FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- I am glad that I recently had the opportunity to greet a group of visitors who were taking advantage of one of our "Come See Your Army" tours. It gave me an opportunity to step back and appreciate the importance of inviting neighbors and friends to see firsthand what we do at our Basic Combat Training Center of Excellence.

The "Come See Your Army" tours, which are conducted several times a year, are not the only tours that we offer. But these specific tours usually attract visitors from far away, as well as veterans whose active duty days go back a bit, not to mention the many families of current Soldiers in training and members of the Fort Jackson's nearby communities.

All of the different visitors are here for one reason, to learn a little bit about what we do. Veterans see some of the changes at Fort Jackson, as well as how we do things in the Army today. For those with no military background, the tours offer a little more clarity and understanding. The tours also help dispel the "Hollywood" characterizations of BCT, which often show screaming, nasty drill sergeants and all kinds of hazing - anything that hypes the drama and boosts ratings or box office sales.

In addition to attending a graduation, tour participants get an opportunity to view training activities, as well as eat lunch in a dining facility and tour the barracks. When the day is done, visitors leave with an appreciation of the Army, its men and women. BCT relatives leave with an idea of the training their Soldiers undergo as well as an image as to how and where they live. Veterans leave with a new understanding of the changed training methodology, equipment and the role that technology plays.

Everyone leaves with a sense of pride and good feeling about our place. The tour initiative blends with the goals of the Army Community Covenant, which is designed to foster and build on state and community partnerships with the Army and improve the quality of life for Soldiers and families.

What made this previous tour so great was the connection that so many visitors felt with our Soldiers. It's amazing how a little bit of time and willingness to answer a few questions can go such a long way in building the trust and connections that are vital in maintaining support for our Soldiers.

When you build connections, you build community. And that's perhaps the most interesting part. With the recent expansion that we have initiated in the use of social media sites to communicate our messages, we are discovering that our community is growing with boundaries that extend to wherever there is Internet service available. Many families of BCT Soldiers are discovering these tours through Facebook and Twitter postings. During this most recent tour, we welcomed visitors from as far away as Connecticut and Missouri.

When we first began the Community Outreach Tours, we had a terrific response from the greater Columbia community. As such an integral part of the local community and the area's largest employer, Fort Jackson certainly wants to share its successes with the community of which it is part. Midlands residents should have a basic understanding of what goes on at the Army's largest Initial Entry Training installation. That's all part of being a good and responsible neighbor. We have been turning civilians into Soldiers for nearly a century, and we want our neighbors to share in the pride that we have in that ongoing mission. And we intend to continue being a good and responsible neighbor.

Army Strong and Victory Starts Here!