FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — During National Teacher Appreciation Week, the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood leadership invited Waynesville R-VI School District Superintendent Brian Henry to speak at their tenth virtual town hall Wednesday.
Henry said teachers have played a vital role in students’ lives throughout the required transitions brought about by COVID-19 restrictions.
“I can think of no time more than this time to be thankful and appreciative of the work that our teachers have done,” he said. “They’ve really shouldered the responsibility of this, and they have made sure that learning is offered to our students and we truly appreciate that.”
After thanking the installation leadership and community for their support, Henry described the two primary goals of the district at this time.
“One is to educate our students during this time period, and the second is to feed our students so that they can have a healthy home environment to learn in,” he said. “We feel like we’re doing a very good job in making sure our kids have what they need to be successful at home.”
The school year is set to end May 20 (May 15 for seniors), and Henry urged students to “finish strong.” He said prom is scheduled for June 13, honors night is June 16 and graduation is June 19. In case restrictions preclude gatherings on these dates, he said alternate dates for honors night and graduation are set for July 16 and July 18, respectively.
Maj. Gen. Donna Martin, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general, and her installation leadership team also provided COVID-19 mitigation protocol updates from the Department of Defense and the Army and their impacts to the installation’s personnel and operations.
Martin said her top priority is protecting the force.
“To protect the force is to protect our mission,” she said. “This is why we do it. Our people are precious, and our mission must continue because our mission is critical to our nation. We are building Army readiness by safely training America’s sons and daughters in an adjusted environment – an environment deliberately designed to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Martin said she appreciates everyone’s steadfast adherence to the Health Protection Condition Charlie measures, and singled out military families for their commitment and resilience throughout “some of the most trying times in recent history.”
“While the nation recognizes May as the Month of the Military Family, and this Friday – the Friday before Mother’s Day – as Military Spouse Appreciation Day, I will tell you that 24-7-365 our military and family members are worthy and deserving of our sincere appreciation,” she said.
Martin also took a moment to thank the “special people who help take care of our families.”
“Our awesome childcare development center staff enables our essential military personnel to continue the mission,” she said. “And today is National Nurse Appreciation Day. Nurses answer a unique call … that requires service, devotion, long shifts and hectic schedules. Nurses are the heartbeat of our medical systems. They are the quiet voice, the gentle comfort, the helping hand that make our people and our nation better. Our nurses are the symbol of compassion and decency.”
Martin said Fort Leonard Wood personnel should continue following all measures put in place over the past weeks – she reviewed each, to include:
— The DoD stop-movement order is in place through June 30 for those not in initial entry training.
— Health Protection Condition Charlie remains in place until further notice, and includes maximizing staying at home, limiting movement and following all published protective measures for the post and as individuals.
— Fort Leonard Wood’s Public Health Emergency declaration also remains in place until May 24 for everyone with access to the installation. And, General Order No. 1 remains in effect for the safety of all service members.
— An exception to movement restrictions exists for initial entry training. Graduates of Basic Combat Training, Advanced Individual Training and One Station Unit Training are moving after graduation in a sterile, controlled environment. As of this week, about 1,200 Soldiers have moved to 14 locations. Future planned movement dates – as well as the units involved – will not be published ahead of time for operational security purposes.
Martin also said more than 800 new recruits have recently arrived on the installation, and all of them are being tested for COVID-19 when they get here. Those with positive tests are placed in isolation and cared for in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Those with negative test results begin training. The first two weeks are in a controlled, monitored environment. The remaining eight weeks are integrated. The program of instruction tasks have been shifted but the graduation requirements remain the same.
“This method, along with social distancing, cloth face covers and hygiene measures ensure that we protect the bubble while also ensuring Army readiness,” Martin said.
The Fort Leonard Wood Facebook page – www.facebook.com/fortleonardwoodmissouri/ – will continue to post information on virtual graduations. Family day activities remain cancelled at this time.
Martin said the most-common question she’s asked these days is when restrictions will be lifted so life can “get back to normal.”
“Restrictions will be lifted when the risk is acceptable, and we will make changes slowly,” she said. “We will communicate clearly with you.”
“Although this pandemic is unlike anything we have seen in our lifetime, military leaders are taught at every echelon of our careers how to plan and how to assess and mitigate risk,” Martin added. “My team and I are continually gathering and analyzing the information needed to make such an important decision.”
Col. Eric Towns, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood commander, provided some information on installation services available and the process by which the reopening of additional amenities is assessed.
He said the opening of the Piney Valley Golf Course on Saturdays has been successful so far, with everyone following the mitigation protocols required. The Post Exchange barber shop and salon are now open for limited service as well, and Towns said other services are being assessed “on a daily basis.”
“We want to get back to normal, but we have to balance that with safety,” he said.
Towns encouraged everyone to utilize the curbside service at the PX.
“If you’re not using that, you’re missing out,” he added.
Martin addressed some of the comments from the live feed, to include the off-limits status of off-post businesses. She said that as more COVID-19 testing is performed across the state, the installation leadership will have more data with which to make informed decisions on off-post activities.
Martin urged everyone to comply with Health Protection Condition Charlie, the Public Health Emergency and General Order No. 1.
Towns addressed a question on when taxi service may resume on post. He said like other amenities, taxi service will continue to be assessed for potential health risks.
“We’re just not there yet,” he said.
In closing, Martin urged the community to continue fighting on the COVID-19 battlefield.
“We are going on nine weeks of these life changes in response to COVID-19,” she said. “Your families are feeling the weight of it. Your peers feel it. Your leaders feel it. I feel it. I know what it is like to want to enjoy these days differently than we are currently required. Hang in here with me. Continue with good hygiene and cloth face coverings, along with social distancing. Keep doing these things. You can also join me in becoming cautiously optimistic, looking for that light at the end of the tunnel. If we stay on the right path together, we will get through this and will be stronger when we emerge.”