By Mr. Robert Timmons (IMCOM)January 4, 2018
Victory Block Leave can be a great time for trainees and Soldiers to reconnect with their Families before heading back to Fort Jackson to finish training. While a majority of Soldiers went home during this time, there were roughly 300 who stayed behind.
Not all stayed behind because they had no place to go, but rather decided to stay for many other reasons.
Pvt. Benjamin Brown, who hails from Green River, Utah and is assigned to Delta Company, 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment said he stayed at Fort Jackson to stay in a training mindset.
"If I went home I would be in the same place as the other people and I would come back and act like I was in red phase again," he said while waiting for his Christmas dinner to be served at the 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment dining facility by Maj. Gen. Pete Johnson, Fort Jackson and Army Training Center commander, and Congressman Joe Wilson. "I don't want to be in red phase again. It's much better to be in blue phase."
Basic Combat Training is broken up into three phases: red, white and blue. All trainees start in red phase where drill sergeants instill discipline and motivation with a more "hands-on" approach than in the latter phases. As trainees go through the different phases, drill sergeants move from being disciplinarians to being more akin to mentors and leaders.
Pvt. Destinee Soto, Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, said she was heldover because she didn't go straight to AIT after graduation, so she's been assisting drill sergeants over the holidays. Her husband is currently deployed, so she's saving leave days for when he returns.
"I don't get bothered as much as the new trainees, so it's good and I kind of get like a little bit privileges," Soto said. "I get my phone during the day when the trainees are not around,
and then sergeant major will let us go to the PX and stuff for lunch, so that's pretty good."
"I wanted to continue the training and you know it's easier to do it when you're here as opposed to being back at Utah," said Spc. Richard Roethell, Delta Company, 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment. "This past week has definitely proved that wrong."
Trainees like Brown weren't relegated to continuous training or post details but rather treated by Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation and other organizations throughout the Midlands to
ensure the "holdovers" had a time that closely replicated being home for the holidays as the conditions allowed.
"I thought we were going to do a lot of yard maintenance now and then," said Pvt. Elijah Gabriel during the New Year's Eve party Dec. 29 at River Bluff High School in Lexington, South Carolina. "That's what everyone was telling us."
United Services Organizations held a dinner in their honor Dec. 19 at Camp McCrady and brought the musical group The Chainsmokers to play for them. Holdovers were also treated to the Riverside Zoo and Saluda Shoals Park to see Christmas lights; ice skating at multiple rinks around Columbia;
and play laser tag during a brisk morning Dec. 28.
"They treated us really well," said Pvt. Jonas Gaza during a break in the News Year's Eve party. "At first I thought it was be really grueling and boring … with the help of the USO we were to able go to very fun places."
My favorite part was for "The Chainsmokers to show up and have a concert for us was unthinkable."
Steve Seshun, owner of Go Go Laser Tag who has provided his service to Fort Jackson holdovers the past few years said he was proud to do what he could to help the troops who couldn't go home have a little fun.
"It's an honor to be here because I just want to do what I can for the troops in some small way," Seshun said moments before showing the trainees how to use the equipment. "It's probably one of my favorite events of the year because you don't have to tell these guys to hide."
The USO was helping to "show these young service members that they are not forgotten over the holidays, and that the community supports them and what they are doing," said Katie Kennedy, Operations and Programs Manager for the USO of South Carolina.
"Personally, it's awesome to see them out there having fun during a time where it can be sad being away from their Families, but seeing them have fun brings so much joy to me."
Editor's note: Latrice Langston contributed to this story.