Fort Jackson sends trainees home for the holidays to certain locations

Thousands of trainees and soldiers will head home for
the holidays to connect with their loved ones if their destination has been
approved. Fort Jackson is conducting Victory Block Leave differently this
year due to COVID-19.

Trainees and soldiers are leaving and returning in a safe and staggered
manner starting on Dec. 17 and training will resume on Jan. 19, 2021 after a
two week controlled monitoring period.

Fort Jackson transportation planners and travel offices have worked for
months to plan a smooth departure for roughly 6,000 soldiers who will travel
by commercial airlines, buses, trains and, in some cases, with family
members by privately owned vehicles. The bi-weekly Facebook town halls
started addressing the block leave procedures in October to family and

Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle, Jr., explained that the
post is prepared for the holidays. “Ticket sales have already started in
October for Victory Block Leave because as we get into December, the tickets
will be much higher,” Beagle said.

“You will get to see your soldiers during the holiday- please keep them safe
and send them back safely so they can continue training,” said Fort Jackson
Command Sgt. Maj. Philson Tavernier when asked if their trainees were
participating in block leave. On the days the trainees are purchasing their
tickets, they have been give their phones to call home and provide that
information to the family, Tavernier added.

The operational tempo of both the trainees and cadre in the past year makes
this leave vital to the wellbeing of our soldiers and their families.
Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), Center for Initial Military Training
(CIMT) and Fort Jackson have developed comprehensive mitigation measures
that utilize a variety of testing, screening, restriction of movement and
quarantine protocols for soldiers and cadre upon return from block leave.


No one will be participating in Victory Block Leave if they have tested
positive for COVID-19 or are in the isolation bay. “We have an obligation to
take into account everyone’s health and welfare,” said 165th Infantry Brig.
Command Sgt. Maj. Roberto Guadarrama.

193rd Infantry Brig. Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond Butler explained further, “If
they are already in the COVID bay, they will not be able to go on block
leave. The reason they are in the bay is because our medical team deemed
them positive of COVID and still contagious so we would not be able to send
them out on public transportation and Victory Block Leave.”

Butler explained if someone has bought a ticket and becomes positive, the
ticket will be refunded. “The medical team will be clearing people out of
the COVID bay all through the Victory Block Leave so we can keep soldiers
moving forward,” Butler said.

“What we are sending to you are soldiers from a clean environment,” Beagle
said. All soldiers leaving have had extensive safety briefings and a bundle
of mobile applications that can help keep them that way. Before the trainees
leave to go on block leave, they will scan a QR code which will add apps to
their phone. “One good question to ask your trainee is to see the Fort
Jackson App on their phone,” Beagle said. “The more apps they have that are
related to Fort Jackson and the military, the better because there are a lot
of resources connected to that app.”

As Fort Jackson makes plans for the holiday leave, the leaders know that
some states are changing restrictions and procedures. “Some states are
requiring before you enter that state, you have to have a negative COVID
test,” Beagle said. Overseas travel is limited as well.

193rd Infantry Brig. Commander Col. Mark Huhtanen asked to stay aware of
what is going on within your state like the infection rates “because we want
them to stay safe and come back to us healthy.” He explained the deliberate
process set for when the trainees come back and that they will get tested
again and have a controlled monitoring period. This also applies to the
cadre who will be taking holiday leave as well. “We are going through the
same risk mitigation that the trainees are,” he said of soldiers and cadre

Soldiers in training have become adept in those techniques proven most
successful in containing the spread of the virus: frequent handwashing,
wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and avoiding areas with high
infection rates. As they return home, we expect everyone to continue these
virus mitigation measures while back home. Prior to departing, units briefed
trainees and soldiers on their responsibilities to continue to mitigate risk
during their holiday break. Soldiers will wear face masks during travel; and
training centers will position drill sergeants at airports to support and
monitor soldiers.

To mitigate the COVID-19 risk, the Army will deliberately and methodically
re-establish installation and training bubbles through deliberate, focused
efforts and ensure accurate information flow to the lowest level to protect
our force and in turn protect our mission. Fort Jackson has developed
comprehensive mitigation measures that utilize a variety of testing,
screening, restriction of movement and quarantine protocols for soldiers and
cadre upon return from block leave.

In closing, the team asked everyone to help each other to stay COVID free.
Beagle told the audience they will receive a letter detailing how to keep
their loved one safe during Victory Block Leave.
“Put that note on your refrigerator and your microwave or somewhere you can
see it,” Beagle said. He said he wants all trainees to come back so they
can accomplish what they set out to do. “Help keep them safe and healthy,”
Beagle said.

Anyone traveling by air will encounter much higher than normal congestion,
especially at hub airports as military personnel in training from all
services head home for the holidays.

Fort Jackson will have cadre at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport
and Columbia Metropolitan Airport who will oversee the movement of soldiers,
ensure proper behavior, assist with processing through security, ensure
soldiers board the proper transportation for home and again when they return
to ensure they identify and take care of any soldier who becomes delayed or