Pvt. Christian Jimenez gets a hug from his mother, Yesnia Soloria, after graduating from One Station Unit Training with Company B, 795th Military Police Battalion, May 20 on Gammon Field. Family and friends are once again being invited to attend graduations in person after more than a year of virtual ceremonies due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
Pvt. Christian Jimenez gets a hug from his mother, Yesnia Soloria, after graduating from One Station Unit Training with Company B, 795th Military Police Battalion, May 20 on Gammon Field. Family and friends are once again being invited to attend graduations in person after more than a year of virtual ceremonies due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts. (Photo Credit: Photo by Amanda Sullivan, Public Affairs Office) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Fort Leonard Wood welcomed back large-scale gatherings of family and friends at graduation ceremonies and family days last week after more than a year of virtual-only events due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

While graduations for functional courses, basic officer leadership courses, captains career courses and courses with the NCO Academy opened to in-person visitors May 1, larger One Station Unit Training and Advanced Individual Training family days and graduations opened back up to in-person visitors May 19 when Company B, 795th Military Police Battalion, held a family day, followed by a ceremony May 20 for their OSUT graduates on Gammon Field.

“It’s important to recognize the achievements of those who choose to defend our nation, and nothing makes that recognition come together better than having friends and family members around to witness it — in person,” said Col. Richard Ball, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence chief of staff, when the policy update was announced in April.

The first Basic Combat Training family day was May 26, and the first graduations with in-person visitors are scheduled for noon May 27, when Company A, 2nd Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment, and Companies D and G, 1st Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment, graduate on Gammon Field, weather permitting.

One of the parents who made the journey to Fort Leonard Wood this week was Kenneth Bell, who drove nearly 700 miles from Cleveland, Ohio, to see his daughter, Pvt. Kayla Bell, graduate with Alpha Company, 2-48.

Bell said he’s proud of his daughter’s accomplishments and is happy he gets to see her before she moves on to the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport, Mississippi, where she will attend her two-month Advanced Individual Training to become a carpentry and masonry specialist.

“She’s been doing an amazing job since she was a kid,” he said. “She always makes me proud.”

Bell added he feels it’s important to have loved ones present at major achievements like this.

“I think it’s important to do it in person because you need that connection,” he said. “It’s important that Kayla feels that appreciation for what she went through — they need that feeling.”

Bell said he’s thankful volunteers like his daughter decide to serve their country.

“Thank you to the Army,” he said. “You guys are amazing. I’m thankful for everyone who chooses to serve their country — and you’ve got my daughter serving right alongside you.”

Visiting Fort Leonard Wood

As it has been done in the past, Soldiers in training will contact their loved ones to provide information about their specific graduations. Units will also provide updates and additional information on their social media sites, and will continue to provide graduations virtually on their social media sites as well — a list of those sites is available here.

Fort Leonard Wood follows guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hand-wash stations will be available on site, social distancing will be observed at all times and all graduations with more than 50 graduates will be held outside, weather permitting. Units may have additional safety measures in place that will be announced on their social media sites.

If a graduation is moved inside due to unexpected circumstances, such as weather, the unit may have to adjust the graduation to allow visitors to attend. If this happens, units will provide updates on their social media sites regarding the processes and procedures for indoor graduations. If graduations occur indoors for any reason, all CDC and local guidelines, such as social distancing, will be observed. In addition, units will continue to provide graduations virtually via social media.

Although vaccinations are highly encouraged, they are not required to attend graduations on Fort Leonard Wood at this time. However, units may have additional safety measures in place.

Visitors to Fort Leonard Wood aged 18 and older must possess a state- or federally issued picture identification. Visitors operating a vehicle are required to have in their possession a current driver’s license, proof of current vehicle insurance and current vehicle registration — all of which are checked at installation access points.

Officials ask visitors to note marijuana in any form is not authorized on the installation; nor are firearms — Fort Leonard Wood does not recognize any state or federal concealed-carry permit.

Visitors who will be staying overnight at one of the installation’s lodging facilities or arriving through Forney Airfield — Waynesville-St. Robert Regional Airport — will need to obtain a visitor pass at the Main Gate Visitor Center. Visitors requesting a pass will be subject to a criminal background check.

More visitor access information is available here. The visitor center can be reached at 573.596.0590.

Visit the Fort Leonard Wood website’s graduation page for policy updates and more information.