FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Fort Jackson is going to be a quiet place for the next two weeks.

Soldiers began departing in droves Wednesday as the post begins Victory Block Leave, which leave Fort Jackson almost empty of personnel until Jan. 3.

Of the more than 8,200 Soldiers currently in Initial Entry Training, 7,900 are taking leave. Of those, more than 6,800 will return to Fort Jackson and the remaining will report to other units elsewhere.

"We've been working on this since May," said Capt. Joseph Meyer, G3 office. "It's something that involves command at all levels."

Fort Jackson is operating three airport deployment nodes in Charlotte, Columbia and Atlanta, and an Amtrak site downtown. Departure and deployment nodes began operation Wednesday. It's an annual event that affects every unit on post, said Lt. Col. Kevin Brill, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment.

"Everybody goes into a pause in whatever cycle they're in," he said. "We've been planning this for months. We know what day we'll pause for everyone to accomplish Victory Block Leave, and we know when they come back. We also have plan in place for when we start back up."

But one battalion won't have to return to Fort Jackson after the break to finish Basic Combat Training

"This battalion is unique," said Lt. Col. Eric Flesch, commander of 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment. "We're not breaking, because we're the last ones to graduate before block leave."

The training cycle was condensed for these Soldiers to prevent them from having to return from Victory Block Leave to finish a single week of training.

"They all go on to AIT from here," he said. "We've been preparing since the very beginning of this cycle. We knew we'd have the last cycle to graduate before Victory Block Leave, so we adjusted everything in this cycle, starting 11 weeks ago to line things up to get this group graduated and out on leave, safely."

The Soldiers leaving Fort Jackson for the holidays are new to the Army, and part of the preparation for sending them off post for extended leave is to prepare them for potential safety issues.

"We're sending thousands of Soldiers out on Victory Block Leave and want to make sure we talk to them before they head out," said Sean O'Brian, head of Fort Jackson's Safety Center. "It gives us one last opportunity to ... tell them to do the right things: wear their seat belts, don't speed, don't drink and drive, don't ride with people who have been drinking. It also gives them the opportunity to get this information from people who have actually lived through some of this."

Soldiers on leave will be contacted once before, and once after Christmas, and have signed "safety contracts."

Representatives with the South Carolina Highway Patrol spent four days this week speaking to more than 10,000 Soldiers about the realities of drunken driving. They brought with them a man who lost his son in a wreck a year ago.

"We want to make sure we reach everyone," said Sgt. Bob Beres, commander of the community relations office for the South Carolina Highway Patrol. "Drunken driving affects everyone; it doesn't just affect the 16-year-olds or 55-year-olds on the roadway. Every one of us travels these roads and we want to make sure it's safe for everyone. We also reach out to high schools, civic groups and churches."

A small number of Soldiers are staying on post during leave. Meyer said approximately 300 Soldiers are scheduled to stay behind. During the Soldiers' time off, various activities will be offered.

"They'll have Christmas dinner, there will be bowling tournaments, and some professional sports events are planned," Meyer said. "They'll also be able to participate in holiday shopping; and different veteran's organizations are planning Christmas parties."