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Military Families Wait To See Their Loved Ones Who Graduated From Fort Leonard Wood

Fort Leonard Wood, taken 7-26-19
File photo | Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio
Many soldiers who completed their training at Fort Leonard Wood remain on post due to coronavirus transportation restrictions.

Hundreds of soldiers who graduated from training at Fort Leonard Wood should be at their next post, but travel restrictions due to the coronavirus have stalled those movements.

It also means that family members have not been able to see their loved ones in the brief windows between assignments.

Alex Englemann of Stockton, California, graduated from basic combat training at Fort Leonard Wood more than three weeks ago. His father, John, was on his way to Missouri for the graduation ceremony, but turned around when it was canceled because of coronavirus concerns.

“I kind of feel like I missed out,” Englemann said about having to watch the graduation ceremony online. “But I understand the reasoning for it. And, like I tell Alex — I write him every couple of days — I’m proud of him.”

Englemann said his son was a good student, always wanted to go into the military and never got into trouble growing up. 

“His Army recruiter asked him, ‘Have you ever seen the back of a police car?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, at the fair, I climbed into the back seat of one once.’ And the whole room went nuts. He is just a sweet kid,” Englemann said.

Englemann and his son are both 6 feet 4 inches tall, and he wants to look him in the eye. “I’d love to be in front of his face, and say, 'Hey look, we’re still here, we’re still fighting for you and we’re still proud of you.' Unfortunately we’re in a situation where that isn’t possible,” he said.

Englemann also said the virtual graduation online was a letdown, and he’s upset that he doesn’t know when he’ll get to see his son again. 

Englemann is not alone. During a virtual town hall meeting on Wednesday, spouses, parents and siblings posted questions about when they will be able to see their family members.

Maj. Gen. Donna Martin, the commander at Fort Leonard Wood, did not give specific answers to those questions.

“Movement will take place in a strictly controlled environment. When movement is approved, names, dates and units will not be announced publicly, to ensure operational security,” Martin said. “We are still working with the Army to ensure the safe transport of our soldiers while mitigating exposure to COVID-19.”

Martin said some soldier movement has started but did not give details. And soldiers’ ability to communicate about their next move will be strictly limited.

“When your trainees arrive at their next installation, they will be given their phones, and they will be able to contact their loved ones and tell them that they have arrived. That’s the only communication we’ll do,” Martin said.

Trainees will not be allowed to go home or take leave. They are staying on post, continuing physical training and doing work around the base. They are allowed to call home once a week, which is usually not allowed for trainees.

Martin said keeping the Army ready for any and all duties and missions that could come up is the top priority.

“COVID-19 does not stop training,” she said. “We’re going to train to standard.”

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

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Jonathan is the Rolla correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.