For nearly 140 recruits at the Navy's Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois, about to embarking on their eight-week odyssey to become sailors, April 7th was just another day of gear issue before as they prepare to start training starts next week.

But with their seabags, these 137 futurewannabe sailors-in-training were handed also issued tablet computers — a first in the history of the Navy.

Theis smart device will be their constant companions throughout their training atnd Great Lakes. And though they'll leave them behind when they graduate, this "pre-pilot" test program is expected to pave the way for the service to either add a tablet fleetwide.computers to a sailor's gear permanently or to eventually allow a "bring your own" device policy at into Navy commands fleetwide.

But what's just another gear issue to recruits is much bigger in the eyes of Navy officials.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens and Vice Rear Adm. Richard Brown, who heads Navaly Service Training Command, — overseeing nearly all the Navy's officer and accession training, helped hand out the tablets to the recruits, an event two years in the making. Steven says both viewed the the tablet issue as a significant milestone of Navy history.

"I really believe that in a few years, we'll look back at today as a watershed moment in the Navy," Stevens said in a phone interview April 7. told Navy Times in a phone call late April 7 after arriving back in Washington, D.C. "This isn't a nice to have item, as many believe. This is absolutely necessary to our Navy and our sailors in making them a more capable 21st century warfighter."

The "eSailor" effort project, officially called "eSailor" for those who track such things, was dreamed up by Stevens nearly two years ago about 20 months ago as a way to improve give sailors' better access to computers and the Internet. This includes all the online sites and data centers the Navy now requires sailors to access to maintain their records and manage their careers.

Eliminating the waiting lines to use a computer at sea is just one of the end goals of the project. Taking training to the next level is another. Issuing tablets to sailors is still a ways away, as officials work through security issues and infrastructure changes, but Stevens says wider smart device usage on the job is only through security issues and acAnd though fleet-wide issue or formal allowance of sailors to use their own smart devices on Navy networks is a ways away, Stevens says it's just a matter of time .

"We simply can't afford not to move in this direction," he said. "There's still a lot of things to work out as we move ahead, but we'll manage those things as we go."

Still to be worked out both at recruit training as well as "A" schools and on into the fleet is the idea of Wi-Fi access at ships and commands. Navy commands onboard ships in the fleet. Paramount among them, Steven says is the security concerns that brings. Still, he says, as these tests progress, what's learned at RTC will translate to the fleet environment, too.

"NSTC has been working on this for about eight months now and their concerns about heading down this road were the same as mine when we started," Steven said. "Their concerns in taking this on were the same as mine when we started but we'll figure it out as we go and we are -- many corporations have already gone down this path successfully -- there's no reason the Navy can't learn from them, too."

Smart devices are all over the Navy these days. Just take a walk around the weather decks of a Navy ship as it pulls in or out of port — or gets in sight site of land — and you'll see sailors on their phones and tablets.

Other formal efforts to use are springing up around the Navy, Stevens said. Multiple Efforts using tablets and Wi-Fi have sprung up around the fleet and even at on "A" schools. The joint Explosive Ordnance Disposal School at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, is already stretching the technology in its advanced training and operations. as well as operational levels.

"All this has many already looking down the line and how we'll integrate these into "A" schools," Stevens said. "That's the next step, but we can't get ahead of ourselves, yet."

The types of tablets

At Great Lakes, the pre-pilot tests tests are focused on integrating the tablets into the training of recruits.

"We are looking at this as an extension of the classroom," said John Drake, heads of NSTC's strategy and analysis division, who's of NSTC and overseeing the tests. "These first tests are really a test of concept and the the tablets being issued were picked based on the requirements we developed for what it needed to do."

A total of 200 small tablets were purchasedRTC broken down into two types — and there's not an Apple iPad in the bunch. The functionality the Navy wanted has all the computer with a full version of the Windows 8.1 operating system.

Most recruits are being issued an off-the-shelf Acer Iconia Tab 8, an eight8-inch tablet that comes with s along with a protective case to protect against damage.

In addition, 50 MilSpec, eight8-inch ruggedized Getac T800 tablets were also purchased.

GREAT LAKES, Ill., (April 7, 2015) – Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class Maureen Lydon and Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class Robert Reynolds, both Recruit Division Commanders (RDCs), go over a new electronic tablet (e-tablet) with Seaman Recruit Joseph Jacobus, 24, from Sacramento, Calif., during the launch of an e-Sailor initiative at Recruit Training Command (RTC) here, Apr. 7. The Navy’s top enlisted Sailor, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Mike D. Stevens, handed out the e-tablets to 40 new recruits to begin a pre-pilot beta test to help determine how well the devices will integrate into the training environment at RTC. The e-tablets will contain RTC curriculum, including training videos, texts and access to professional development websites. (U. S. Navy photo by Scott A. Thornbloom)
GREAT LAKES, Ill., (April 7, 2015) – Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class Maureen Lydon and Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class Robert Reynolds, both Recruit Division Commanders (RDCs), go over a new electronic tablet (e-tablet) with Seaman Recruit Joseph Jacobus, 24, from Sacramento, Calif., during the launch of an e-Sailor initiative at Recruit Training Command (RTC) here, Apr. 7. The Navy’s top enlisted Sailor, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Mike D. Stevens, handed out the e-tablets to 40 new recruits to begin a pre-pilot beta test to help determine how well the devices will integrate into the training environment at RTC. The e-tablets will contain RTC curriculum, including training videos, texts and access to professional development websites. (U. S. Navy photo by Scott A. Thornbloom)

AM1 Maureen Lydon and AM2 Robert Reynolds, both recruit division commanders, go over features of the new tablets with Seaman Recruit Joseph Jacobus.

Photo Credit: Scott A. Thornbloom/Navy

"The current maintenance plan is to issue the Acer tablets first," Drake said. "As they break or are damaged, we'll replace them with the MILSPEC version."

"The goal is to see how the off-the-shelf version performs," Drake said. "We'll be seeing how they survive being dropped, carried and used regularly over the eight weeks."

Though Drake didn't offer up a unit cost, it's clear that the off-the-shelf tablets are the way to go, if they can survive the sailor test. if the off the shelf version can stand up to a recruit's beating, it's the way to go. A quick look at internet prices for each have The Acer Iconia Tab 8 retails for at about $150, compared to $1,500 for the more rugged while the Getac devicecomes in at $1,500.

Recruits will carry the Acer tablets in the cargo pocket of the trousers of their blue-and-gray Navy working uniform Type I, Drake said. But the MilSpec version is slightly larger because of the built-in protection and may have to be carried in recruit's backpacks.

Not only twill recruits will get tablets, but also the but The recruit division commanders will also get tablets, in part to help train with them. ,training them will have them, too.

Along with the Windows 8.1 software, all documents and books normally issued to recruits have been loaded as ebooks on the tablets, including their Trainee Guide — which tells them how to fold clothing and make their beds and other vital boot camp gouge helpful information during their time in boot camp. Also included is an electronic version of the venerable Bluejackets' Manual, which has been a recruit's main reference books since 1902.

"The Bluejacket's Manual is the only non-Navy owned content on the tablet," Drake said. "The [U.S.] Naval Institute ..., produces that book worked with us to provide an electronic version."

In addition, two interactive games have also been loaded. provided to the recruits to play. One is designed to teach sailors the perils of human trafficking. The other will teach recruits about information and computer security, Drake said.

Initially there will be no access to email or the Internet, Drake said. There are no plans to allow any kind of open Web surfing. But the barracks the recruits will be able to start accessing Wi-Fi in their barracks after the mid-way point of their eight-week training. live in have been outfitted with wi-fi, which with recruits will have access to after their fourth week of training.

"They will have access to Navy.mil websites as well as email after the fourth week," Drake said. "But it won't be all the time — that will only be available during times they're on holiday routine."

During the pilot, these tablets will The pre-pilot is slated to have these tablets cycle through three of the two-division cycles of recruits over the next six months, with one to two weeks of down time in between each to collate the data.

If this pre-pilot is successful — and both Drake and Stevens believe it will be — the plan is to start next early in fiscal year 2016 by expanding the test, tablets and Wi-Fi to one entire "ship," as barracks at RTC are called.

The 'ship" where the tests are taking place is the USS Grace Hopper, named in honor for one of the Navy's earlier computer pioneers. of the Hawaii-based guided-missile destroyer of the same name.

Drake says it was luck of the draw and not by design that the testing is happening out of a barracks names for one of the service's computer pioneers.

"It truly is coincidence that happened," Drake said. "But it wasn't lost on those here that we think she'd be quite pleased by the whole thing."