By Cursha Pierce-Lunderman, Fort Jackson LeaderJanuary 4, 2012
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Millions of Americans hit the busy airports and packed highways to get home for the holidays, but hundreds of Fort Jackson training Soldiers decided to stay on post for Victory Block Leave.
The 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment was responsible for entertaining nearly 250 Soldiers for two weeks in the Columbia area, and the task proved to be fairly simple.
"We have a large mission this year," said Maj. April Jones, the battalion's executive officer. "When we found out the number of Soldiers staying behind, we had to stand up another company to accommodate them all. But, it's been easy duty and we enjoy doing all of the activities with them."
Many groups such as Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, USO and local civilians worked together to give the Soldiers on Fort Jackson an enjoyable holiday experience.
In the game room at the battalion, Soldiers challenged each other on Wii game systems donated by FMWR.
"We're just having fun playing games, taking it easy here and saving money," Pvt. Zachary Gonzalez said. "I wanted to keep my focus on the Army over the break, and when I found out the fun schedule they have for us here, it made sense to stay."
Saving money was a common denominator for several of the Soldiers who remained on post.
Pfc. Raynaldo Hernandez said that he joined the Army to provide for his mother.
"I'm from Puerto Rico and my mom is sick there. I joined so that she could have better health benefits," Hernandez said. "By staying here, I'm saving money so I can bring her here for my graduation. Plus, I want to go to the NBA and NFL games for free because I've never been before."
Soldiers went to Charlotte to see a Bobcats game and a Carolina Panthers game. They also enjoyed the Lights Before Christmas at the Riverbanks Zoo. While they were on post, Soldiers bowled at Century Lanes, enjoyed meals hosted by USO, and ate homemade holiday treats from local civilians like Frances Bisset.
"People want to do something for Soldiers and don't know what to do or how to go about it, and baking cookies gives them a way to do that," she said.
Bisset and 35 other Columbians made holiday treats for the Soldiers during the Spiritual Safety Day event hosted by the battalion chaplain, Capt. Hyun Ha.
"We're just a little ad hoc group that got started, and it has continued. My son is in the Army at Fort Bragg, (N.C.) and when he was away from home, people always helped him. So this is just our way of taking care of the Soldiers who are still here," Bisset said.
As the hectic training schedule resumes this week, Pfc. Abdul Felder says he will be able to return to duty well rested.
"It is great to take time out to just rest here," Felder said. "I've had the chance to work on my art, that I enjoy, and meet new friends. When the crazy hustle starts back up again, I'll be ready for it."