Navy recruits spend Thanksgiving 2020 on Naval Station Great Lakes base due to COVID-19

Friday, November 27, 2020
Great Lakes Naval Base Thanksgiving
Amid a world-wide pandemic, the tradition of taking recruits off-base to celebrate the holiday has changed.

LAKE COUNTY, Ill. (WLS) -- Hundreds of Navy recruits who usually spend Thanksgiving with generous hosts throughout Chicagoland will stay on base this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

About 800 recruits are impacted this year and will not be able to fan out to various churches, community groups, and veterans organizations in the Chicago area, according to officials at Navy Service Training Command at Naval Station Great Lakes.

Instead, Rear Admiral Milton J. Sands III, commander of Navy Service Training Command, will spend Thanksgiving morning with recruits who will soon finish their training and embark on military journeys around the globe.

For community organizations and churches that host the sailors, the pandemic is forcing yet another change to the normal holiday routine.

"It hurts our hearts because our community loved hosting the sailors the last couple of years, and that was the biggest question. 'Pastor, are we able to do the sailor meal?'" said Pastor Warren Schilf of Immanuel Lutheran Church and School.

Nearly 800 Navy recruits have to spend Thanksgiving on base after an annual event is canceled.

Immanuel Lutheran in Palatine has served dozens of meals. While Thanksgiving this year would have been the church's third year hosting the sailors, others have been doing it for decades.

"It's a sad day for me. It's been a sad week because it's something that was part of my life, and not to be able to continue this year, it's something missing in my DNA," said Casey Bachara, a veteran who has volunteered for 20 years.

Bachara helped organize dinners at American Legion posts in Arlington Heights and Morton Grove. This year, he was looking forward to launching another dinner in Mount Prospect.

Since this year's event will not happen, organizers said they are looking forward to next year.

"Immanuel loves to make desserts, so recruits, when you come next year, be ready to have a full plethora of desserts, and we're going to feed you well," Pastor Warren said.

Meantime, Pastor Warren and Bachara are thanking the military members for their service, and hoping 2021 will offer new opportunities to welcome local sailors.

"God bless them, God bless America, and you know, we'll see you next year," Bachara said.