Nearly 7,000 Fort Jackson trainees began departing the installation in the wee hours of Dec. 19 as part of Victory Block Leave.

VBL, otherwise known across the Army as holiday block leave, takes place every December as Initial Entry Training shuts down temporarily as trainees and cadre are allowed to take leave to be with their Families.

Trainees departed Fort Jackson heading towards various transportation nodes to take them home.

There was Pvt. Nacereya Mosley, a 88N -- Transportation Management Coordinator who was headed home to Orlando, Florida via an overnight train ride.
"I'm going to Disney World," she exclaimed. "Oh my God, I'm so glad."

She said the training had taken a toll on her but she was glad to have gone through it.

Pvt. Esmeralda Garcia, a 92G- Culinary Specialist with 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, was heading home to Minneapolis on a flight from Columbia Metropolitan Airport. "I will surprise my mother because she doesn't know I'm coming," Garcia said.

While some trainees went home for the holidays, 225 stayed behind.
The trainees remaining on post for the holidays will still be able to have family time during Christmas -- just not with blood relatives.

Adopt-a-Soldier will allow them to spend the afternoon celebrating with local host families.

Some Soldiers can't go home during Victory Block Leave, while others have various reasons for staying behind.

They will instead stay at the holdover battalion, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment.

This is an especially challenging time for them to be away from Family, said Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Ausbun, from 1-61.

The Army works to keep them emotionally strong during the holidays, since many are missing their holiday traditions, Ausbun added.

Adopt-a-Soldier is one initiative that helps. The Religious Support Office has partnered with 1-61 to make it happen.

The battalion will pair interested Soldiers with volunteering host families in the Midlands.

"It gives Soldiers another option" to get off the installation during leave time, said Chap. (Lt. Col.) Rodie Lamb of Fort Jackson's deputy Garrison chaplain.

It allows them to interact with the outside world and enjoy a home cooked holiday meal.

It's also a way for Fort Jackson to "build a bridge" with the surrounding community, Lamb added. It gives locals a chance to support the military.

The installation has partnered with a few area churches to organize the event. All denominations were welcome to assist, Lamb said.

Soldiers in good standing remaining on post during VBL are eligible to partake.

"This is also voluntary," Lamb explained.

Participating trainees will leave Fort Jackson the morning of Dec. 25 for the homes of Columbia area residents.

They will be surrounded by their adopted families for a holiday meal and will return that evening.

This is the second time ever that Fort Jackson has run the Adopt-a-Soldier program.

The concept of the program isn't new, though.

"Adopt-a-Soldier has probably been around for a long time," Lamb said.

Other branches of the military have done it in the past.

The Army wanted to catch up, he explained.

(Veran Hill and Robert Timmons contributed to this report.)