By Wallace McBride
Fort Jackson Leader
U.S. Army Training Center and Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Milford “Beags” Beagle, Jr., updated the post’s extended Family about changes to COVID-19 safety procedures during a virtual town hall May 13.
Late last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased guidelines on the wearing of masks outdoors for people who are fully vaccinated. These guidelines are beginning to have their effect on graduation activities at Fort Jackson, which have been restricted throughout much of the pandemic.
This additional layer of accountability has enabled Fort Jackson to protect both its force and its mission during the pandemic, he said.
“And now it’s enabled us to bring you here to see your Soldiers graduate,” he told viewers during the town hall event.
Fort Jackson has already begun a gradual reopening of graduation day events for friends and Family members. Last week, visitation to graduation ceremonies was limited to 750 people, but by the start of July, that number could expand to as many as 5,000 people.
“The further we go into the summer, the bigger those classes are going to get,” Beagle said. “More Families are connected to those classes and trainees ... and those numbers are going to be from 3,000 to 5,000 that would attend in person.”
The biggest factor in this transition is how and when trainees receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
Trainees will begin receiving vaccinations next week on a volunteer basis, but those trainees won’t graduate from Basic Combat Training until next month.
“We will have a pretty big risk window between now until July 8, because we will have vaccinated and unvaccinated visitors,” Beagle said.
“There’s a window where we will accept some risk,” he said, a risk mediated by a short list of rules guests are expected to follow:
1. Follow the rules and policies
2. Wear face masks properly
3. Respect others; social distance, courtesy and kindness
4. Be honest
5. Refer to rule #1
Beagle said he anticipates in-person Family Day returning to graduation activities in July, a decision he said is linked to fully reopening Fort Jackson.
“We understand that Family Day is special for the Soldiers and loved ones who visit,” said Post Command Sgt. Maj. Philson Tavernier, but Fort Jackson also has to protect its force and mission. “By July we’ll have a better assessment about whether we can transition to Family Day. We want Families and Soldiers to have Family Day, just as well as you do.”
“If you come, follow the rules,” he said. “Attending graduation is not a right, it is an opportunity – it is a privilege that you have.”
Just because you have access to the installation does not give you automatic access to graduation ceremonies, he said. Training installations are allowed to regulate visitation to graduation ceremonies to protect their forces and their missions.
More than 40,000 Soldiers have come through Fort Jackson during the pandemic, he said. Soldiers exposed to the virus during in-person graduation events can possibly take it with them to their next duty station, spreading it further across the force.
Fort Jackson continues to live stream graduations.
To watch the town hall in its entirety visit: https://www.facebook.com/FortJacksonCommandingGeneral/videos/147879974016607
By Wallace McBride