It’s been almost one month since I was in the Ceremony Hall at Great Lakes, Illinois anxiously waiting to witness my husband graduate from Boot Camp.  Even though I was excited, I was also incredibly nervous about seeing him after two months of absence.  Graduation weekend turned out to be pretty amazing (there was only one hiccup), and it only took one look from him to calm my nerves about our chemistry.  You can read more about that nerve-racking, oh-so-romantic encounter here.

Anyways, I spent too much time worrying about what to pack for graduation weekend.  I tried googling information from other NAVY wives’ blogs who had already been to Great Lakes to see what the Ceremony Hall’s environment was like so I could know what I may want to wear to that event.  I searched the Internet for advice on what touristy stuff we should do while in Chicago, and any other recommendations for us as we prepared for the big weekend.  My endeavors for answers were mostly fruitless but I did see somewhere on the internet that the Ceremony Hall where the graduation takes place is really cold, so I was advised to wear pants and long sleeves.  I hated that idea so I wore my “trophy wife dress” anyway.  But I’m actually glad now that there wasn’t too much info online about this important weekend in my husand’s career.  That means that I can lay a good foundation for any other anchorwife searching for some solid advice about how this weekend really goes now!

1Get all your shopping done at least two days before your flight to Great Lakes.  Believe me, you don’t want to be shopping EVERY NIGHT leading up to your trip.  It adds to your stress level and steals your beauty sleep.  Make sure that you finish any last minute purchases the weekend before you leave if you can.

2Since all your shopping will be done at least two days before you leave for your trip, use those couple of days to complete all your laundry and packing.  I literally was up all night (not exaggerating) doing laundry and packing before we left for the airport.  I was able to sleep a little bit in flight but I would have felt a whole lot better if I had slept even a little bit the night before.

3If you plan to travel with your sailor’s family, make sure you all sit down before you leave to set up boundaries and discuss expectations for the trip.  I know that this may sound lame and cheesy, but I promise you it’s worth it.  I wish I would have done this before we left, believe me.  Think about how you want your visit to be with your sailor and explain this to your travel buddies.  If you want to have alone time with your sailor every day, make sure you make that clear ahead of time.  Tell them that you want to do the touristy stuff with everyone in the morning, but everyday around whatever time you decide you want to have a few hours to yourselves uninterrupted.  If you don’t speak up, it may be assumed that you will all be together every hour of the trip.

4Get your own separate hotel room from your trip buddies.  I know that it costs more money, but it’s worth it to have the privacy with your sailor for changing, talking, watching TV or other things.  I shared a room with my travel buddies to save money and I regret it.

5Search the weather forecast for Chicago before you leave! Depending on the time of year your sailor is graduating, it may be freezing, hot, stormy, or quite pleasant in near Chicago.  My husband graduated at the end of August and overall the weather was warm.  There were some light showers randomly, but it wasn’t cold – it just made for awful hair.  It may be wise to pack a small umbrella to bring with you just in case you need it while you’re out on the town.

6Before you leave for Great Lakes, make sure that you have packed the graduation packet and have printed out your graduation pass to get you on base.  If you are renting a car, call your car insurance company to make sure that they cover you if you drive a rental car, and make sure you bring proof of your car insurance with you to Illinois.  Make double sure the morning that you drive to graduation that you have your driver’s licence, car insurance, graduation base pass and a copy of your rental car agreement with you.  The NAVY guys at the base entrance WILL NOT let you drive on base in a rental car without your proof of auto insurance, rental car agreement, base pass and driver’s licence.  I don’t know why it’s a big deal to have the rental car agreement and car insurance on hand, but they do ask for it and will not let you on base without those things.  And everyone in the car (except for small children) need to present their ID’s in the car before they let the car on base. So make sure everyone has their ID’s and that they are easily accessed from the car.

7If you plan to get your military ID while in Chicago, make sure to bring your current Driver’s License and your social security card or passport.  The other base in Great Lakes (your sailor will know how to get you there) keeps their military ID card labs open later on Fridays (NAVY graduation days) so that you can run in and get your card that day.  Once you drive through the main gate, take your first left.  Drive that street to the very end of the street and park.  The building is on the right, and the ID Card Lab is on the first floor.  It was super easy to get my card on graduation day and it only took 10 minutes.  You walk in the room, sign in, present your Driver’s license and social security card and sit down.  They take your picture so make sure you’re cute that day (you will be if you go on graduation day in your trophy wife dress!) and make your card for you right then and there.  I walked out of there with card in hand.

8Don’t forget to pack your birth control items.  I almost forgot our stash of condoms since I hadn’t needed them in months.  That would have made for an awkward Walmart run on graduation day with my in-laws.  Seriously, I cringe upon that thought.  Also, you need to know that your sailor will not be granted “over-night liberty” to stay with you in your room.  So if you want any magic to happen, you need to ask for privacy and head to your room in the afternoon before you need to return him to the base.

9Get to the ceremony hall as early as you can.  The graduation packet will tell you that doors open at 6am for the 9am ceremony.  Don’t think that it’s over-zealous to be there that early.  Our hotel was 5 minutes away from the base so we left at 6:00 and we were in graduation traffic in our rental car till 6:45.  Once we parked, we were in line outside (and sometimes inside) till we were seated in the ceremony hall at 7:45!  It took that long to get inside the hall!  At 9am sharp they close the doors and refuse admittance into the hall.  Seriously, get there ASAP!

10The Ceremony Hall isn’t as cold as you may have heard.  Like I said, I was there in August so the weather ended up being mostly summery – AFTER the ceremony.  When I first got there it was chilly and over-cast and I was cold.  You end up standing in line outside for almost an hour (bring your umbrella!) and you may get uncomfortably cold.  Once you’re inside the Hall, it warms up a little but (it’s not warm in there by any means), and when you first sit down on the cold bleachers you may think that you’re going to have goosebumps the entire time.  HOWEVER, you do warm up.  You see, your section that you sit in will soon be all filled with a bunch of other anxious families and all their heat will radiate off of them.  Once I was sandwiched between people, I wasn’t even aware of feeling cold.  And I was only in a dress and shoes, no cardigan or tights.  I’m sure that the NAVY pumps some heat in there for winter-time graduations, so I would wear whatever you want to wear and if it is Fall/Winter time just bring a cute coat to wear over your smokin’ hot trophy wife dress.

11Wear your super uncomfortable sexy heels to graduation, but pack a cute more comfortable pair for immediately after graduation.  I bought some of those inserts for heels to make them more comfortable and they helped a bit.  But I wanted to look really pretty the first time we saw each other so I wore my heels to graduation.  I was only on my feet while walking from the car to the hall (I was in line for about an hour) and then sat down for a couple hours on the bleachers, which took the pressure off my feet.  After graduation, I was so excited to be in his arms that I wasn’t aware of how my feet were feeling.  More than likely, your sailor will have to leave almost immediately after you say hi to him since he will need to go claim his liberty and “check out” for the day.  He may be gone for over an hour.  That’s the perfect time to sit down and rest your feet.  Once we got back to the car I changed into black flats and my feet were grateful at that point.  But at least I felt sexy for the ceremony and looked cute in pictures.

12Pack snacks.  You should try to be in line around 6:15am which may be too early for you to be hungry (especially if you are from the West Coast since your body will think that it’s 4:15am).  Once the ceremony is over, you will need to wait around for an hour (or more!) and you will want to wait to have a meal with your sailor once he’s on liberty, so more than likely you will be hungry.  It is very practical to keep a meal bar (I like MOJO bars by Cliff Bar or Luna bars) in your purse to snack on while you wait to eat lunch with your sailor.

13Pack Kleenex inside your graduation purse, as well as extra makeup.  You will need the Kleenex to dab off the rain drops from your face upon entering the ceremony hall if it’s damp, for wiping the sweat off your palms if you get nervous as the ceremony is about to start, and obviously in case you cry during the ceremony or after you are re-united with your sailor.  Bring a little bit of touch up makeup for immediately before the ceremony ends in case you cried and it’s now non-existent under your eyes.  Bring a tiny mirror to check up on your face or use your cell phone’s front facing camera.  That’s a good back-up.

14Make sure you’re phone is fully charged.  Nowadays people use their phones for cameras and video but that really drains your battery.  If you have a real camera bring it, or borrow one from a friend.  After the ceremony, you will find yourself waiting and you’ll appreciate having a fully charged phone to play games, go on facebook or call your friends that did not come to Great Lakes.  It will keep your mind busy so you’re not sitting there watching the clock while you wait.

15After not seeing your sailor for months, it may be difficult to keep your hands off him.  But right now, you need to prepare yourself for no hand-holding, long hugs, and passionate kisses (at least in public).  Your sailor will get in A LOT of trouble if he’s seen in public (on or off base) while wearing his uniform if he’s holding your hand.  Even around town in Chicago, be conscious to not be hanging all over him.  You may see other sailors holding hands with his wife/girlfriend but don’t conform because that tiny action could compromise the rest of his weekend’s liberty if someone else sees it.  This was one of the hardest things for me to adjust to since I tend to touch the people I love, but don’t worry too much – the NAVY allows for one form of public contact and it’s super honorable.  You are allowed to hold his left arm if he cocks it out for you.  He needs to keep his right arm free to salute superiors.

And Last But Not Least…

Touristy stuff is fun, but you are NOT OBLIGATED to see everything in Chicago on your one weekend with your sailor.  The only touristy thing we did was see NAVY pier, which I recommend seeing if you’re interested.  The rest of the weekend we spent in the hotel room.  We ordered pizza, watched TV, talked and just hung out.  That was our favorite part of the weekend.  My husband and I both enjoyed napping next to each other since we were both exhausted and he hadn’t slept on a comfy bed in months! Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to go see everything in Chicago unless you want to.