‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Great Lakes Naval Station in North Chicago | Chicago News

Located about 35 miles from downtown Chicago, the Great Lakes Naval Base is Illinois’ largest military installation and is home to the Navy’s only training camp. It is located within the limits of North Chicago.

Interactive map: More from our series of community reports

The Great Lakes Naval Base covers 16 hundred acres of land overlooking Lake Michigan.

Brandon McPhan, 29, was born and raised in South Chicago and enlisted when he was 20.

“I am proud to be in the military because I can serve my country,” McPhan said. “I can make people proud. I can be that person who changes someone’s life, even though I’ve never met them before.

Upon signing up, Agent McPhan never imagined he would be interested in pursuing the culinary arts, but he did. He was a chef for five years on a ship before returning to the Great Lakes Naval Base.

“I was in school and my brother had just joined the Marines, and my grandmother told me I should try the army,” McPhan said. “It’s something that benefits you, and it’s something you could look forward to for the rest of your life.”

McPhan has spent many mornings and long nights as a culinary specialist.

“We had to get up at 4 am so that we could have breakfast at 6 am,” he said. “The last meal to close was 5.30pm, so we clean until 6.30pm. It was difficult, but it makes you a better person.

Officer McPhan appreciates the challenges of the military who came before him.

“The only thing that can improve society for veterans is actually for people to understand that life was difficult for them back then,” McPhan said. “During the Vietnam War, they didn’t have as many resources as we have now.”

Located less than a mile from the facility is the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center which serves approximately 40,000 Navy recruits each year.

This hospital is a unique partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense and the only federal hospital in the country.

“I think veterans in particular really like to be in an environment where they can see young people on active duty, especially in training, and share old stories from the Vietnam era,” said Dr Robert Buckley. , director of Captain James A. Lovell Federal. Health care center. “And similarly, I think active duty likes to hear the stories of our veterans … I can tell you that nowhere, at least in the VA [Veteran Affairs], are you going to see 2-3 year old patients with their mothers go to the pediatric clinic while they see a 97 year old WWII veterinarian take an x-ray. “

Video: Watch our full interview with Dr Robert Buckley

The hospital was renamed in honor of Apollo 13 astronaut Captain James A. Lovell, USN after the former North Chicago VA Medical Center and the former Naval Health Clinic Great Lakes in 2010.

Christopher Schmidt is an Army veteran and the Executive Director of USO Illinois, an organization founded in 1941 to assist troops and their families with food services and activities.

“My experience in the military has been great,” Schmidt said. “Sadly, I had lost my dad when I was a young teenager and it was almost a tribute to his service when I decided to join him, and it provided me with lifelong lessons, discipline. and leadership that continues today. “

Schmidt served 14 years as an army officer and continued his military career even after his service.

“For me, the most important lesson in life is that you put others first,” Schmidt said. “As an officer in the army, your troops come first, they eat first, they stock up first because their well-being and efficiency motivates the whole team. So for me, whether it’s a dad, spouse, or leader in the USO, making sure everyone is taken care of comes first.

In his current role, Schmidt is responsible for nine centers across the state, including the USO Great Lakes Center.

Center Director Jeremiah Avers of USO Great Lakes and retired Navy Chief Petty Officer says the USO is focused on providing an extra layer of support.

“Our slogan says the force behind the forces,” Avers said. “We’re really trying to give them a home away from home… a free zone where they can come and relax and let their military burdens be stowed away for a short time. we are here to provide that feeling of comfort and peace so that they can take a little break before having to come home and do the tough things our country asks of them.

Video: Watch our full interview with Jérémie Avers

Military wife Krista Schannot and her family benefited from these resources while living abroad in Tokyo for 20 years.

“When your husband is in the military you have to be tough,” Schannot said. “I left my home country when I was 20 and you have to be tough. You are alone in everything.

All of Schannot’s children were born at Yokosuka Naval Base, and often she had to get used to her husband being away for months.

“Sometimes you see people not appreciating what they have, and I see my kids sacrificing vacations, birthdays and you can see others don’t care and that’s what I want them to do. ‘they do, feel,’ said Schannot.

They recently returned to the base where her husband graduated from training camp many years ago. Schannot works as an operations specialist for USO, while her husband trains new sailors.

“For every woman in the military out there,” Schannot said. “I know there are going to be challenges, but if you trust the support the military gives you and each other, and you are married to a wonderful person, trust yourself.”

This is a message that Schannot also conveys to those who have no one in the military, but want to support their troops.

“Exercise your rights first,” added Schannot. “I don’t understand why people don’t vote… Just enjoy the freedom you have. What you buy actually gives you the freedom because someone is sacrificing themselves for it.

She adds that each person has a different experience and is bound by the love of their country.

“It’s a point of pride,” Schannot said. “Those of us who have raised our hands and taken an oath to our constitution do so with selflessness in mind. So, I’m humbled when people thank me for my service, because I didn’t do it to be thanked.

Community Report Series

“Chicago Tonight” Expands Community Reporting. We take to the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. Find out where we’ve been and what we’ve learned using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in Red represent our COVID-19 Across Chicago series; blue marks our “Chicago Tonight” series in Your Neighborhood.

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