Graduation – a time of transition from one phase of life to another – has always been a big deal. But there may be no place where it's a bigger event than at Missouri's Fort Leonard Wood, where they graduate nearly 90,000 soldiers from basic and advanced individual training every year. Unlike most military facilities, Fort Leonard Wood conducts basic training for the Army and advanced individual training for all branches of the service – so they average several graduation ceremonies a week.
When you have a soldier in training – basic or otherwise – you know the trainees have been mostly confined to post for the duration – and Family Day (the day before graduation) and graduation day itself come with opportunities to take your soldier off-post, spend a little special time together and see a bit more of the state.
Training is hard work, but soldiers do receive some time off on post and Fort Leonard Wood is pretty much a small city in itself, offering the soldiers access to a grocery/department store, fast food restaurants, the John B. Mahaffey Museum Complex, outdoor activities and more. Still, your soldier is going to be ready to get out and explore some new territory. How far you can go depends on the mileage restrictions each graduate recieves, which is determined by the unit.
For outdoors-loving families, trout fishing at Bennett Spring or Montauk State Parks offers a refreshing pastime during the season (with some great eats to follow) and challenging sport during winter's catch-and-release season. If you have certified divers in the family, explore Roubidoux Spring. Rent a canoe in the area and float the Gasconade and Big Piney rivers. Farther afield, enjoy America's first national park designed to protect a wild river system – the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. If your soldier's range doesn't extend that far, the area's natural beauty makes the trip worthwhile on your own.
If the timing's right, you can take in a play at Ozark Actors Theatre in Rolla or some live music at the Meramec Music Theatre in Steelville. Explore the legendary Mother Road – Route 66 – and make a stop at the Route 66 Museum in Lebanon.
Hit the trail – but not the traditional kind – on the Meramec River Wine Trail, featuring eight wineries from St. James to Salem, Steelville to Leasburg. The ambiance might be a little raucous for younger family members, but the fantastic smoked-on-site barbecue at the Elbow Inn in Devils Elbow is worth sampling – and finish off with a stop at A Slice of Pie in Rolla.
While in Rolla, visit the Missouri S&T Minerals Museum, showcasing the state's largest university mineral collection with 3,500 specimens from around the world.
The Lake of the Ozarks is at the far edge of some permissions, but with fine dining, lakeside pools, shopping and water sports, it's a sure winner for the whole family.
If you are attending graduation by flying into Springfield, don't pass up a chance to see the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium ... or through St. Louis, the iconic Gateway Arch and Forest Park with its renowned museums and zoo.
Time your soldier has available to spend with you varies by unit and commander, so we've put together some ideas of what you can do close to post, when he or she is sure to have the time to accompany you, and some farther-afield explorations if you want to parlay graduation into a Show-Me State vacation.
For suggestions on things to see while you attend graduation at Fort Leonard Wood Graduation, check on this trip idea.
Written by Barb Brueggeman