The COVID-19 virus has caused the Army at Fort Jackson, SC, to suspend the Family Day Celebration. Since this time, families of graduation recruits are unable to come on Fort Jackson to personally cheer their soldiers on graduation day. Sally Lester, a retired dependent living on post, has taken the families place by standing on the street corner to becoming a one person cheering team. The graduating soldier’s response has been overwhelming as they hoop and howler out the window of the passing buses. (Photo by Ron Lester) 

By Robert Timmons                                                                                                                                                                                            Fort Jackson Public Affairs

Soldiers may not graduate from Basic Combat Training in person before a large, cheering crowd but they don’t leave Fort Jackson without a small send off.

Since the COVID pandemic stymied in-person graduations, a Fort Jackson community member has made it her calling to give them a little “good-bye” – social distance-style. On most weeks, Sally Lester can be seen standing on the side of the road holding up signs of encouragement as the troops pass in buses.

“Because of the recent restrictions and changes made to the Family Day celebration and graduation, I felt it was important for someone to congratulate the Soldiers for their hard work,” she said. “I know how important it is to have my hard work acknowledged and appreciated. I went through basic training 50 years ago and there were no family day celebrations, and graduations were held within the battalions. I would have liked to have had family, or even a local person take notice and congratulate me on my accomplishments. That’s what motivates me.”

When we show support to the Soldiers we are giving them a gift of encouragement, she added. “Which one of us does not thrive a bit more with some well-earned encouragement?”

Lester and her husband Ron have attended graduations and Family Day since moving from Colorado three years ago to do a church service mission at the Anderson Chapel for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Ron also volunteers by taking pictures for the Fort Jackson Public Affairs Office.

She longs to congratulate them “up close and personal.”

I want to tell them “I appreciated them. I know every Soldier comes into the Army for their own personal reason. It doesn’t matter what brought them to basic training. What matters is that they have become Soldiers and they have a high degree of patriotism. I want them to know they are appreciated and remembered.”

There is lots of space for Fort Jackson community members to join her, she said.

“Come join me at the corner of Chestnut and Hampton Parkway at 9 a.m. most Thursday mornings. I’d love to have company, at a safe distance of course. It is rewarding and fun and an unexpected, uplifting bright spot for our local Soldiers.”