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    They're here! In-person graduation resumes



    Story by Robert Timmons 

    Fort Jackson Public Affairs Office

    “It almost feels like we are getting back to something normal,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston during the first in-person Basic Combat Training graduation held since the pandemic halted them more than a year ago.

    The Army’s senior noncommissioned officer spoke before the first group of Family members invited to see their Soldiers graduate with the 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment.

    “A year ago this was not happening,” he said. “We paused accessions and no one was coming into the military. I don’t think I’ve seen that. I have been in the Army for 32 years … and then look where we are at today and we actually have gotten Families back so it’s really a great day.”

    Fort Jackson resumed in-person graduations April 22 as part of a pilot program where up to 500 Family members are allowed to attend the ceremony and interact with their Soldiers.

    “As we are coming out of this season of COVID … just this ceremony symbolizes that we can get through this,” Grinston added.
    He said those Families who were in person and watching virtually were joining an Army Family that has gone through a lot in the past year – COVID, civil unrest, hurricanes, forest fires – and came together as a community.

    “I saw Soldiers getting after it,” he said. “They were there, the spouse and the daughter, handing out cookies and water, the Soldier defending their neighborhood and it was a real community. That’s what we’ve been going through in this last year.

    “You said, ‘I’m willing to give my son or my daughter, my child, my wife, to be part of that,” he added stating that with the graduation the Families will “join our Army and our Army Family.”

    It had been 406 days and at least 40 BCT graduations since Families were able to witness their Soldiers graduate in person. Moments after the ceremony ended Families reunited with hugs and a few tears on the field.

    The battalion invited a limited number of Families because it is “imperative we get this right,” said Brig. Gen. Milford H. “Beags” Beagle Jr., when he announced the post would resume in-person graduations. “We are setting the stage for all training installations in the Army. We are starting small and if we can do a couple of limited capacity graduations safely, then we will look at increasing the number of attendees.”

    Families had to be invited and be completely COVID vaccinated to attend the ceremony. The post continues to live stream the graduations for those who are unable to attend.

    For Pfc. Blake Pratt, a warrant officer candidate, with Company A, it was an unbelievable moment to see his wife Kaylee for the first time since January. When he heard he might be able to see her at graduation, he “couldn’t believe it.” The couple were married in January shortly before he shipped out to Fort Jackson and hadn’t seen each other face-to-face except through FaceTime.

    Kaylee, who said it, was “very rewarding” to attend the ceremony, found it was “great to hold him.”

    Pvt. Nathaniel Ouellette, from Pulaski, New York, had mixed feelings when he saw his Family coming across the field towards him. “All the memories just flew in … it’s just so heartwarming that I get to see them again.”

    “My boy hasn’t left me for more than four days before this,” his mother Elly said. She said she could not explain her feelings about seeing him again except that it was “awesome.”



    Date Taken: 04.29.2021
    Date Posted: 05.03.2021 10:13
    Story ID: 395432
    Location: FORT JACKSON, SC, US 
    Hometown: PULASKI, NY, US

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