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Scott A. Thornbloom/Naval Service Training Command Public Affairs
GREAT LAKES, Ill., Jan. 30, 2009 -
Recruit Training Command (RTC) will be running with the Bulls for the next several weeks and perhaps the next several years. The National Basketball Association's (NBA) Chicago Bulls began a partnership Jan. 21 with RTC and the first Bulls Division is now training at the Navy's only boot camp.
"I look forward to a long standing partnership with the Chicago Bulls organization," said Capt. John W. Peterson, commanding officer at RTC, at an enlistment swearing-in ceremony for 30 Chicago-area soon-to-be-Sailors at the Bulls' Berto Center practice facility.
"The Chicago Bulls and the U.S. Navy partnership have many things in common. We really do share many of the same procedures in making each of our organizations work. One of the main throughsts of recruit training that these young men before us will be taught is teamwork. In the Navy, no one man or woman can operate or save a ship by themselves. It takes a team."
The swearing-in event was organized by the Navy Recruiting District (NRD) Chicago, who recruited 30 Chicago-area civilians to be part of the Bulls Division. NRD executive officer, Cmdr. Russell Delaney, issued the oath of enlistment to the new recruits at center court of the Berto Center while parents, recruiters, recruit division commanders (RDC), Bulls management personnel and the entire Bulls roster looked on.
"Their (the 30 new recruits) personal sacrifice begins today. By the way, if any of you players want to raise your hands and take the oath, we are always hiring," said Peterson, in a speech before the enlistment oath was given.
"The pay may not be quite what you are used to… but even the NBA can't beat our schedule when it comes to travel."
Several speakers, including former coach and World War II Navy veteran Johnny Bach, former Navy family member and Bulls announcer Chuck Swirsky and John Paxson, current executive vice president of basketball operations, told the crowd how much the partnership was appreciated and how important it was for the Bulls to recognize and support the new recruits and all members of the military yesterday and today.
"I know what you are feeling today," said Paxson, who played on three of the Bulls championship teams in the 90s, directing much of his speech to the parents in the crowd.
"I'm sure I had the same emotions you are now feeling when my son recently joined the Marine Corps and graduated from boot camp. In the past, I appreciated any time I saw a military color guard or servicemembers at a game, but today I have a new found respect for all they go through and accomplish in the military. And you will too. Today, I just have a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for every man and woman that enlists to serve the country on a volunteer basis."
Bach, who served as an officer on the heavy cruiser USS Wichita (CA 45), told the crowd and new recruits how much their life would change and how much of an adventure they will be heading for.
"Your time in the Navy will be some of the most challenging and some of the very best of times you'll ever have in your lives," Bach said.
Before the enlistment ceremony, the new recruits had a chance to meet and collect autographs from all the players, including this year's No. 1 draft pick Derrick Rose and the Bulls current captain Kirk Hinrich.
"It's great having them here and we definitely appreciate what they have volunteered to do," said Hinrich, the Bulls starting point guard.
"It's been a really cool day getting to know each of them a little. It's important that we support them for what they do, keeping us free."
That sentiment was echoed and returned by all the recruits, who were dressed in Navy athletic warm-up gear for the ceremony.
"I loved this day. I got to meet some of the members of my unit and got to meet some of my favorite players of my favorite team," said Efrem Lee, 23, from Chicago. Lee plans on being a Navy dental technician and grew up on Madison Street, two blocks from the United Center where the Bulls play their home games.
"This is a great thing the Bulls are doing being a partner with the Navy and my new division. It really means a lot to have the support."
Fellow Bulls fan, Jeff Gerske, 21, from Frankfort, Ill., said the partnership will motivate him to do well in the Bulls Division.
"It was very enjoyable to be in the company of the Chicago Bulls. It was neat to hear about the similarities between running an organization like the Bulls and a recruit division," said Gerske, who hopes to become a Navy SEAL.
"Being a partner with the Bulls definitely motivates me and hopefully the division will do well. It will give us more incentive and help to form a deeper bond with the other recruits."
Basic training for the Chicago Bulls Division will last nine weeks at RTC at Naval Station Great Lakes. During their training the 30 Chicagoland recruits, who were sworn-in at the Berto Center, will merge with the balance of their shipmates forming an 88-man Chicago Bulls Division. As they train they will display and march with a Bulls Division flag wherever they go. As part of the Chicago Bulls Division, the recruits will also receive special attention from the Bulls in the way of player appearances during the course of their training.
"I plan on making several trips to the base to see how the division has progressed," Paxson said.
"We also are planning to have some of the players make a trip to visit the division. I also am very interested in attending the division's graduation."
After the ceremony, the Navy recruits and their families got to meet several Bulls personalities and players, including Paxson, Bach, Rose, Ben Gordon, Andres Nocioni and others.
The Chicago Bulls Recruit Division is the first and only NBA team to partner with the Navy and RTC. Other sporting teams and sports figures have included the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals from Major League Baseball and Dale Earnhadt Jr. from NASCAR.