FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- The nearly 200 Soldiers who remained on Fort Jackson during block leave participated in activities quite different from their normal 6 a.m. physical training, hours navigating confidence-building courses and practicing marksmanship.

Instead, Soldiers participated in an array of activities, including attending University of South Carolina men's basketball games, the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, a free dinner at Golden Corral, a concert featuring popular local bands and shopping at the Village at Sandhill.

"This year is our best year yet of activities for the holdover Soldiers," said Jessie Stevenson, the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation program manager/coordinator of sponsorship and advertising sales.

Block leave began Dec. 17 and ended earlier this week.

Stevenson and other FMWR employees spent nearly two months planning the 14 days of events, and relied heavily on contributions from local sponsors.

"We tried to plan a lot of off-post activities so that the Soldiers have the opportunity to see what is going on within the local community."

Peter Alford, 16, who was responsible for organizing a Dec. 29 concert at the Solomon Center, said he was honored to be able to give back to the Soldiers.

"My father is in the military, so I appreciate and understand all the things Soldiers do for us," he said. "I could not think of a better place to perform."

Alford is the drummer for the five-member Indie rock band "Kill Anties." The band, was one of four that performed at the concert.

Stevenson agreed that it felt great to do something for the holdover Soldiers that would bring them joy during the holidays.

"There is nothing I would rather be doing during the holiday season because it is an opportunity to give back to the Soldiers who are constantly giving to us," Stevenson said.

"It is priceless to see their smiles. They are so thankful for the little things."
Spc. Waleed Talia from Company D, 120th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception), said that all the activities made not going home for the holidays a little easier.

"I have no family members in the states; both my mom and brother still live in Baghdad. (Fort Jackson) is taking good care of us, which makes it feel like I am at home," he said.

While distance kept Talia from traveling home during block leave, it was the desire to hone physical training skills that kept Pfc. Casey Calvert from Company B, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, at Fort Jackson.

"I came into the Army after doing no physical activity. I chose to stay here to work on making myself stronger physically and passing my (physical fitness tests)," Calvert said. "I don't want to get out of sync with military life."

Calvert said that block leave gave him the chance to maintain a happy balance between Army life and fun.

"The mornings are for military time, when we do physical activities and cleaning, but after that we get to participate in a lot of fun activities," he said.

He added that even while participating in the fun-filled activities, Army duties are never far from his mind.

"We are expected to act accordingly and adhere to the Army code of ethics at all times," Calvert said. "I would never want to disgrace the Soldiers who came before me, or the ones that will come after me."