Ten thousand soldiers can be found training aboard Fort Jackson, S.C. on any given day, according to Leslie Ann Sully, media relations officer, with roughly 1000 of that group preparing to complete basic combat training on a weekly basis. For the parents and loved ones of these recruits, family day and graduation present the opportunity to finally reunite with a son or daughter after 10 weeks of separation. After many weeks of preparation, my own family recently visited the Army base to watch our son officially earn the title of soldier earlier this year. Here are some tips from our trip that can help other military parents ahead of a visit.
My son, Zachary, enlisted into the Massachusetts National Guard late last year after being inspired to serve from his grandfather. As a proud mom, the thought of him taking on this commitment left me awe-inspired by his calling to wear the uniform. Though it was a completely different kind of our experience to prep for some a big milestone in his life. The long-awaited experience was a whirlwind of excitement and mixed emotions, and so I am hopeful these tips can help your family plan for this momentous occasion.
Plan to arrive with time to spare. Visitors will need an official ID to enter the base. Since your soldier will be granted a day pass to leave base on graduation day, schedule your visit on base and your excursion into Columbia, S.C. carefully. Time will pass quickly with soldiers needing to return to their barracks at an exact hour, so it’s important not to overwhelm the liberty time. As your soldier returns to the barracks, linger and you may get to witness training in action with drill sergeants shouting orders or soldiers completing mandatory push-ups and standing at attention.
What to bring and what to wear:
Depending on the season, check the weather forecast for Columbia before your departure. We arrived in late March and were fortunate to have pleasant weather. While both ceremonies are wonderful, dressing to impress is a personal choice. Wear clothing that is comfortable and since you will do a lot of walking, wear comfortable shoes. If you own a pair of binoculars bring them along. This way you will be able to view the soldiers waiting on the edge of the forest before they make their grand entrance through puffs of green smoke.
Parking is plentiful with soldiers onsite to direct your vehicle. Before entering the stadium be prepared to wait in line but only if you have items requiring an inspection. Depending on when you arrive, you could spend time sitting before the ceremonies begin. The benches are not uncomfortable but if you are a fan of seat cushions, pack one. Make sure your phone and camera have full battery power because you will want to capture these once-in-a-lifetime moments.
There are also plenty of bathroom facilities, and they are clean. However, caffeine drinkers beware there is no coffee for sale but there are vendors selling military memorabilia outside the stadium.
Family day and the graduation ceremony:
Yahoo! You are finally able to reunite with your soldier! During family day you are part of a huge crowd waiting for a soldier. The anticipation of your embrace is more than exciting. Clearly displayed signs will direct you as to where each battalion will be stationed on the field. And you will be able to see the soldiers marching onto the field. By the conclusion of the family day ceremony you will be requested to find your soldier standing at attention. Each soldier will look fantastic in their fatigues.
Graduation day is a repeat of family day, except soldiers will be in their blues. After the ceremony ends you will need to locate your soldier at the end of the field, not standing in formation with their battalion.
Traveling around the base:
We found walking to be the best way to learn more about life on base, but driving is an option. The sidewalks are in good shape and clearly marked signs will direct you to the barracks, shops, parks, and museum.
Parking is plentiful but restaurant parking lots fill quickly. While walking, your soldier is able to highlight areas where they completed their training cycles. Since a majority of their time was spent training, your soldier was not able to enjoy some of the perks they are allowed to indulge in on family and graduation day like, fast food, Starbucks and shopping at the main Exchange.
Things to see and do at Fort Jackson:
Besides Hilton Field, the training facilities, barracks, recreational parks, and restaurants, I highly recommend visiting the U.S. Army Basic Combat Training Museum – the 7500 square feet official museum of Fort Jackson that showcases the evolution of basic training, according to its Facebook page.
Your soldier has so much to share about making it through basic training successfully, and like you, they have experiences to talk about during your time apart. While most of what they share is about having embraced the suck, they will talk about their growth, determination to be successful and about the challenges of basic training. By visiting the museum, your soldier will be able to explain the stages of red, white and blue. Plus, the visit can help soldiers to answer the bombardment of questions which may come their way about their intense training. Some of what they share may be difficult so be patient as they explain aspects of their training experience. I am confident your soldier will also share about the lasting friendships they formed and the deep appreciation they have for defending America’s freedom.
The 48 hours with your soldier will be the best days of your life. As you bid farewell, remind yourself they’re doing what they set out to do, become one of America’s finest soldiers. During your final embrace before another goodbye, your eyes swell with tears – flash them a proud smile, give them an I love you, and let them know that you will write and pray for their continued success.
Read more of Nancy’s entries about her son’s journey of becoming a soldier at OUR AUTHORS.Read comments