The nearly 900 Soldiers were loud when they responded "Right here" to Fort Jackson's commander Maj. Gen. John "Pete" Johnson's shout of "Victory starts here."But they were even louder when half would cheer "Game," before the other half screamed "Cocks!"The chants reverberated through Fort Jackson's Solomon Center during the Oct. 14 University of South Carolina Basketball Madness celebration for the post community. The Gamecocks' men's and women's basketball teams interacted with Soldiers during shooting competitions, teamwork drills and had to perform push-ups as the troops graded their form."I am proud to welcome the Gamecocks basketball teams -- both men's and women's -- into our house," Johnson said while kicking off the event. He told the Soldiers in Training attending the event that the players "are doing the same thing that you are doing. You are preparing to build a team; you are trained and you are ready now to join our Army. They are training so they will see victory when they meet their first opponent."While the teams were training for their first games they understood there is more to basketball than just the game.The teams headed to Jackson "to enjoy it with people who are their peers," said men's basketball head coach Frank Martin. He acknowledged there was a "greater calling" than basketball while also pointing out the team can use the platform to help others. "If all we talk is basketball with that platform than shame on us."Dawn Staley, the women's head basketball coach, was thankful the teams could be on post to "give you a bird's eye view of what we do" at practice.I hope "our team can embody" the spirit of the U.S. Army, she added.That spirit includes the creation of a close bond between Soldiers which the event helped strengthen.
"I love the camaraderie," said Pvt. Zachariah Kirkham, with Delta Company, 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, and Prattville, Alabama native. "I know the guy to my right will have my back, and the guy to my left will have my back, and they both know I have their backs."The basketball madness "is a lot of fun. I can't say I am a fan of basketball, but I am enjoying it," he added while watching fellow Soldiers interacting with players. "They are lucky guys. They are all good folks."The interaction between Soldiers and players affected everyone who attended."The interaction between players and Soldiers is really special," Johnson said. The event allowed Soldiers in Training to "take off a little while from basic training and be able to enjoy a little" fun.
"It's great to see the single Soldiers come out and have fun," said Tia Harris, who works with Fort Jackson childcare, as her two sons Daderion, 5, and Jayeyn, 2, posed for a picture with Staley after the event.The event was one of many partnership events the post has with the Midlands."Columbia, Fort Jackson and the university are incredible partners," Martin said. "And we want to ensure that is always the case. We have an unbelievable amount of respect for what you do for us every single day."