COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - There’s no place like home for the holidays and, Thursday afternoon, hundreds of Fort Jackson soldiers and trainees left the base and headed to Columbia Metropolitan Airport to start the journey home to their families for Christmas.
The annual Victory Block Leave is a little different this year due to the pandemic. Fort Jackson officials began preparing for the two-week break back in October. Unlike past years where all of the soldiers pack the airport over the span of 24 to 48 hours, this year, their departure times are staggered over the course of six days.
“In the past, we were able to do this in much larger increments and do it over a shorter span of time,” said Fort Jackson Commanding General Milford Beagle. “Now, in order to get everyone out safely and not have an increase in numbers here at the airport and at Amtrak and anywhere else, we’ve reduced those numbers and will get them through over a longer period of time.”
Around 6,000 Fort Jackson soldiers and trainees will be leaving for the holidays. Some will not return as they graduated basic training Thursday.
“Two months was a long time of hard training, but I liked it,” explained Kaesha Wooley. “They did a great job keeping us safe.”
Fort Jackson officials said all the soldiers had their travel destinations approved and have received extensive safety briefings. Those heading to locations that require a COVID-19 test have been tested.
“Now, our biggest concern is we are going to release them outside of the bubble, but they are good; we hope to get them back the same way we are allowing them to go home,” said General Beagle.
Around 200 soldiers will remain on base during the break. Some have tested positive for COVID-19 or are in the isolation bay. Others have chosen to stay.
“Christmas dinner, I’ll be with them, those that were left behind,” General Beagle noted. “I’ll have Christmas dinner with those guys, my family team, and my army family team.”
While this group of soldiers is pretty close, they’re eager to be able to end this tough year with the ones they love.
“My family is definitely excited to see me during these times,” said new soldier Nicholas Harmer. “The holidays and Christmas, it’s definitely a blessing to get to go home and see my family.”
All soldiers leaving will be tested when they return to Fort Jackson, and they will have a controlled two-week monitoring period to re-establish their bubble before resuming training on January 19.