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The standard basic training graduation is traditionally summed up in a ceremony lasting one to two hours, but on Sand Hill, its more than that. Leading up to the main event, many of the battalions host related activities for visiting Families to help them better understand the Soldier experience, so they can in turn better support their Soldier.
A case in point is 3rd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment.
Its more than just a graduation, said battalion commander Lt. Col. Kurt Thompson. It is a milestone. It is the recognition of an accomplishment that has changed you forever. It doesnt mean youre going to stay a Soldier forever, but its changed fundamentally who you are. Everyone should be proud of that moment not just of the Soldier but also of the support (Family) have provided to him. Thats something to celebrate as well.
While graduations are typically Thursday morning, graduation week starts Tuesday night with a meet and greet, where Families can ask drill sergeants and company leadership anything theyre curious about: their Soldier, the training, Army life.
Wednesday starts off with a physical readiness training demonstration. Families watch their Soldier perform morning warm-ups then cheer him on as he finishes the Raider Run, a three- to four-mile run representing the last physical challenge Soldiers must complete before graduation.
Next, Families join in the beret ceremony, where the trainees don their berets, symbolizing their inclusion as new members of the United States Army. For married or engaged Soldiers and their counterparts, there follows a spouse orientation that covers information on benefits, Army acronyms, programs and more. Afterward, Family Day kicks off, and Soldiers and their loved ones are free to spend time together before the soon-to-be graduates report back.
Before graduation the next morning, wives and fiancées are invited to final a spouses panel where they can talk with, and learn from veteran Army wives.
Thompson said it could be four months to a year from the time their Soldier enlists to when the couple arrives at their first unit which could be too late for a welcome.
Thats really what this is about, he said. Its about welcoming them in and answering any questions they have. And when they get to their first unit, they have an idea of what to expect.
Thompson said the various activities help prepare the Family to stand behind a Soldier who is already prepared from weeks of mental and physical training.
Its not just about doing the training. Thats partially accomplishing the mission, he said. Its really about making graduation the welcoming of this Family to the Army. It can be a very daunting thought knowing that your Soldier just went off to basic training. This may be the first time youve ever gone this long without seeing him. You have a lot of anxiety. That whole experience of a graduation week is the way we try to reach out to the Families. It becomes much more personal. Weve given them more than just I came to a graduation and it was awesome. They better understand what the Soldier experience is.
That happened for Tiffanie Couchois. As she drove from Tampa, Fla., with her two young daughters, for her husbands graduation, she said she was feeling nervous.
My anxiety level was really high because I didnt know what to expect, said Couchois, as she walked toward VIP seating reserved for her and other spouses at the graduation.
Im a lot more at ease now knowing that no matter what base you get put at, theres people you can talk to and theres things to do, she said. This (panel) today was really helpful. I liked how they had the different wives there to put their perspectives on everything. I didnt have to ask any questions because the ones that were going through my head were already asked.
When her husband first talked with her about joining the military, she was apprehensive, she said, but after taking part in the units last week of activities, she feels ready for Army life. They make us all feel like were a part of the group, Couchois said of the unit cadre and spouses. There was a lot of great information. It wasnt too fast. For us, this was really nice. Now that I get to see what hes been doing now that Ive been going to the groups they had yesterday and the one today Im ready to go. Im ready for it to start. Its real now.
Pfc. John England, honor graduate for F Company, said he enjoyed the different graduation activities and so did his parents, who made the 12-hour drive from Springfield, Mo., to be there.
It was nice that they had it spread out throughout the week, England said. It was nice that it wasnt just all in one day and be done with it. You get the full experience of what you worked for through the whole nine weeks.
Thompson said so far the feedback he has heard on the graduation week events has been positive.
Graduation is more of a commencement, which means to start on that journey, he said. This is the start of their careers. We enlist Soldiers, and we re-enlist Families. That is really what it is all about. If we could do more, we would. Its that important.