After one long year of DEP, 8 long weeks of boot camp at RTC that I thought would never end, one very long night of staying up burning my blue candles for Battle Stations and the most wonderful phone call from my new Sailor that lasted all of 10 minutes because he was so tired after Battle Stations, PIR weekend was FINALLY here!!!
First some advice, as soon as you get your form letter from your recruit telling you their address and their PIR date make your hotel reservations immediately. You can always cancel them should they get ASMO'd, but you do want to make sure you have arrangements for the hotel you want - they all do book up pretty full each weekend. Second piece of advice, there are TONS of hotels in the Waukegan/Gurnee area. Don't just look at the ones that will come on the flyer in your packet. Go to tripadvisor.com or expedia.com and search hotels in Waukegan, Gurnee, Lake Forest, Libertyville, etc... and definitely ask if they offer a Navy Graduation discount when you call... definitely call them directly, don't book online you won't get the discount.
We decided to stay at the Springhill Suites by Marriott in Waukegan/Gurnee. It is in the Fountain Square area surrounded by a Super Walmart, Chili's, Chipotle's, Buffalo Wild Wings, Denny's, McDonalds, etc... you could walk to any one of these places with no problem if you are tired of sitting. I cannot say enough about the Springhill and their staff. The hotel is very new, I believe about 3 years old. We booked a two-queen bed suite, which had two queen sized beds, which were separated by the living area by a desk with glass sliding windows you could close for a little bit of privacy. The couch in the living area pulled out into a sofa bed, which worked out great when our new Sailor came back Sunday morning and just wanted to nap but his younger siblings were still snoozing away in their beds. The living area also has a mini-fridge, coffee maker and a microwave. The bathroom is divided into two parts. One room of the bathroom has a shower, which has three separate spouts with two focused on your back, and it also has a sink. The other room of the bathroom has the toilet and the sink. Both rooms close with sliding doors. This was very convenient as we ended up with an extra sailor who didn't have family with him over liberty weekend so the boys could use each facility at different times and still have their privacy. The staff was beyond wonderful! They were always willing to answer questions helpfully and with a smile. Their bartender Chuck, who actually works at Great Lakes, gave so many helpful hints - like how to get to GL RTC the backway without encountering all the traffic on Buckley Road. (Take Lewis Road!) The overnight maintenance staff actually opened the breakfast bar and got milk for my daughter at 1 a.m. because they didn't sell milk in their market. They also let our group take over the pool & patio area for a pizza party for our sailors on Sunday. I highly recommend this place! You will definitely not be disappointed if you stay here.
After driving 7 1/2 hours for what should have been just over a 5 hour drive, we went on over to the Ramada for the Meet & Greet. I cannot stress enough how awful this place was. This is NOT a N4M only M&G, this is open to any & all Naval families which is wonderful, but I was only interested in finding the moms/wives/girlfriends/dads from N4M that had literally become my Navy Boot Camp Rock over the past 8 weeks. These people have become like family to you... you have shared your concerns, your fears, your tears, your laughter, and sometimes have stayed up until the wee hours of the morning with you burning blue candles for Battle Stations for your recruits to become sailors and praying that they have passed their PFA's, Academic Tests and ultimately Battle Stations. All you are going to want to do when you walk through the door to the M&G is to find these people who now carry a piece of your heart with them and give them a great big hug. There is no other feeling in the world like hugging someone who has lifted you up during these 8 months. It's like you've found your long lost friend, and I did not get that experience while at the Ramada. It was so dark I couldn't even find my own daughter and mistakenly took another child by the hand. This M&G is held in a bar, has a distinct moldy smell, had broken glass all over the parking lot (no wonder someone from our group got a flat tire while there!), and over priced drinks. $2.50 for a soda! After spending 45 minutes there literally arguing with people who were not N4M who were taking friendship pins & lanyards we made for our N4M family we left and went to Anastasia's Restaurant to meet more N4M members for dinner. This place was lovely. They put us in their private room, which isn't huge but was nice, and we all had dinner, drinks, and could actually sit and talk and hear and see each other. It was wonderful! Yes the service could be a bit slow - I think we overwhelmed them with the number or people and orders, but the food was good, and their prices were reasonable.m If your PIR Group is looking for a nice place I would recommend contacting Nick or Katherine from Anastasia's and set your Meet & Greet up there. Flanagans also has nice facilities for hosting M&G's, but I didn't eat there, just stopped and peeked in so I could inform future PIR Groups of their options. We are not sheep, and do not have to do what the previous PIR Groups have done. Do your own M&G and make it yours, and make it memorable! You do have options, the Ramada does not have the patent on the M&G.
Now for the really important part of the weekend - PIR!!!
Friday morning! I know I didn't sleep a wink all night - I was like a child waiting on Santa! I kept peeking at the clock, just willing 5:30 a.m. to come rolling around so I could wake my husband and three other children up! I was so excited I could barely contain myself. We were all up, ready and met the rest of our party down in the lobby. I had threatened everyone that if they weren't in the lobby by 6:20 a.m., I was leaving without them. We all were in our cars by 6:20 a.m. because we were all so excited to get going and see our new Sailor! We left the hotel parking lot around 6:25 a.m., and there was a line of people waiting on the hotel shuttle. We decided not to take the shuttle because we had so many people in our party, and because I have two little ones still in car seats. We rolled through the gates of RTC at 6:40 a.m., were directed to park right next to the little building that houses the check-in desks (attached to the NEX) and were in line to get checked in. That took no time at all, they were very efficient at checking your ID's and getting you out to begin your walk to PIR Hall. We were in the bleachers right on the floor about 5 or 6 rows up just after 7 a.m. Even when we got there, there were already a ton of people in the bleachers. Unfortunately we didn't get the coveted top row, but I was so happy we were in the right division so we could see our Sailor clearly once he came out. There are no words to describe the actual PIR Ceremony, and I'm not going to ruin the surprise of the ceremony itself for those that haven't experienced it. It will literally take your breath away. Bring lots of kleenex, and if you wear mascara be sure to wear waterproof! The tears will come! Make sure you have your cameras and your batteries are charged and your memory stick is inserted. Between the 11 of us, we had 5 cameras and had some really nice pictures. Do play with your camera before the ceremony starts to make sure you are getting good pictures. Some point & shoots have pictures that come out really dark if you keep it on the automatic setting. I used both P&S's and an SLR and after playing with the different options I found landscape worked the best. Also tell your Sailor to stay put with their division on the floor so after liberty is called you can run to the floor to find him or her! It's the only way to find them with the thousands of people who will all be rushing towards the floor. After liberty is called you will only have 15 minutes to take pictures in liberty hall - so be quick! When you are ushered out the door do NOT take any more photos. Outdoor photos are forbidden, please follow this rule! It's in place as a security measure to keep our sailors and everyone stationed at Great Lakes safe. The rules are all in place for a reason. It will take some time for your sailor to walk back to their ship to pick up their graduation photos, wallets, liberty pass, etc... so be patient. But also be respectful of everyone else around you waiting for their sailors. Always remember there are a lot of families there with young children, so control your language. I was appalled at some of the things being said right over my children's head. Also remember this is a formal ceremony, not a picnic by the lake. Short skirts & short short's are inappropriate today... nobody wants to see your business. Dress respectfully, but comfortably. You will be sitting, and walking a bit. It is really cold in PIR Hall, so if you get cold easily bring a sweater!
Once your Sailor comes back, it's time to go have fun!!! But remember your Sailor has been under a lot of stress and constant commands for the past 8 weeks. All they may want to do is go back to the hotel and chill out. Bring them some comfy clothes to lay around in. Don't be surprised if the first thing they want to do is take a long, hot shower by themselves. They've been taking 5 minute showers with 80 other people for the past 8 weeks, a shower is a luxury right now. Don't be surprised if you ask what they want to do and they have no clue! Again they haven't been able to make a decision for themselves for a long, long time and go into social shock when they have the opportunity to make a decision. All my Sailor wanted to do was visit with family, see a movie, hang around the hotel and eat some food. His PIR was actually on his little sisters birthday so he let her pick the place to eat. We went to the Cheesecake Factory in Lake Forest off Milwaukee Road and had a great time celebrating PIR & her birthday! Then all he wanted was to go back to the hotel to relax and catch up with his facebook, email and visit with family. He kept checking his watch every 2 1/2 minutes, which also wasn't much of a surprise. They are told to be back at X time for muster, and they want to be early so they don't get their shipmates in trouble, which will result in a loss of liberty. Unfortunately Friday night we had 2-3 Sailors who were late for liberty so our Sailors lost 2 hours of liberty for Saturday night. So please have your Sailors back on time. As much as we've missed them and want every minute we can get with them they are now accountable to the Navy and their shipmates. They can and will lose liberty which isn't fair to their new shipmates who are following the rules and being responsible.
Saturday morning he told me to be in the same parking lot we parked in for PIR, which is between the NEX and the Chapel. I was there at 7:30 a.m., and got to see new recruits marching into RTC, as well as PIR Groups still in bootcamp marching and singing their little chants. Then in the distance, I see our new Sailors in their "Peanut Butter" uniforms marching in formation signing their chants and marching so nice! They even did a little performance march once they reached the cross walk. This is an experience not to be missed! You will get the gist of what they've been doing watching them march to the parking lot, get there early so you can see this and go stand on the grass as close to the sidewalk as you can get! Once they are dismissed you can now take your Sailor. Right around 8 a.m. we were in the parking lot letting some other Sailors use our phone to call their families and very faintly in the distance you hear the National Anthem being played. Immediately our Sailors stood at attention, or if in the car sat at attention, it was amazing to watch! Several of them had been in the middle of a conversation and immediately stopped, stood at attention and didn't move an inch. Then you heard a buggle and as soon as the bugle stopped, they immediately picked the conversation back up where they left off without missing a beat. I was SO impressed with this! My point in mentioning this experience is to let you know it will happen, and to please be respectful when it does. So many people around us continued to talk, or drive their cars. If you are driving, roll down your window so you can hear it and immediately stop your vehicle. After leaving base, we went back to the hotel and again they wanted showers. I had an adopted Sailor Son with me who had no family in town for PIR, and he also took a shower and laid down for a bit. After resting, all they wanted was a movie and chinese food. So back to Lake Forest area we go and they went to a Regal Cinema right off Milwaukee to see a movie. Then over to North Brook we went to PF Changs for Chinese Food. They had to be back to base at 6:30 p.m. for Muster, so they didn't have much time with us - but we enjoyed every minute of it.
Sunday morning you have the option of going to religious services with your Sailor. Mine did not want to go, and the weekend being all about him I was fine with that. Back to the hotel for yet another shower (see a theme here), and then to run errands to get his laptop replaced, and to get a cell phone since he needed one for his A-school. There is a T-Mobile right in the Fountain Square area and they have the cheapest monthly rates and highest Navy discount of any carrier I've found. I drove my Sailor there, but let him do all the talking. He was SO proud of himself doing this very "grown up" thing all by himself getting a cell phone and broadband plan without mommies help! It was a kick to just sit there, shut my mouth and let him do it! After that we headed back to the hotel where we met up with a group of moms from N4M that had Sailors in my sons division. All us moms got extremely close during boot camp, and it was invaluable to us to get our Sailors together for a quick pizza & pool party at the hotel. They all sat around eating their pizza and telling us all their amazing stories from boot camp. I highly recommend doing this with your N4M friends. It was a memory none of us will ever forget. The rest of his afternoon was spent just lazing around the hotel, playing on the computer, teasing his brothers & sisters and telling his stories. It really surprised me because he talked about wanting to go into Chicago, but then when PIR Weekend came he really didn't want to do anything much at all other than hang with us (awe!) without the distraction of playing tourist or trying to keep us entertained. Take the clues from your Sailor! The PIR weekend should be all about them because they've earned the right to call all the shots. Unfortunately it seemed the weekend went by all too fast, and it was time to bring my Sailor back to base. On the way back he asked me if we'd consider staying until Tuesday since he was moving over to A school at Great Lakes on Tuesday and would be able to get his stuff from us then. Luckily we could since we had no work or school commitments, and we got to spend almost 3 hours with him during his liberty on Tuesday after he checked into A School. If your Sailor is staying at GL, I would highly recommend being flexible and sticking around. That extra little bit of time was so precious to me. I got him basically all to myself without grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc... eating away some of my time with him.
I've tried to share my experiences to help future PIR groups plan their trips, I found this site invaluable leading up to my sailors PIR. I would be happy to answer any questions for anyone who has them. Above all enjoy the experience. It really is a once in a lifetime event that you will cherish forever. Congratulations to all our new Sailors!