Naval Station Great Lakes is a large and busy place. More than 20,000 military and civilian personnel work, train and live here. Our training commands and schools proudly graduate thousands of recruits and Sailors every year.
Our mission here at Naval Station Great Lakes is simple: Deliver highly skilled, technically proficient, disciplined and motivated Sailors to the fleet.
Since the first group of recruits reported for training July 1, 1911, more than 3.5 million Sailors have started their Navy careers right here in northern Illinois. Their experience in “boot camp” transformed them from civilians into Sailors, and it is an experience that continues to be a source of pride for all who have earned the right to wear the uniform of a United States Sailor.
Naval Station Great Lakes is the largest military installation in Illinois and the largest training station in the Navy. The installation includes 1,153 buildings with thirty-nine on the National Register of Historic Places. Naval Station Great Lakes sits on 1,628 acres and uses 50 miles of roadway to provide access to the station’s facilities.
You may well wonder how the Navy’s largest training facility, and only boot camp, ended up in Illinois.
Over a hundred years ago, when Theodore Roosevelt was President, he presided over the founding of Naval Station Great Lakes. At the time, it was unheard of — and many people were astounded — to have Naval training be done more than a thousand miles away from any ocean.
The building of Naval Station Great Lakes didn’t happen overnight. It was a novel idea, at the time, to train enlisted Sailors before they got to the fleet. The Training Station at Newport, Rhode Island, only got started in 1881. Before that, enlisted Sailors joined the Navy and went directly to a ship. All their training took place underway.
Not long after the Spanish-American War, in 1902, U.S. Navy leaders noticed a remarkable fact: Many of their best Sailors came from the American Midwest. Why not train Sailors in the same part of the country?
So the Navy started looking into the idea. In 1902, a board of Navy officers conducted a study. Their conclusion? Naval Station Great Lakes should be located on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, in Illinois — in short, exactly where it is today.
Great Lakes was conceived in May 1905 and President Roosevelt announced it a few months later.
The installation is now 100 years old. It, along with the mission here, has been in constant change, allowing us to prepare Sailors for an increasingly sophisticated and technology-based Navy.