by Alan Nunn
U.S. Navy Recruit Training Command
December 11, 2018
What started as a father-son project has become a symbol of the Navy's past, present and future.
Retired Senior Chief Aviation Structural Mechanic Paul Olds was stationed at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois, in the summer of 1981. His off-duty hours were spent renovating the home he shared with his wife, Georgia, who often filled the role of ombudsman during her husband's career. Together, they were raising Jonathan, their 5-year old son.
There were more than enough responsibilities to fill his time, but Paul Olds is a self-described workaholic who still enjoys working with his hands.
It was the final summer during his first of two tours at Chanute when Paul Olds began sketching an idea for a stained-glass window project to build with his curious young boy. It became an endeavor that would help shape the son's future and enable the father to impact the Navy well beyond his 22 years of service.
The stained-glass replica of the U.S. Navy Seal they created together symbolizes the lasting bonds between a father and son. A young man who followed his dad's footsteps into the Navy and is assisting at Recruit Training Command's first night arrival as he prepares for his own retirement after 20 years.
Their creation links them to countless other Sailors, some of whom are just beginning their careers and others who, like Jonathan Olds, are ending their watch.
Today, the stained-glass window is mounted on the brow of the USS Trayer, a 2/3-scale, 210-foot long mockup of an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer enclosed within a 90,000-gallon pool in a 157,000-square-foot building on board Recruit Training Command.
The approximately nine-square window rests in a wooden frame, backed by LED lights. It shines brightly over a darkened pier, welcoming recruits who have passed RTC's crucible event - Battle Stations 21, and earned the right to become Sailors. It also serves to honor Sailors during retirement ceremonies and as a welcome aboard greeting to visiting guests of honor and VIPs.
"We train the future recruits based on instances in the Navy's past that we learn so many valuable lessons from," Chief Warrant Officer Trevor Davis, BST-21 division officer, said. "That's why that piece went hand-in-hand with it, and also why we had it mounted where it is now. It ties that all that in, both from the family legacy standpoint and the current Navy legacy standpoint."
Thirty-five years have passed and the young boy has matured to become Builder First Class Jonathan Olds, a recruit division commander who trained five divisions in 10 months at the USS Triton after arriving at RTC in 2014. Moving on to his hold position, he joined BST-21 as an instructor.
About that same time, a recruiting station in Dubuque, Iowa was closing its doors for good, leaving the stained glass window without a home.
Paul Olds had offered his artwork to the recruiting office in Dubuque soon after his 1991 retirement in hopes of sharing it with a new audience of potential Sailors. The recruiter assigned to that office at that time connected to the piece, building and adding a wooden frame before hanging it on the office wall to keep it safe and secure.
After more than a dozen years in that office, it needed a new home and Jonathan Olds knew just the place for it.
"Petty Officer Olds brought it to our attention that he and his father were interested in displaying it on the Trayer," Davis said. "We wanted it not only to be a place of importance, where everybody could see it, but also where it was protected. That's how we came up with the location."
Paul Olds said it took about 40 hours of work to complete the approximately 400-piece project. He estimates 100 of the glass pieces were used to create the rope that encircles the outer edge of the Navy Seal.
Jonathan Olds fondly recalls that summer as one of his earliest childhood memories, building his first project alongside his dad in a single-car unattached garage with the door raised and his young mind open to a future of limitless possibilities.
"I remember it being laid out and dad cutting it and all the assembly boards with all the horseshoe nails," Jonathan Olds said. "I remember wrapping the pieces in foil. All the individual pieces of glass, you have to have put a special foil around the outside before you solder them. I always looked up to my dad for his creativity and the things he was able to create and his ingenuity. He taught me something that someday, I'll be able to teach my kids."
As the years passed, Paul Olds kept the stained glass in storage for safety during his time aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, and his time at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
While temporarily out of sight, it was never far from the Olds' family thoughts. The day Paul Olds viewed it with his son at the USS Trayer was a proud moment.
"Jonathan got permission for me to go look at where it's hanging before they ran a group of students through the whole facility," Paul Olds said. "They showed me the amazing place that is used to train our recruits. I think the students don't realize what a great opportunity they have there to be able to get some close to first-hand experience."
Countless Sailors and Airmen have marked key moments in their military careers in its presence during its more than 35 years of existence. It has witnessed enlistments, re-enlistments, retirements, Navy Balls and so many other meaningful events.
Davis said as long as the Olds family allows it, it will remain on the brow of the Trayer. It's a sentiment Jonathan Olds shares.
"It's a symbol for the Navy. It's always beautiful," Jonathan Olds said. "I don't think people see it as much as it's seen the Navy. Traveling through each community, being a focus of the chief's community in retirements, ceremonies and all the enlistments that it has witnessed - to being here for people actually who are being capped to become Sailors. It's never really just been a wall piece, it's always been involved in significant life events for military people and I think that's what gives it its own legacy."
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 Navy Recruit Training Command (RTC) and begin their Navy careers.