By Cursha Pierce-Lunderman, Fort Jackson LeaderDecember 14, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- As school children count down the final days until winter break, Fort Jackson is getting ready for its own vacation. This week, the Soldiers-in-training will be departing for Victory Block Leave from today until Jan. 2.
During this major operation, thousands of Soldiers will travel from Fort Jackson to places all over the country to enjoy the holiday season.
The Army Training Center G3, Victory Travel, Hoffman Travel Center and others have been working together in the Joe E. Mann Center since Nov. 1 to make travel arrangements for every training Soldier planning to leave post during block leave.
"It's their decision on whether they would like to travel by bus, train, air, POV or hold over here. We help them out with it all," said Don Jackson with Victory Travel. "We're here because most Soldiers don't have access to computers during their time here, and our knowledgeable staff can get them the best rates on where they need to go. We've seen 43 training companies so far. "
Soldiers have the option of leaving from the Columbia, Atlanta or Charlotte airports to fly home. They may also choose train or bus transportation, depending on the distance and cost. Some Soldiers have far-reaching travel needs and the staff rises to the challenge of getting them home during the designated leave time.
"I'm trying to get to Hawaii to see my husband," said Pvt. Rosa Garcia of Company C, 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment. "We got married in Honolulu back in October, and I came here on Nov. 16. It'll be great to see him, and I'm really looking forward to getting away from this cold weather."
Pam Morrow, a seasonal employee with Victory Travel, was able to find a ticket for Garcia.
"Yesterday, I had a Soldier trying to get to Hawaii and it was $1,900 so you just never know. You try ticketing a few different ways to see what will work best for the Soldiers," Morrow said. "This Hawaii ticket is $1,300, and I was able to issue two tickets so she could use her pay advance to cover half of it. That can only be done here."
Soldiers have the option of using up to $700 in advance pay to cover their tickets, since many of them have not earned enough money to afford travel expenses.
Even with the option of advance pay and help from Victory Travel, some Soldiers will choose to stay at Fort Jackson during the holidays. The cadre of 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment will help those Soldiers, often called "holdover" Soldiers, have an enjoyable time in the Columbia area during block leave.
"We're tracking all of the Soldiers during the leave, whether they stay here or go home," said Sgt. 1st Class Marilyn Shaw with the Army Training Center G3. "The ones in the holdover unit will have a calendar full of things to do here."
Soldiers will see Riverbanks Zoo's Lights Before Christmas, go to the movies, and attend University of South Carolina, NFL and East Coast Hockey League games during Victory Block Leave.
Shaw said that safety and accountability of Soldiers are the main goals for the Army Training Center during Victory Block Leave.
"Things have been going well with the travel plans here so far. We just want to make sure everyone is where they want to be and (be) safe for the holidays this year."