Story by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Susan Damman
SOUTH CHINA SEA – “Mama, Mama, can’t you see, what the Navy’s done to me,” sings the cadence caller.
Recruits march in columns three abreast, like lines of ants crawling to a food source. They concentrate deeply on staying in step with the cadence as their recruit division commanders (RDC) follow carefully alongside, scrutinizing the ranks for any mistakes.
“Used to drive a Chevrolet; now I’m marching every day.”
Ask any enlisted Sailor and they’ll have a story about Recruit Training Command (RTC), often called boot camp. Whether it’s marching; folding, unfolding, and refolding clothes; getting yelled at by their RDC; or the foolish things other recruits did or said, the experience is memorable.
While every Sailor remembers the experience, few choose to go back. RDCs are the Sailors who serve as the primary instructors for recruits at RTC. They are responsible for turning civilians into Sailors.
Chief Hull Maintenance Technician Jeremy Houske, from Thief River Falls, Minn., served as an RDC before reporting to USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). Houske pushed 1,584 Sailors in18 divisions between 2011 and 2014 and some of his former recruits are serving with him aboard John C. Stennis.
The impact of the experience lasts long after graduation for recruits and RDCs alike. Nearly five years after reporting to RTC for his first day in the Navy, Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Andrew Pluss, from Denver, still remembers his RDC, then Petty Officer 1st Class Houske.
“[He was a] big, buff, first class who looked like he had been through a lot, and he was loud,” said Pluss. “When I got there they called him ‘Hooyah Houske’ because he liked to ITE [intensive training exercise] us all. So he was intimidating to say the least.”
Recruits aren’t the only Sailors who learn something at RTC. RDCs also benefit from the training environment.
“My best memory of being an RDC was when I actually graduated my first division, and was on the drill decks with 88 Sailors,” said Houske. “That feeling as an RDC, marching with your division, coming up in front, that was a big deal for me and it never stopped. It was always cool, even after 18 divisions. That was always the neat part for me, seeing the end result.”
Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Carlos Ruiz, from San Diego, was also one of Houske’s recruits in 2013.
“At first, my impression was that he was very strict, very motivated,” said Ruiz. “But during boot camp, I realized that he really cared and had a passion for what he did. It was something he took seriously and took pride in.”
Although Sailors remember their RDCs, not everyone gets to see them again. Pluss was surprised to hear that his former RDC would be at his new command, but his opinion of Houske hasn’t changed.
“I still have the utmost respect for him,” said Pluss. “I wouldn’t be here without many of his motivational speeches in boot camp. I wouldn’t have reenlisted if it weren’t for a lot of the things he had said back in boot camp.”
The lessons Houske preached at RTC motivated his recruits, and taught them the importance of teamwork, staying positive and hard work.
For Houske and his recruits, their relationship didn’t end at RTC, but it has changed.
“To see them and interact on a daily basis and see them still use the core values that we instill in them is really cool,” said Houske. “They’re not afraid to come see me anymore. They understand that I’m not an RDC; I’m the chief now. I tell them, ‘if you ever need anything, you come talk to me.’ The door is always open for that.”
Houske said transitioning from the high tempo of RTC was difficult when he first reported to John C. Stennis.
“He’s calmed down a little bit; he’s still that proactive guy but he’s not that RDC anymore,” said Machinery Repairman 3rd Class Trevor Reynolds, from Lancaster, N.H., one of Houske’s former recruits who now has Houske as his leading chief petty officer (LCPO). “He’s actually an LCPO now, and he’s a pretty good one. He takes good care of us. He’s definitely changed a lot since I got here two years ago.”
Houske said he wanted to be an RDC to make a difference. It wasn’t until after leaving RTC that he realized the reach of his influence.
“No one realizes the impact you’re going to have until you’re done; the impact is overwhelming,” said Houske. “I never thought I would come aboard and have this many Sailors [on board]. I’ve got them in reactor plants. I’ve got them in aviation. I’ve got them in supply. I’ve got them everywhere. I have two in my own division alone. It’s definitely rewarding.”
Having a positive effect on junior Sailors wasn’t the only reward for RDCs. Working with successful senior Sailors presents an opportunity to meet Sailors from other platforms, and to learn a lot about leadership and how to deal with difficult situations.
Houske said he received the best mentorship and guidance possible at RTC. The experience taught him how to interact with Sailors on a personal and professional basis.
“You’re more of a counselor than a drill instructor,” said Houske. “You’re always dealing with situations and things that happen and you have to be able to handle that no matter what those situations are.”
Being an RDC can definitely be challenging, said Houske. After completing the grueling three-month “C” school and receiving on-the-job training by shadowing, RDCs receive their first division. They work very long hours, sometimes 18-hour days, and have little time for their families. They are still expected to be involved in their command, perform collateral duties, and get qualifications.
Houske added that despite the challenges, the experience helped him become a better, more well-rounded Sailor.
For those Sailors who are up for the challenge, Houske recommends doing research. He advises prospective RDCs to talk honestly with their family about what to expect. It’s also important to be in excellent physical shape.
“The Navy is always looking for top Sailors to take these top challenging positions,” said Houske. “Understand you might sacrifice a little family time, but it’s the only place you can transform civilians into Sailors … the reward of doing it is well worth it in the end.”
Being an RDC is a challenging but rewarding experience. RDCs are the first impression new recruits have of the Navy. They are the foundation for what new Sailors come to expect. Sailors remember what they learn from their RDCs; they can still tell the stories of what happened at boot camp years afterward. The impact of the experience is carried with them for the rest of their Naval careers and even into their civilian lives. The Sailors who choose to return to boot camp as RDCs continue to learn about good leadership.
Providing a ready force supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, John C. Stennis is operating as part of the Great Green Fleet on a regularly scheduled 7th Fleet deployment.
For more news on USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) visit http://navy.mil/local/cvn74/ or http://www.facebook.com/stennis74.
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