 years in the Navy, was doing as well.

"I haven't seen a single Bears game all season," Poe said with a laugh. "My dad's been keeping me updated in his letters, though. But this really makes me feel like I'm at home on the couch with him."

Pete Vukovich, who helped create the event seven years ago, said the dinner draws inspiration from the Adopt-a-Sailor program, where families take in sailors and treat them to a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal. The 39 recruits, all men, were able to enjoy turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, corn, rolls and salad.

"I feel it's nice to give them a little of home and holiday, you know," said Suzette Kubacki, a Hammond Mohawks Club volunteer. "It's just giving back to them for going to serve for us."

Vukovich said he looks forward to it each year and finds it incredibly gratifying -- a sentiment shared by the families of the recruits. The organization has received several letters from parents thanking them for hosting the event, feeding their children and allowing them to make calls to home.

"They are all so grateful, and it means so much to us to be able to do this," said Vukovich, who was stationed at the same Illinois training center in 1967. "I'm a Vietnam-era vet. At that time, they didn't have anything like this for us when I was in the Navy. ... And we just know it makes a world of a difference for them as much as it does for us. We're going to continue to do this for as long as we can. It's a wonderful thing." 

This article is written by Olivia Heersink from The Times, Munster, Ind. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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