GREAT LAKES, Ill. (CBS) — While some colleges are shut down and others are only allowing a limited number of people in person, one school in our area has been operating full steam ahead throughout the pandemic.
A total of 40,000 students cycled through its campus in the past year.READ MORE: LIVE UPDATES: Chicago Sky's WNBA Championship Parade And Rally
CBS 2’s Lauren Victory took us to Naval Station Great Lakes to show us the extra regimented training underway at the U.S. Navy’s only bootcamp.
Future sailors can’t exactly learn remotely. Machinery repairman trainee Dayde Davis needs big machines to figure out how to fashion a fix should his future ship need a repair.
“We’re in the middle of the ocean,” Davis said. “You can’t really run to a Lowe’s.”
He can’t go to a Lowe’s on land either, at least the moment. Students aren’t allowed to leave the Naval Station Great Lakes for months, as part of the drill to keep the coronavirus at bay.
As many as 25,000 people are on base at a time.
“We don’t have the freedom that we’d like to,” said operations specialist student Deborah Federique Makekau.
But Makekau, from Guam, makes the best of it – especially while away from her husband and 4-year-old son.
“It’s really hard,” she said. “I do Facetime him every day though, so it’s not too bad.”
That kind of communication with the outside world is key for mental health, said Base Commander CAPT Ray Leung. So he ordered Internet bandwidth on the base to be pumped up.
“They’ll watch YouTube a lot, so that’s one thing just to give them that outlet for them to kind of focus on something in terms of morale when they can’t really go out in town,” Leung said.READ MORE: Magnificent Mile: More Trouble For Area That Was Once A Crown Jewel Of American Retail
COVID mode started much earlier at Naval Station Great Lakes than the rest of the U.S. Remember when sick Americans were stuck on cruise ships?
CAPT Leung said the Department of Defense called him on Super Bowl Sunday last year and told him to be ready to quarantine civilians who might have the virus – while not infecting everyone else.
“I think that’s one of the biggest balances that was I really – keeping me up at night,” Leung said.
The cruise ship travelers wound up at a different base, but that jolt to the Great Lakes system led to early safety decisions – taking all boot camp graduation ceremonies and cancelling them, staggering shifts for dining in the galley or working out at the gym, and requiring students stay masked and take classes with a contained group.
“The nation’s security hasn’t stopped,” Leung said.
And it can’t. Ten percent leaves the fleet every year, so the Navy needs new blood.
And though the disciplined trainees have even less freedom than normal, they’re determined to fight for ours.
Victory asked Makekau if she had any hesitation about coming to Great Lakes.
“Definitely,” Makekau said. “But like I said, I’m not going to let it stop me.”
And that’s true pandemic or not.
Another new COVID procedure is that every recruit must quarantine in Wisconsin for two weeks before starting bootcamp.MORE NEWS: Gov. JB Pritzker Hopes To Lift Statewide Indoor Mask Mandate In Time For Holidays
And even with all these precautions, the base hasn’t stayed COVID-free. Base leaders wouldn’t reveal how many cases there have been, but said the Navy has a “robust” contact tracing program.