Fort Jackson Exchange Connects Basic Training Graduates with Friends, Family Across the Country During COVID-19 Pandemic

Pvt. Urian Morales poses with the Exchange gift card his mother, Patricia, bought for him through My Fort Jackson Soldier.

Peach Snapple, teriyaki beef jerky and gummy sharks.

Those are the snacks Pvt. Urian Morales wanted after finishing eight weeks of Basic Military Training at Fort Jackson, S.C.

“He sent me a letter with a little menu of everything he wanted to get on family day,” said Patricia Morales, Urian’s mother.

A week later, Patricia got word that families could not attend graduation because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She was heartbroken—but thanks to a new program through the Fort Jackson Exchange, she was able to make sure her son got his treats of choice on his big day.

The program, called My Fort Jackson Soldier, allows spouses, family members and friends to purchase Exchange gift cards for their Soldiers while graduations are temporarily closed to outside visitors.

Through the program, each Soldier’s unit sends families a link to purchase gift cards, which the Soldier can pick up from the Fort Jackson Exchange after graduation. In return, the Exchange will snap a picture of their Soldier and send it back to them via email.

“We really wanted to do something special for those family members and Soldiers who can’t connect in person right now,” said the Fort Jackson Exchange’s main store manager, Common Orris. “Their loved ones are still rooting for them. Even though they can’t be together in person, they still have the chance to send their love.”

Orris said response to the program, which was developed in conjunction with Fort Jackson command, has been overwhelming. Twenty-three gift cards were purchased within 24 hours of the program’s launch, and its second run of graduates received 118 gift cards.

“The smiles these Soldiers have coming through the door say it all,” Orris said.

With his gift card, Urian picked up his Snapple, jerky and gummy sharks, along with a hot meal from Arby’s.

Patricia, meanwhile, said she is happy to know her son was taken care of on graduation day—and to finally see his face again after eight long weeks apart.

“It was a huge treat to see that big, clear picture of him,” Patricia said. “That was a very nice feeling. I wasn’t able to be there physically, but I was definitely there spiritually.”

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