By KRIS GONZALEZ, Fort Jackson LeaderAugust 26, 2010
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- As Ronald Evans watched a Soldier rappel from Victory Tower, he said he wished he could be the next to climb to the top.
At 72, Evans has been retired from the Army for 31 years; nevertheless, he said he still dreams of coming back in.
"If they called me up, I'd answer that call," he said proudly. "I really do miss the Army. It's a world of its own."
Evans, along with 18 other people got the chance to revisit that world, through one of Fort Jackson's outreach programs, the "Come See Your Army" tour.
During their visit, the participants - local residents, veterans and Soldiers' parents and significant others - had the chance to see a typical day in the life of a Basic Combat Training Soldier.
They attended a BCT graduation, observed Soldiers in training, ate lunch at a dining facility, visited barracks and learned about Fort Jackson's mission.
For Evans, who retired as a master sergeant after serving for 23 years, the tour offered a chance for him to reminisce.
"I was the post breadman," said Evans, who served here in 1959. "I delivered bread every morning to all the mess halls lined up along tank hill.
"I remember when Soldiers were painting palm trees green because VIPs were coming from Washington, so they wanted the entrance to the fort to look good. So many things have changed. Now everything looks completely different."
Col. Jeffrey Sanderson, chief of staff, who welcomed the visitors to the installation, said unlike Evans, many great citizens have never served in the military and all too often, their view of BCT is shaped more by Hollywood movies than reality.
"The reality is that our volunteers undergo challenging and realistic training here at Fort Jackson on a daily basis and we are justly proud of our drill sergeants and cadre who transform citizens into Soldiers," he said.
"Our community outreach program enables us to showcase America's Army and our great Soldiers to a wide cross-section of the region and in some cases, across the nation."
Sylvanna Lacasse, who had very little familiarity with the Army before the tour, said she was in awe of all that the post encompasses.
"This place is so much bigger than I ever could have imagined," Lacasse said. "The barracks, Victory Tower - it's not anything like the way he describes it."
"He" is Lacasse's fiance, Pvt. Jordan L'Heureux, who is currently in his fifth week of BCT.
By sheer coincidence, L'Heureux and his battle buddies were negotiating the confidence course when the tour arrived.
Lacasse, and L'Heureux' mother, Shelly Caron, were overwhelmed with emotion.
"I did not expect to see him at all," Lacasse said. "But I looked over and he had the biggest smile on his face ... Then he blew me a kiss and I thought I was going to die."
Lacasse and Caron flew from Connecticut for the tour.
"I have no experience with the military; I needed to do this in order to relate to him," Caron said. "And I decided if I have the opportunity to be in the same area and see what he's seeing, even to breathe the same air that he's breathing ... that's what I wanted to do."
Douglas Downs, whose fiancee, Pvt. 1st Class Lois Jonberg, is in her fourth week of BCT, said he was overjoyed for the two women.
"When they said, 'This is his company,' I got goose bumps," Downs said.
Paula Coleman, whose son Pvt. Jereht Coleman is in his fifth week of BCT, said she didn't come to the tour with any expectations of getting to see her son. She said an Army wife recommended she go on the tour only if she could handle being that close to him without actually seeing him.
"I really just wanted to get familiar with the post to be better prepared for graduation," Coleman said. "So it was really nice to see somebody else get to see their Soldier."
Kara Motosicky, Fort Jackson's community relations officer, said Lacasse and Caron's chance encounter with their Soldier was a rare occurrence and shouldn't be expected.
The tours, which occur about six times annually, are scheduled according to weather conditions and training schedules, with activities permitted only if they don't interfere with training.
"They were designed to inform and educate our neighbors about the Army, its values and Fort Jackson," Motosicky said. "By allowing (civilians) a glimpse into the day-to-day operations of the largest training post, we increase their understanding of our mission, and we strengthen our ties to the community."
Initiated in November 2008, the tours were originally intended to engage members of the communities surrounding Fort Jackson. But through participant referrals and social media networking, news of the program has spread across a much larger audience.
"We are amazed at the use of social media to follow young Soldiers in training, and this same social media has brought much attention to our community outreach program," Sanderson said.
Coleman and Downs said they first found out about the tour from what has become another significant community outreach tool for Fort Jackson - Facebook. They both raved about how Fort Jackson and other Army organizations use networking sites to interact with the public.
"I grew up in the military, but I still wasn't prepared for the emotional impact of total separation from the woman that I love and talked to every day," he said. "So seeing those Facebook pages and those forums, particularly for new moms, dads, husbands and wives of Soldiers - to have that community right off the bat - to me that exemplifies what Army families can do for one another."
For more information about Fort Jackson's Come See Your Army Tours, contact Motosicky at (803) 751-5327.