The complete guide to Naval Station Great Lakes - We Are The Mighty
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The complete guide to Naval Station Great Lakes

If you had to guess where the largest Navy training station is, would you guess Naval Station Great Lakes? Known as the “Quarterdeck of the Navy,” it’s nowhere near the ocean, but for over 100 years it’s been the go-to spot for all new sailors. In fact, it’s the Navy’s only boot camp! To date, NSGL has trained more than 2 million new sailors via the Recruit Training Command and tech schools embedded on the installations.

But what’s there to do? Well, if you’re there for basic training, you’ll be doing a lot of drilling and learning how to be a sailor. If you’re there for tech school, you’ll have a little more freedom, but not a lot of time. Since NSGL is the largest military installation in the state, it’s massive. There are more than 1100 buildings spread out over nearly 1,700 acres. Because of its size, the base really does operate as its own small town, boasting both a fire department and a police department. Read on to find out what to expect at Naval Station Great Lakes. 

Naval Station Great Lakes Location

Naval Station Great Lakes is located on the shores of Lake Michigan, an hour north of Chicago and an hour south of Milwaukee. In other words, it’s going to be very, very cold. So prepare yourself ahead of time! Don’t skimp on buying that cold weather gear. 

Naval Station Great Lakes graduation
Vice Adm. Mark E. Ferguson III, chief of Naval Personnel and deputy chief of Naval Operations for Manpower, Personnel, Training and Education, salutes as he “troops the line” with Capt. John W. Peterson, commanding officer of Recruit Training Command at Naval Station Great Lakes. Ferguson is the reviewing officer for the July 11 boot camp graduation.

Directions

Naval Station Great Lakes can be reached by car using the following routes.

Heading in from northern Wisconsin? Take I-43 S to I-94 E.

Driving from the south? Take I-65 N through Chicago.

Making the trek from the east? Take I-80 W through Chicago.

Coming from the west? Take I-84 E to I-80 E to I-88 E.

Transportation

Flying to the closest airports: O’Hare International Airport, Midway Airport, General Mitchell International Airport

O’Hare International Airport (29.5 miles) is in Chicago and is served by all the major airlines.

Midway Airport (46.9 miles) is in Chicago and is served by Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, and several other small airlines.

General Mitchell International Airport (49.5 miles) is in Milwaukee and is served by several major airlines and a few small airlines.

Driving would allow for easier trips to Chicago and Milwaukee, but be prepared for a long trip to get there!

midshipmen at Naval Station Great Lakes
Freshmen and upper class Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps midshipmen, along with unit staff members, run past historic Building 1 at Naval Station Great Lakes. The group, from Chicago universities and colleges, which make up the Chicago Consortium, are on the base for their annual 10-day freshmen orientation. (U.S. Navy photo by Scott A. Thornbloom)

Contacts at Great Lakes Naval Base

Base Exchange: (847) 578-6103

Base Operator: (847) 688-3500

Child Development Center: (847) 688-4470 | (847) 688-5562

Chaplain: (847) 688-5610

Civilian Personnel Office: (847) 688-2222

Commissary: (847) 688-2644

Equal Opportunity Office: (757) 322-2785

Family Advocacy Program: (847) 688-3603

Health Care Center: (847) 688-1900

Housing Office: (847) 688-3440

Hunt Military Community: (847) 689-4312

ID/CAC Processing: (847) 688-5550

Information and Referral Services: (847) 688-3603

Inspector General: (847) 688-2258

Installation Address & Information: (847) 688-5550

Legal Assistance: (847) 688-4753

Public Affairs Office: (847) 688-2430 x359

School Liaison: (847) 688-3440

Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office: (847) 772-5251 | (847) 343-8132

Tickets & Travel: (847) 688-5417

Unaccompanied Housing: (847) 688-2590 x218

Veterinary Clinic: (847) 688-5740

Welcome Center: (847) 688-5648

Naval Station Great Lakes colors
GREAT LAKES, Il. (June 5, 2020) Sailors assigned to Naval Station Great Lakes and its tenant commands stand for colors during a ceremony on Ross Field honoring the Battle of Midway. The Battle of Midway occured June 4 through 7, 1942 and it recognized as the turning point for the war in the Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brigitte Johnston)

Mission and Units 

As the Navy’s only boot camp, it’s no surprise that Naval Station Great Lakes is all about its Recruit Training Command. There, civilians get transformed into smart, capable Sailors. Embedded at NSGL are more than 50 tenant commands, including the Military Entrance Processing Command, and the Naval Education and Training Command. The NETC is the largest on-shore command in the Navy and employs more than 24,000 military and DoD personnel. 

Naval Station Great Lakes History

Being the only boot camp in the Navy means Naval Station Great Lakes has its fair share of history. But what it’s really known for is being the location where the first thirteen Black Sailors commissioned as officers.

In response to civil rights protests, the Navy allowed Black men into general service for the first time in 1942. Then, in 1944 the Navy began an officer training program for 16 Black men who were at Naval Station Great Lakes. To ensure they couldn’t pass, the Navy reduced the training time from 16 weeks to just eight weeks. The cadets responded by covering their barracks windows and studying voraciously.

The entire group passed, and it should have been a joyous day.

Except the Navy didn’t believe them. So, the Pentagon made them all retake their final exams and again they all passed.

Notably, although all 16 passed, only 12 were commissioned as officers and one commissioned as a warrant officer. The Navy has never explained why the others did not commission. Some suggest it’s because this rate brought the pass rate of the Black officers in light with the average class of white candidates.

In 1987, Great Lakes cut the ribbon on the Golden 13 Recruit In-processing Center to honor what those first 13 Black naval officers went through.

In 2008, the Navy opened the Naval Special Warfare Preparatory School to train Sailors interested in becoming Navy SEALs. 

Naval Station Great Lakes cemetary
191214-N-CC785-003 GREAT LAKES, Ill. (Dec. 14, 2019) – About a dozen Naval Station Great Lakes volunteers helped place wreaths at the Great Lakes Naval Cemetery on Dec. 14 as part of the national “Wreaths Across America” campaign. This wreath is on the grave of Joseph Gregg, the first recruit to attend boot camp at Great Lakes. (U.S. Navy photo by John Sheppard/Released)

Things to Do Around Naval Station Great Lakes

Hotels

Days Inn by Wyndham Great Lakes (2.5 miles)

Howard Johnson by Wyndham Waukegan Great Lakes (3.9 miles)

Holiday Inn Express & Suites Chicago North-Waukegan-Gurnee, an IHG Hotel (4.6 miles)

Food Scene

Sailors and other DoD personnel should count themselves lucky when it comes to food, thanks to NSGL’s proximity to Chicago! There’s so many options when it comes to places to eat that you’ll never run out of new cuisines to try. Of course the Windy City is known for its deep dish pizza, but don’t skimp on trying the Jibarto sandwich. That’s a Chicago-specific sandwich that’s a fusion of Puerto Rican flavors and features mouth-watering steak, garlicky mayo, fresh tomatoes, lots of onions and cheese. Oh, and did we mention there’s a fried plantain inside?! Delivery choices are plentiful when you call Naval Station Great Lakes home, so be prepared to double up on your PT to counteract all the food you’re going to want to enjoy. 

Activities

Grant Park (38.4 miles) houses the Art Institute of Chicago, the Millennium Park, the Buckingham Fountain, Hutchinson Field, the Chicago Lakefront Trail, and several marinas and harbors.

The Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo (36.1 miles) has hands-on programming and exhibits along with several playgrounds and fun events for kids.

LEGOLAND Discovery Center (38.2 miles) has rides, 4D theaters, life-size mascots, a LEGO store, and millions of LEGO bricks with which you can build things.

Naval Station Great Lakes polar plunge
Naval Station Great Lakes polar plunge. (U.S. Navy photo)

Housing at Naval Station Great Lakes

There are plenty of options because NSGL is so massive. Look for housing in nearby Plainfield, Illinois, Kenosha, Wisconsin, or choose to live on base. As with most DoD installations, there’s privatized housing available as well.

Cost of living in this region isn’t as expensive as some DoD locations on the east coast, but it’s still pretty pricey. It might be most beneficial for you to explore privatized housing. 

Hunt Military Communities offers housing to both DoD personnel and active duty Navy families in a variety of neighborhoods, so there’s sure to be something that fits your needs.

Of course, if you’re heading to NSGL for boot camp, you’ll be in the barracks. Speaking of boot camp, here are 7 universal experiences you can expect when you get there

Single sailors attending tech school will also be housed on base in barracks. New arrivals who are TDY should call the Front Desk for lodging questions. 

Schools Near NSGL 

Because of its size, mil-kids who call Naval Station Great Lakes will have several school options, depending on where you live. 

That means the best thing to do when you get orders to NSGL is call the School Liaison Office. The SLO will help guide you through the options and ensure your mil-kid finds the right school for them! For more information on school options, visit the Great Lakes info page

Naval Station Great Lakes concert
Sailors dressed in the new physical fitness uniform from various commands aboard Naval Station Great Lakes enjoy a free concert by actor Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band at historic Ross Field.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the closest airport to Naval Station Great Lakes?

Chicago O’Hare International Airport is the closest airport at just 29.5 miles away.

How far is Naval Station Great Lakes from Chicago?

Naval Station Great Lakes is 38 miles from the Windy City.

Can retired military get on Naval Station Great Lakes?

Yes, retired military can come to Naval Station Great Lakes.

How big is Naval Station Great Lakes?

Naval Station Great Lakes is over 1,600 acres and includes 1,153 buildings.

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