GREAT LAKES (NNS) -- Seaman Recruit Steven Eklund, Division 243, graduated as the top Sailor from Recruit Training Command earning the Military Excellence Award on Aug. 4.
Prior to joining the Navy, Eklund, of Crystal Lake, Illinois, was active in hockey until an injury sidelined any future goals of excelling further into the sport. After pursing a variety of jobs including construction and being unable to find any fulfilling work, he decided to enlist at age 23.
"Joining the Navy was always on the back burner for me and after having a long discussion with my father, I decided to join as I wanted to push myself harder in life," said Eklund. "I already knew that what you put into the Navy is what you get out and I was ready for that."
The Navy Club of the United States Military Excellence Award is the top award presented to the No. 1 recruit of their graduating training group. The MEA is awarded to the recruit that best exemplifies the qualities of enthusiasm, devotion to duty, military bearing and teamwork. The award placed him at the pinnacle of today's newest Sailors. Eklund will be awarded a flag letter of commendation.
"For me, training has been easy only because I listen and do what I'm told. I come from a working background and I've watched co-workers not doing their work or they do it sloppily and then others have to pick up their slack," said Eklund. "That's why when I first started I made sure I was doing everything expected of me correctly, such as having everything folded correctly or always making sure my rack is properly made. That way, I had time to go help other recruits when they weren't doing what they're told and started falling behind."
While he initially started out as the division's Recruit Chief Petty Officer, he quickly discovered one important aspect of the position that was preventing him from being the leader that was expected of him: He couldn't hold the cutlass properly.
"My hands were too big for the cutlass and I couldn't bend my wrist to keep it straight. I kept getting grilled by my Recruit Division Commands and one day my petty officer I was in so much pain trying to hold it and it was starting to get me extremely upset that I couldn't get it right. I look at my division like my team and my RDCs as my coaches, so I felt like I was letting down my team and coaches because I just couldn't get it right," said Eklund. "They sat me down and offered me the position of section leader, explaining I could be so much more productive and involved with my division. They really helped calmed me down and help me find my center so I could focus better, knowing I was better suited for this position."
Eklund credits his girlfriend's daily letters as well as those from his parent as strong motivation throughout training.
"Those letters were so important as everyone helped me maintain my focus in boot camp," said Eklund.
He also thanks his RDCs for all the encouragement and guidance they provided, which includes Chief Machinist's Mate Kenson Jacques, Culinary Specialist 1st Class Marcus Smith and Aviation Boatwain's Mate Handling 1st Class Ian Harris.
After graduation, Eklund will head to Pensacola, Florida to attend "A" school, which normally lasts on average 21 weeks. Eklund will study basic technical knowledge, aviation electrical systems, and skills of electricity.
Boot camp is approximately eight weeks and all enlistees into the U.S. Navy begin their careers at the command. Training includes physical fitness, seamanship, firearms, firefighting and shipboard damage control along with lessons in Navy heritage and core values, teamwork and discipline. About 30,000 to 40,000 recruits graduate annually from RTC and begin their Navy careers.
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For more news from Recruit Training Command, visit http://www.navy.mil/local/rtc/.