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Army’s largest training base to restrict weapons after trainee hijacked school bus

Soldiers participate in Weapons Qualification on the M16 Assault Rifle at the firing range on Fort Jackson, SC, 13 May 2019.(Photo by Michael Mascari, U.S. Army/Released)
May 14, 2021

On Thursday, the U.S. Army garrison at Fort Jackson, S.C. paused its weapons immersion training, which tasks trainees with being responsible for a service rifle throughout their training. The decision comes a week after a trainee left the base armed with an unloaded M4 service rifle, and hijacked a school bus with 18 elementary school children on board.

“We have paused our weapons immersion training while we continue investigating,” Fort Jackson said in a statement to American Military News. “Although we knew there was no ammunition in the weapon, we acknowledge that others did not know that fact. Our goal is to determine how this happened and what actions are needed to prevent it in the future.”

Fort Jackson is responsible for the basic combat training of about 50 percent of the Army. The decision to pause weapons immersion training thus affects the Army’s largest training base.

Weapons immersion training entails having trainees learn to properly handle their weapons through an immersive process where they are issued a rifle shortly after beginning training and are charged with responsibility for their weapons. For the first three weeks, trainees are given weapons with no ammunition, while ammunition is introduced at the firing range in the fourth week.

Fort Jackson spokesman Patrick J. Jones said the pause means that trainees will not be tasked with taking their weapons everywhere they go, but will instead only carry them for specific weapons-related training, such as at a shooting range. For all other times, weapons will remain locked away in an arms room.

Last week, a suspect identified as 23-year-old Pvt. Jovan Collazo, a New Jersey native, left the base with his rifle and hijacked a school bus. Investigators have assessed he was seeking a ride to get away from the base and return home. Collazo boarded the bus with his M4 rifle before eventually letting the driver and 18 school children off. He drove the bus a short distance before abandoning it and the rifle.

Collazo was arrested a short time later and has since been charged with 19 counts of kidnapping, a single count of armed robbery with a deadly weapon, carjacking without great bodily harm, pointing a firearm at a person, carrying weapons on school property and possession of a weapon during a violent crime, according to jail records.

In the Fort Jackson statement, base commander Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle, Jr. said, “We truly regret this incident and the effect it is having on our community. I have spoken with Dr. Davis, to express my desire to meet with the parents of the children so I can personally share my concerns for them. I want to answer their questions and let them know we are taking actions to prevent this from happening again.”

Fort Jackson further stated, “We are thankful for the open dialogue with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, the Richland School District Two and community leaders as we all work together to be as transparent as possible. Collectively, we are working with each other to inform and assist those who have been impacted by this incident.”