Mayors from four of Pulaski County’s five cities joined U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton and numerous other county, school, and business leaders to sign a “community covenant” with Fort Leonard Wood on Monday morning.
Held in the basement of the county courthouse, the ceremony may not change much about the relations between the post and the community, signers acknowledged — but only because the relationship is already strong.
“I was born and raised here so I take a lot of things for granted; there’s always been military here,” said Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall. “I went to school with them, I’ve worked with retired and active duty military my entire adult life ... We’ve been through the good times and the bad times. We’ve been here when those soldiers returned from Vietnam. When those soldiers returned from combat, the families and people lined Missouri Avenue, and if that doesn’t make you have goosebumps and your heartbeat pick up a little bit, nothing will.”
U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, said the community support for Fort Leonard Wood is a success story that needs to be replicated elsewhere.
Skelton said he has a “gnawing concern” that the military is “becoming insular” by lack of close connections with the civilian population.
“It takes people like you to welcome them, work with them, and have them into your homes,” Skelton said. “It’s important for them to feel part of America, part of civilian life. That’s what churches can do, and what schools are supposed to do.”
Skelton made clear he wasn’t referring to the local area around Fort Leonard Wood.
“You really don’t have to ask this area to do that; you’ve been doing it for years,” Skelton said. “But this (covenant signing) formalizes that; this is a reminder of your importance to national security.”
Skelton said it’s important for soldiers to receive strong community support, especially in an era when soldiers are being deployed two, three and even four times.
“I’m concerned that at some point the spouse is going to say, ‘No, we’re going to move on,’ and at that point they leave the Army,” Skelton said. “Then at that point, a future sergeant first class will never be a sergeant first class because he went home to his family.”
“That’s your job, to keep them feel appreciated so that the mentality of ‘us-versus-them’ does not develop,” Skelton said. “You should know how important you are in keeping the friendship and ties to those in uniform as well as the families of those who serve.”
State Sen. Frank Barnitz, State Rep. David Day, and the mayors of St. Robert, Waynesville, Richland and Crocker echoed many of those sentiments.
“The community here stands behind the military,” Barnitz said, noting that as a member of the Missouri Military Preparedness and Enhancement Commission, he’s among many in Missouri working to help make the state more military-friendly.
Day agreed.
“I have to chuckle when groups come into my office and ask how we can make Missouri a more military-friendly state; here around Fort Leonard Wood, we’ve been doing that for years,” Day said.
Maj. Gen. Bill McCoy, Fort Leonard Wood’s commander, said he’s appreciated that support during the several times he’s been assigned to Fort Leonard Wood.
“Even when Fort Leonard Wood was a fledgling post, this community reached out,” McCoy said. “You don’t see that in other parts of the country. Some communities have pulled away from the military installations in their areas.”
“It is a partnership that has stood the test of time,” McCoy said.