By JEAN CLAVETTE GRAVESPublic Affairs SpecialistFort Polk, La. — Community relations and outreach is an important aspect of the Army Public Affairs Program. The objectives of the community relations program is to increase public awareness of the Army through engagements with civic, corporate, academic and government audiences; foster good relations with public entities by securing lasting relationships through repetitive positive engagements; enhance the Army’s reputation as a respected professional organization that is responsible for the nation’s defense, an all-volunteer force and smoothly transitioning Soldiers after service; and inspire patriotism and improve public perception of the Army to maintain the trust and confidence of the American people.At the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, there is an active and vibrant community relations program focused primarily on the six parishes that surround the installation. Each parish has a unit that they are partnered with — 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division is partnered with Sabine and Vernon parishes; the 519th Military Police Battalion is partnered with Beauregard Parish; 46th Engineer Battalion is partnered with Rapides Parish; the 32nd Hospital Center is partnered with Calcasieu Parish; and Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital is partnered with Natchitoches Parish.The commanding general and garrison commander are active participants of the community relations program and work closely with community leaders and stakeholders in all six parishes, as well as those at the state and federal level.Due to the rotational operational tempo, Operations Group and 1st Battalion, 5th Aviation Regiment are not aligned with any parishes in particular, but they are always willing to support requests for aerial static displays, participate in airshows and support open houses and tours upon request.COVID-19 has put a damper on the community relations program. Scheduled engagements since mid-March have all been cancelled. The Public Affairs Office is starting to get requests for Veterans Day support, but the current pandemic environment makes planning any large gathering difficult.Some of the events/activities that were cancelled included Dragon Boat Races in both Alexandria and Natchitoches, sending color guards at a Professional Golf Association Tour in Lake Charles, the Anacoco spring parade and Leesville’s Mayfest. Static displays, Deridder’s annual organizational day celebration with the 519th, several Memorial Day events and Army Birthday celebrations in each parish were also cancelled this year.Despite the setbacks, the Public Affairs Office has gotten creative to continue engagements with community partners, such as their inclusion in the JRTC and Fort Polk Guardian “In our view section” and participation in the 245th Army Birthday Tribute video released on the JRTC and Fort Polk Facebook page on June 14.Earlier this year the Natchitoches Area Chamber of Commerce invited the commanding general as the keynote speaker at their July general membership luncheon.With the uncertainty of COVID-19, the chamber and the Public Affairs Office developed a plan to allow the commander to participate while maintaining social distance.Laura Lyles, president of the Natchitoches Area Chamber of Commerce, asked the installation commander speak at a general membership luncheon after meeting Brig. Gen Patrick Frank during the 2019 Box Tour. “Growing and nurturing the relationship with Fort Polk is important to the Natchitoches community. I could think of no better way to do that than with a conversation with General Frank. People would have loved to see him in person at a luncheon, but COVID-19 had other plans,” said Lyles.She said COVID-19 has forced the chamber to work harder to reach out and provide value to their members. In-person meetings have been curtailed, so she and her staff have been making more telephone calls, paying extra attention to emails and using social media platforms to engage with chamber membership and the community.On Wednesday Frank participated in an interview with Maggie Matuschka, events coordinator and host of Chamber Chat. In the spirit of creativity, he did the podcast interview in lieu of speaking at a face-to-face luncheon, which normally includes more than 80 chamber members. The chat focused on the mission of the combat training center; educational initiatives, including the expansion of high school dual enrollment opportunities and partnerships between the installation and Northwestern State University; the installation’s response to COVID-19; and the 2028 Campaign Plan.The full podcast is published on the chamber’s website at www.natchitocheschamber.com/chamberchat.Following the interview, the chamber of commerce hosted a small meet and greet with 15 of its members, local leaders and stakeholders in the community. Lee Posey, Natchitoches mayor; Dr. Chris Maggio, Northwestern State University president; and Louie Bernard, Louisiana State Senator for District 31, were just a few of the local leaders that participated in the event. Also in attendance were chamber members and veterans Jeremy Miller, a former Geronimo and manager of Super One Foods, and 82nd Airborne “All American” Mario Fox.Natchitoches, the original French colony in Louisiana, is the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase. Established in 1714, Natchitoches retains its European flavor through its architecture, heritage and lifestyle.Soldiers and their Families can find a host of things to do in this historic city by viewing the visitor and convention center website at www.natchitoches.com.