FORT SILL, Okla., June 25, 2020 -- The March 6 change of command ceremony that welcomed Maj. Gen. Kenneth L. Kamper as the new commanding general of Fort Sill and the Fires Center of Excellence now seems like the last act of the “old normal.”Troops stood side-by- side in closely packed formations, attendees jammed the pavilions set up on the Old Post Quadrangle, the horns of the 77th Army Band resounded and the matching bays of the Army Artillery Half Section galloped past to the strains of “Hill Country.”And then the curtain rang down.Three months after the medical community began to realize how grim the problem of COVID-19 might be, the CG is plotting Fort Sill’s course in a world where conditions change daily. At the virtual town halls, he presents slides showing the rolling 14-day averages for new cases of the disease in surrounding cities and puts long, careful consideration into any modification of the rules that have been laid down.“It’s an unprecedented environment, so we’re just trying to communicate thoroughly with people. I say it a lot, we’re just trying to be as open and transparent as possible,” Kamper said.He’s finding that in today’s world, the rate of change has sped up. He would not have imagined how fast the turnabout happened.In his quest to attain a “new normal,” Kamper said, “what really impressed me the most, is there was just a great set of teammates around here. At Fort Sill, and the team of teams at Fort Sill, and then Lawton Fort Sill. Our local Lawton community is just tremendous. And then in Oklahoma, too. We’re staying in sync with the governor’s leadership through the COVID environment.”Kamper found the way they figured out how to logically work through the problem sets “really refreshing.”Not all of his time here has been gloom-and-doom. Soon after he took command, the official Fort Sill Facebook page posted a video of Kamper and his son Nate firing the miniature cannon in front of Sherman House.Retired Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald was the last person to fire the toy cannon some six years ago. Kamper said they worked with the Museum Directorate to make sure the artillery piece was functioning properly. He personally bought some powder, and he and Nate fired it off the same day he took command.“We fired it off again when the chief of staff’s son swore an oath for commissioning, and then he came over to the house and fired the cannon for his first artillery round,” Kamper said.That was Col. Anthony Lugo’s son, Matt, who had just graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. He is doing work for the academy, but he will be coming to Fort Sill later this year to attend Field Artillery Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC).One other person to fire it this year was Brig. Gen. Scott Efflandt, who succeeded Kamper in his last job as deputy commanding general of III Armored Corps at Fort Hood, Texas.“He came up for two 75th (Field Artillery) Brigade changes of command, and we’ve been friends for a long time,” the CG said. “Our goal is to fire that cannon off as often as we can. I’m primed for the July 4 weekend.”He might be shooting it every hour on the hour that day. His family thinks it’s fun, and their neighbors in Redleg Country cheer when they hear it go off.“We’re just serious about doing things right. Around Fort Sill and the Fires Center of Excellence we’ve got a culture where people are promulgating a culture of values and a culture of fitness and a culture of resiliency and then a culture where we’re just trying to pursue excellence and the fundamentals. But we ought to try to have some fun while we’re at it, too,” Kamper said.At the beginning of his March 24 town hall, the general shared with the audience that his wife, Krista, and their two children were still at Fort Hood, Texas, and Bell County had gone into a “shelter in place” mode that morning. As was the case here, the schools had to close to prevent spread of COVID-19.“Down in Texas they started out on spring break, and then never went back to school, physically,” Kamper said.Nate was a senior in high school, and Abby was a freshman. They went through distance learning to complete their course work, and Nate was able to graduate. The family sat in front of the TV one Sunday night and watched as pictures of his graduating class flashed across the screen, one by one.Nate, who played tight end on his high school football team, has accepted a scholarship to play for Rice University in Houston. His report date was to have been June 17, but now it’s on hold and the Kampers are waiting to hear from the coach. The general is eagerly looking forward to watching his son perform on the gridiron.“I plan to go to every game possible, whether they’re in Houston or playing away somewhere. All of our families are important to all of us,” he said.Abby will be a sophomore in high school this fall. She comes to Oklahoma with a Texas learner’s permit, and her mom will be helping her transition that into an Oklahoma driver’s license.“Once their school was finished they came up here, and Krista and the kids have been up here about a month now. So it’s nice to have them. I thought I would be here 90 days by myself, and that I would go to Fort Hood a couple times, but I did not go down to Fort Hood at all just because of all the travel restrictions and the shelter in place,” Kamper said.“We’re all looking for new normals. And COVID-19 is going to be with us for a while. We’ve been testing all the basic trainees as they arrive. For a couple of weeks in a row now we’ve received about 500 trainees, and every week now, what we’re seeing is four or five of them will be positive for COVID-19. And we’re now testing them all at about day 10 as well. And we’ll test all of the initial military entry. So as the new lieutenants come into their basic course we’ll test the new lieutenants, also.”Soldiers and civilians across post will exercise principles of social distancing and frequent hand-washing. Facial coverings will be worn in buildings such as the PX, the commissary, Reynolds Army Health Clinic, the Welcome Center Bldg. 4700 and a couple of others.Kamper said he thinks Fort Sill will continue to work toward a new normal for a long time, and it will adapt and change as new circumstances arise. Changes of command still occur, but with smaller formations that are more spread out. Audiences, ditto.Across Fort Sill, personnel have been encouraged to telework as much as possible. In fact, this interview was done using Microsoft Teams, which is how Fort Sill Public Affairs Officer Darrell Ames said the Commander’s Planning Group does most of its work these days. Kamper said the crisis has actually prompted the staff to become more proficient in the use of technology to telework and hold virtual meetings.“You do have to have some face-to-face to build trust with folks. We’re in a people business, and people have to get to know each other to trust each other, and so that will always exist. But I think we’ll continue to use quite a bit of the virtual platforms,” he said.Perhaps the most frequently asked question on Fort Sill right now is, “When will we start having live graduations again?”“We’re interested in getting back to basic training graduations where we can invite families to come in. We just made a decision this past week not to do that in July,” Kamper said.The potential is there for live graduations to resume in August or September — maybe. The decision won’t be made until about the second week of July.“As much as we want to do that, what we realize is when we bring trainees in from all over America, we’re still getting five to six positive cases. And so what we recognize is, if we bring family members from all over the country, we’re probably going to bring in COVID. I look at various rates of COVID going on all over the country, and until we see a distinct decrease, I don’t think we’re going to go back live,” he said.“Sooner or later we’ll do it. We want to do it. But it’s going to be a little while yet.”The mission comes first, and the mission the Fires Center of Excellence has for the Army is to turn civilians into Soldiers. That covers Basic Combat Training, Advanced Individual Training, BOLC and continuing professional military education for officers, warrant officers, and noncommissioned officers.“That mission hasn’t stopped, and we’re going to keep doing it. We’ve been doing it all through this COVID environment, thanks to the tremendous team of teams around here who have figured out how to keep doing it,” Kamper said.