The wind picked up, pushing rain clouds across the hazy sky as Soldiers with class 18-007 Company C, 35th Engineer Battalion, fit one last rehearsal in before friends and family filled the stands for graduation May 18 on Gammon Field.
Even with Missouri’s typically indecisive weather, outdoor graduations are becoming more frequent for Basic Combat Training and One Station Unit Training companies this summer.
This graduation marks the first in recent memory for Engineer OSUT.
“This is the first one in the OSUT environment for quite a few years,” said 1st Sgt. Addison Yost. “What’s unique to this outdoor graduation that we’re finding is, you have to rehearse two different types of graduations because if the storm comes, we have to have somewhere to go.”
With indoor graduations being used the past several years there wasn’t a standard format to follow for an outdoor ceremony leading the company to create their own after reaching out to Fort Leonard Wood’s 1st Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment, which has already held some outdoor ceremonies, along with Fort Jackson.
According to Yost, the unit meshed ideas from both and added something extra.
“What we came up with was starting it with a demonstration to show the skill set that Soldiers learn (as combat engineers and bridge crew members) in 12B and 12C One Station Unit Training,” he said. “A demonstration of how to breach an obstacle and what we do to provide mobility to commanders on the battlefield, then they’ll enter, and the company will do the actual graduation.”
With modern technology and social media, friends and family members can follow what training their Soldier is doing as they are doing it or shortly after. The unit decided to go with the breaching demonstration as a replacement of the typical graduation video recapping the Soldiers’ experience.
“You have hundreds of families from all over the United States and even further; they drive so far, we kind of owe it to them,” Yost said. “If they do an indoor graduation, we can show a video and can do some really cool stuff with technology. Outside you can’t really do a lot with technology, so it’s back to the basics, by showing them what their Soldiers can do.”
One thing that remains the same with the change in venue is the amount of work that goes into preparing for graduations.
“It’s important for the families to know there is a lot that goes into graduation. What they’re seeing today is just a little part of it,” said Sgt. 1st Class Sarah Morehead, Co. C drill sergeant. “A big part is uniforms, because obviously, they’re new to the Army and don’t know how to put their uniforms together. We have to spend a lot of hours helping them put them together and then inspecting them.”
Morehead said uniforms alone take up two days of gold phase, which is the final week before graduation. This, in addition to hours of graduation practice every day, leaves trainees and drill sergeants crunched for time.
“There are other things that we need to do, too, like get their packets straight, making sure their paperwork and orders are good-to-go,” she said. “We have to make sure they clean the bays and turn in all of their gear during gold phase, as well, so it’s really just making sure all of the loose ends get taken care of, and they have all the paperwork they need to move on to the next duty station and be successful.”
According to Morehead, the amount of work that needs to be completed during gold phase causes the stress level to be as high as it is in red phase.
“In gold phase, you’ve got to pick it back up a little bit, because they’ll start to lose that focus, attention and sometimes the discipline, so we have to be a little bit harder on them,” she said. “Because there is so much that has to get done, we have to get on them harder in gold phase, sometimes harder in gold phase, than we do in red phase.”
She added, “We (drill sergeants) are up at 3 in the morning, and we don’t go home until 10 at night every day in gold phase, but it’s a great reward seeing them in the end and how much they have truly changed. Seeing it in their personalities and their attitudes, it’s great to see.”
Yost said the unit’s Family Readiness Group also puts a lot of work into graduation by providing meals for the drill sergeants during the rushed time, among other things.
Company C’s executive officer 1st Lt. Mitchell Phelps, said there are some things the Soldiers’ families can do to help ensure graduation goes smoothly for everyone, with having patience being first on the list.
“Definitely make sure you get the commander’s letter,” he said. “At the start of every cycle we have the trainees send out a letter to their families, providing them all the information they need to come on post. That really ensures their preparation for coming on post, telling them when and where they need to be and the name of each location.”
He said families should contact the Fort Leonard Wood Visitors Center if they have any questions in regards to coming on post.
“Be sure to follow the Facebook page, if there are any changes; that’s where we’ll post it,” Phelps said. “Also, come to Family Day. Family Day will be the day before graduation, and if there are any changes we’ll brief it right then and there.”
Phelps said he also recommends those planning on flying to graduation purchase refundable tickets, since graduation is not guaranteed.
“If they get injured, if there’s disciplinary actions, or they don’t pass a test, these are some reasons that would mean they can’t graduate. It does happen,” he said.
Yost summed it up by saying, “graduation week is like trying to cram two weeks of time into one week. That’s just how it goes no matter where you graduate.”