FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Newly arrived service members and their families will have the opportunity to learn more about the many amenities in and around the Fort Leonard Wood community — while also completing mandatory appointments — with an upgraded newcomers orientation day called Arrive Strong — set to run Thursdays, starting July 27 at the USO.

According to Gabe Medina, the Relocation Readiness Program manager at Fort Leonard Wood’s Army Community Service, a permanent change of station, or PCS, as its commonly called, is “probably the most stressful time in a military career, whether you’ve been in the military five years, or 10 years, or 20 years.”

“Every time you PCS, it can be difficult,” he said, noting the in-processing “scavenger hunt” format, as he called it, commonly found on military installations. “You have your sheet; you go to all these 20 different offices. You get the initials and signatures, and you have arrived — you’re in-processed. It’s kind of impersonal if you’ve ever seen it.”

Senior leaders here noticed there was room for improvement, Medina said, and put in place a team to formalize — and enhance — the process.

“It’s a one day, kind of a one-stop shop, where we bring the in-processing service members and family members together, and then we bring the directorates to them,” Medina said.

To entice family members to attend, each service member will have their own table, so families will have plenty of space. Additionally, a representative from the Armed Services YMCA of Missouri will be on hand and will have activities for children in a separate room in the building.

“So, if a spouse comes and has kiddos, they will have space, where they can do some activities at the table,” Medina said. “We’re going to be having activities going on off to the side as well. So, while mom or dad are receiving the official briefings, the YMCA is going to be having activities in one of the offshoot rooms that they have there at the USO. It’s not childcare, but the kiddos will have a place to go and do some activities if they want.”

Besides the mandatory briefings all new permanent-party Soldiers must receive, Medina said many other agencies here will provide information applicable to the whole family — the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center will advise spouses on employment opportunities; the Truman Army Education and Personnel Testing Center will brief on the many colleges and universities located on post; the Armed Forces Wellness Center will discuss health and fitness; and the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation — along with ACS — will provide information on recreation and other family programs here.

Medina gave the example of FMWR’s Lake of the Ozarks Recreation Area as an often-overlooked amenity in the area. An hour’s drive from the installation, LORA offers camping, boating, swimming, water skiing, fishing and other outdoor activities at one of the country’s largest purpose-built lakes.

“We’ve talked with family members before, who have been here for a year or two — and they’re leaving Fort Leonard Wood, and they say they didn’t even know (LORA) was available,” Medina said.

The briefing is an all-day affair, Medina said, but stressed the intent is to keep the orientation focused as much as possible on information beneficial to the Soldier and the family.

“We want them to get that ‘Welcome to Fort Leonard Wood’ feel,” he said.

One of the biggest improvements, Medina said, was the addition of what he called the Community Information Fair — set to take place in the middle of the day, when the attendees can walk around to various tables set up by organizations from both inside and outside the gates.

“The fair is going to have representatives from the Exceptional Family Member Program, the Community Spouses Club, CPAC, AAFES, the Commissary — but also representatives from area chambers of commerce,” Medina said. “Those Soldiers and families can walk up to those tables, and they’ll get a goodie bag — ‘hey, welcome to the Fort Leonard Wood area.’”

The USO was chosen as the orientation’s location because it’s “relatively easy to find,” Medina said.

Kelly Brownfield, the USO’s Western Missouri Regional Operations director, said she’s happy to accommodate, noting the facility already hosts several events each month for military families.

“Having the Arrive Strong held at the USO is a great opportunity for the USO to showcase our space, amenities and activities to those new to the area, especially the family members,” Brownfield said. “Soldiers and families alike will find that there will be plenty of space available to them to sit and relax, taking them out of the traditional classroom atmosphere. The USO will have plenty of snacks and refreshments on hand throughout the entire day. There is Wi-Fi throughout the entire building that families can log onto, and if families need space to spread out, there are plenty of tables — and depending on the day, they may be welcomed by one of our USO canines, Maverick or Apache.”

While the target audience for the Arrive Strong orientation is permanent-party Soldiers and their families, Medina said the organizers are potentially looking to one day also include permanent-party Airmen, Marines and Sailors — in the end, he added it’s all about better integrating military families into the community.

“We want them to become familiar with Fort Leonard Wood, either on or off the installation, and eventually call it home,” Medina said. “I’m not originally from the area. I decided that mid-Missouri was a great place to raise my family, and I decided to stay here as well, but I like for families to be integrated and not leave Fort Leonard Wood three years from now and say, ‘I didn’t even know your organization existed.’ I want them to feel a sense of belonging to the community.”