Exploring Columbia after Fort Jackson Graduation Day

Since my last blog post, my husband Del re-enlisted in the Army.  He is a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Unfortunately, because he had been out for more than six years, he had to do Basic Combat Training all over again.  He trained at Fort Jackson, located in Columbia, South Carolina for ten weeks.  After such a long time apart, I finally got to spend some quality time with him at Fort Jackson’s Family Day and Graduation, two days which commemorate the end of Basic Training. I thought I would write this post to start sharing my new experiences and travels as a military spouse and specifically to give family members of SITs a few ideas for activities in Columbia on Graduation Day.

Family Day

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After such a long absence, I was thrilled to see my husband. Our friend Brandon joined me on the trip.  We woke up early in the morning to get a good seat at Hilton Field for Family Day. We arrived around 7:45 am for the 10:00 am event at Gate 4.  As instructed by the guards at the gate, we followed the blue line on the road all the way to Hilton Field and noticed that the parking lot was already filling up. Before entering, we had to go through some security lines to get inside. However, if you don’t have any bags, you can get in more quickly. We made our way inside the stands. It’s built sort of like a gigantic high school football stadium.  Once inside, you enter the stands according to whichever company your SIT belongs to. My husband was in Company A.

We sat in the stands with my mother-in-law, one of my husband’s sisters, a niece, a nephew and a friend of ours and we talked about some of Del’s experiences in prior service and how much we missed him.

Finally, at 10:00 am, some green smoke was thrown from the woods on the opposite side of the field and the entire regiment emerged marching from the clouds wearing their camouflage OCPs. Seeing the battalion marching and knowing that my man was among them struck me with a lot of emotion. Once the soldiers line up in formation in front of the stands, family members are allowed to walk down onto the fields and “release” their soldier my giving them a big hug.

There aren’t a whole lot of openings from the stands out to the field, so it took us a while to make it out to Del and give him a hug.

We spent the day with him at Fort Jackson, visiting the bowling alley, the PX, the Fort Jackson museum, and Popeyes (which seemed ill-equipped to deal with the crowds). At the end of the evening, we brought Del back to the barracks.

Graduation Day

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Basic training graduation involves more formal ceremonies than Family Day.  The new soldiers are all dressed up in snazzy uniforms and berets and come marching onto the field behind an army marching band.  The overall ceremony is very short.  Once it was over, it took a little while for us to find Del in the crowd of thousands of new soldiers and family members.

Exploring Columbia

SITs are restricted concerning what they are allowed to eat, so on Graduation Day, you might want to make plans to take your soldier to get some of their favorite food.  We ended up stopping by a Starbucks not too far away from Fort Jackson and then decided to find a taco place that I found with the Foursquare app called the White Duck Taco Shop .  White Duck has lots of great taco options including Jerk Chicken, Bangkok Shrimp,  Pork Belly, Duck w/ Mole, and Lamb Gyro.  White Duck Taco is located near the Mills Complex, a former cotton mill repurposed as a trendy apartment complex located close to downtown Columbia. The food was delicious, the staff was super friendly and I highly recommend it.

Columbia Canal and Riverfront

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A short drive away from the Mills Complex, is the Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park,  another place with historic buildings that has been restored and modernized. You enter the park near a water treatment plant, follow a tree shaded path to a bridge that spans the Columbia Canal.   Columbia sits along a geological feature known as the Fall Line, a place where a piedmont plateau meets a coastal plain, typically resulting in a drop in elevation creating waterfalls in rivers that traverse it, making river navigation challenging. The canal was built in 1824 to assist with overcoming this navigational obstacle. It was later modified in the late 19th century to provide power to mills.

Across the bridge over the canal sits an old brick hydroelectric plant, which is a fun place to explore.

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There are a few hammocks set up in a grassy field near the river for lounging on a pleasant day. A biking/jogging/walking trail, known as the Three Rivers Greenway, follows the banks of the Broad River through woodlands, offering views of the river rapids. Del and I explored this trail at more length the following day.

Especially if the weather is nice, this park is a really cool place to explore with your soldier.  You can take a long walk along the river and catch up, which to me is one of the most important things to do after spending so much time apart.

South Carolina State House

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The South Carolina State House, the impressive and imposing building, capped with a copper dome, houses the state’s legislative bodies and offers free tours of the ornate interior.  The tour starts with a short movie that gives some of the history of the structure.  We were able to see the State House of Representatives, but the State Senate was closed off at the time of our visit.  Even if you don’t have the chance to tour the inside of the State House, visiting the well manicured grounds is worthwhile. Monuments to African American history, a Spanish American War, Andrew Jackson, and the Civil War each offer their own interesting stories.

It was hard to say goodbye to Del again as he went off to AIT.  Attending Fort Jackson Family Day and Graduation made me appreciate what families of members of the United States Armed Forces go through and the sacrifices they make.

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