COLUMBIA -- Army Spc. Tara Malone may give her family a head cold for Christmas.
Aside from learning how to be a soldier, Malone picked up a cough and laryngitis during basic combat training at Fort Jackson. She'll take the bug home during her two-week block leave from basic combat training.
Malone is one of 8,000 Fort Jackson soldiers who left Wednesday for the annual break in training.
Fort Jackson takes a two-week break from basic combat training each Christmas season so soldiers can spend time with their families and friends.
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The mass exodus began around midnight Wednesday. By 5 p.m., more than 8,000 soldiers had boarded buses for airports in Columbia, Charlotte and Atlanta. Others were taking trains and buses or had family members pick them up.
The soldiers will return for duty Jan. 4.
For Malone, the vacation will be a time to rest and recover.
Everyone in her unit has had a cold, and she completed a 3-mile road march earlier this week with a 102-degree fever.
"I need to heal," she said. "The first thing I'm going to do is get a massage and then call it good."
Malone saved money for her $613 plane ticket from Columbia to Huntsville, Ala.
Soldiers pay for their travel, including the $10 bus ticket to and from the airport. Travel agencies on post help coordinate the trips.
Soldiers spent about $125,000 on plane tickets, said Pat Jones, a Fort Jackson spokesman. The post did not have a tally on bus fares and train tickets bought.
Fort Jackson transportation officials have the travel coordination perfected to help soldiers at basic training who are not allowed to have vehicles.
Soldiers trickle into gyms and motor pools based on which airports they are using and their flight times. They sit in sections cordoned off by airline and wait for their flight numbers to be called by drill sergeants.
"Delta Flight 4436!" shouted Sgt. 1st Class Christobal Cruz, a drill sergeant. "Get your bags. Line up."
Those soldiers marched to a bus that would carry them to the Columbia Metropolitan Airport.
As Pfc. Steven Russell, 19, waited to board the bus, he talked about getting married during the break and seeing his daughters, ages 5 months and 2 years.
He also looked forward to home-cooked meals, but Russell said he couldn't eat too much because he needed to be in shape when he returns for his last two weeks of basic training.
"We've got a 15 kilometer road march when we get back."