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Fort Leonard Wood celebrates high schoolers who choose the military after graduation

Waynesville High School student and future Soldier Ezra Parker accepts a letter of appreciation and a handshake from Fort Leonard Wood commander Maj. Gen. James Bonner, as Waynesville School District Superintendent Dr. Brian Henry (left) and Missouri Governor Mike Parson look on.
Dawn Arden
Fort Leonard Woods Public Affairs Office
Waynesville High School student and future soldier Ezra Parker accepts a letter of appreciation and handshake from Fort Leonard Wood's commander, Maj. Gen. James Bonner, as Waynesville School District Superintendent Brian Henry, left, and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson look on.

WAYNESVILLE – While high schools are celebrating their graduates who are going on to college or trade school, Fort Leonard Wood is hoping to give the same attention to those making the armed forces their next step.

The military installation in the Ozarks partnered with area school districts to host the “Community Salute To Service” at Waynesville High School on Wednesday night.

More than 50 high school students graduating this spring and enlisting in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard or Space Force were honored in an event that played out similar to a scholarship awards ceremony or senior honors night.

Maj. Gen. Levon Cumpton, adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard, told them they are needed by their country.

“I want to thank you for committing to take this step,” Compton said. “It’s a big deal. You’re a big deal. It’s a tremendous obligation, but you’re up to it. And I’m proud of you.”

Organizers of the celebration hope it will both honor students who choose to pursue the military and also encourage others to do so.

The first Community Salute to Service event was held in 2019, but was canceled for two years due to COVID.

“This is a very fitting tribute to young men and women who are choosing to serve their country,” said Fort Leonard Wood's commander, Maj. Gen. James Bonner.

“It’s about the community, our state and our military. It’s about 50 personnel who have made a commitment to our nation and to selfless service,” Bonner said.

Waynesville High School senior Travis Novak is joining the newest branch of the military, Space Force. He said he appreciates the school and the military honoring him for his choice.

“I wanted to further my education in science, especially physics. I think the Space Force best suits me to be able to learn new things while being able to serve my country,” Novak said.

Laneisha Cox, also a Waynesville High senior, is joining the Army to become a public affairs/mass communications specialist.

“After COVID, I started to see the military as a safe place to go to get money for college and still be pursuing the career you want,” Cox said. “My family supports my decision, and it’s nice to see the community support me, too.”

Gov. Mike Parson, who is an Army veteran, was the keynote speaker at the celebration. He told the recruits that being in the military changed his life for the better, and it will change theirs, too.

“Because when you do something for other people, people you’re never going to meet, never going to see, never going to know – that’s the ultimate public servant,” Parson said.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.