Navy recruits enjoy a Thanksgiving feast courtesy of Joshua W. Harris VFW Post 2868 in Brookfield. (Photos by Nuha Abdessalam)

Navy recruits enjoy a Thanksgiving feast courtesy of Joshua W. Harris VFW Post 2868 in Brookfield. (Photos by Nuha Abdessalam)

Brookfield VFW helps Navy recruits enjoy Thanksgiving

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About 50 recruits from the Great Lakes Naval Base pose for a group photo with VFW Post 2868 officers on Thanksgiving.

By Nuha Abdessalam

About 50 recruits undergoing Boot Camp at the Great Lakes Naval Base in North Chicago had plenty to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

“This has been so challenging,” said Seaman recruit Cazja Andrades. “These nine weeks have been so hard but such a gift.”

“Everyone here has been such a godsend,” said the recruit who was due to graduate this week with her new brothers and sisters in arms. “We came as strangers and leave as family, which we all needed. It’s nice knowing my family just grew in size.”

The Brookfield community and members of the Joshua W. Harris Memorial VFW Post 2868 set out to do things differently this year, said newly appointed Post Commander Evamarie Duff.

“Among the many donations received and with the help of Mike Cozzi from the Caring Patriots veterans organization, our recruits arrived at the festivities on a charter bus,” said Duff.

Brookfield Post 2868 has been welcoming Navy recruits for 15 years, Duff said. “We’ve had so many donations and other affiliations reaching out and making connections to ensure Adopt a Sailor during the holidays is successful. We’ve been fortunate to raise enough money to provide such services for our sailors.”

Helping entertain the sailors were organizations including Caring Patriots, Will 4Vets, New Lenox American Legion, and Sons of the American Legion. They all helped by supplying a DJ, delicious food, electronics, games, and more.

The annual celebration did not disappoint. The feast included all the expected trimmings of stuffing, cornbread, mac and cheese, sides of salads, mashed potatoes, and the lovely buttered, roasted bird.

“It’s wonderful to see the community so involved,” said Illinois VFW District 4 Commander Eric “Kermit” Morales. “We have had members come in and out all morning leaving behind their phones, computers, tablets with their name on it, for recruits to call family members and loved ones on Thanksgiving.”

Among those helping out was Brookfield Mayor Michael J. Garvey, who loaned his phone for a few hours during the holiday, and Father Michael Ahlstrom from Holy Guardian Angels Parish, who offered a prayer of Thanksgiving.

The recruits had a moment to breathe, relax, and eat.

One recruit, Logan Pyper, said he had much to be thankful for as he reflected. “I have a list of things to be grateful for in my wallet of thoughts,” he said. “I’m grateful for not going hungry, having three meals a day. That alone is so beautiful.”

As for enduring the grueling training they experienced at Boot Camp, the recruits said the first weeks were “the hardest and a complete struggle.”

“We have all had our walls, some of us hit harder than others, but I found that we all could truly relate,” said Pyper. “Moments of feeling down were only met by an unstated understanding and respect that we can and will do this.”

“We have had crazy difficulties and mental and physical challenges,” said Thomas “Nick” VanMatre. “Still, days like this make them feel even more outstanding in that we pushed ourselves to limits we’ve never seen, wholly unfamiliar, and came back with viewing our challenges as the glue that bound us all together and persevered.”

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