NEWS

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays

Thousands of Soldiers and their families are traveling home for the holidays, including about 44,000 trainees and cadre from initial-entry training centers.


The Soldiers are participating in a two-week Holiday Block Leave beginning Dec. 18, said Michael Brown, a training analyst at the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training's Initial Entry Division.

These Soldiers are in various training sites across the U.S., going through Basic Combat Training, One Station Unit Training, Advanced Individual Training, the Basic Officer Leadership Course, and Warrant Officer Basic Course, he said.

Normally, about 3 to 5 percent of these Soldiers choose to remain at their installation and not travel home, he added. For those who stay behind, units coordinate several Morale, Welfare, and Recreation activities for them, including attending professional sporting events.

Maj. Gen. Pete Johnson, commander, U.S. Army Training Center and Fort Jackson, South Carolina, was at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina Dec. 18, granting media interviews about the holiday travel. Around him were thousands of Soldiers trainees awaiting flights.

A U.S. Army drill sergeant corrects a recruit during her first day of training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Jan. 31, 2017. Referred to as "Day Zero" this marks the beginning of the recruit's journey through Basic Combat Training, where she will transition from a civilian to a Soldier. (U.S. Army photo by Stephen Standifird)

Holiday Block Leave gives Soldiers a chance to reconnect with their families, he said. About 7,000 Soldier trainees were traveling out of Fort Jackson on Dec. 18, "by trains, planes, and automobiles" and by buses, too, he added.

Planning for this mass exodus is like planning for the D-Day landings, he added, describing the logistical challenges of packing all the Soldiers out, giving them their safety and Army Values briefings, and getting them to their preferred modes of transportation.

Most of those Soldiers will be telling the Army story back home, he said, and some will even have "embellished war stories."

Most of them are young, as young as 17, he noted, but sprinkled among them are "elder statesmen," some as old as 39. They are from every state in the Union.

Johnson praised the volunteers at the airport's USO lounge, who are particularly busy this time of year giving Soldiers a place to relax while awaiting their flights.

Also Read: Watch Stephen Colbert's Hilarious Stint In Army Basic Training

Pvt. Seth Akavickas was at the airport in Charlotte Dec. 18, waiting for a flight to take him home to Wausau, Wisconsin.

Soldiers in training at Fort Jackson were given personalized assistance getting home by ticket vendors, Akavickas said. His ticket vendor got him discounted round-trip tickets for $480, which was a good deal, he noted.

Feb. 28 is when Akavickas began his Basic Combat Training, so he's experienced life in the Army for some time now. Currently, he is in Advanced Individual Training and will graduate Feb. 1.

Akavickas said he has mixed feelings about Holiday Block Leave. On the one hand, he'll be able to spend time with his family over the holidays. But on the other hand, he said he'd kind of like to stay and finish training.

However, he added, the vast majority of Soldiers in training whom he's spoken with are delighted for the break.

After AIT, Akavickas will return to Wisconsin to work as a human resource specialist in the National Guard. He said he plans to attend college through the ROTC program and then try to get commissioned in four years. He wants to make a career in the Army.

Pfc. Madeline Sallee was also at the Charlotte airport Dec. 18. She was heading home to Minnesota, on leave from Basic Combat Training and very happy to see her friends and family.

New U.S. Army soldiers in basic combat training wait for further in-processing after receiving their initial haircuts January 16, 2008, at Fort Jackson, S.C. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Micky M. Bazaldua)

Sallee said the rest over break will be very good, particularly after some arduous training that included a 15-kilometer rucksack march and a lot of other physical activity.

The hardest part of training, she said, was spending the night outside when the temperature got down to 16F. "We were all shivering," she added, despite being used to cold in her home state.

Sallee will graduate Feb. 1 and will become a logistical specialist. She said one of the benefits about basic was making a lot of new friends.

Staff Sgt. Domenic Buscemi, a drill sergeant from Fort Jackson, was also at the airport in Charlotte Dec. 18. He said drill sergeants accompany their Soldiers to help facilitate movement through the airport and to ensure standards of discipline are adhered to at all times.

Soldiers in training are required to travel in uniform, which means they are still representing the Army even while they are away, he said.

Buscemi also relayed some of the benefits of Holiday Block Leave. It serves to boost morale and motivation and gives Soldiers a chance to recharge.

It also gives them time to reflect on their experiences and spread their short-but-memorable Army story back in their communities, he said.

When the Soldiers return, Jan. 3, they will have retained about 70 percent of their basic military knowledge, so there will be some re-learning, he said, along with re-establishing their military discipline.

(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Pfc. Andrew Valenza)

Soldiers don't get to travel home in the middle of their training cycle during the rest of the year, he noted. On Thanksgiving, they're given one day off, but that's not time enough to travel home for most.

Fifteen years ago, Buscemi was a Soldier in training at Fort Benning, Georgia. It was summer and it was hot, he said, much tougher than winter training weather-wise.

Buscemi said he'll return to Fort Jackson today, take a day of rest, then pile into the car with his wife and drive to her family's home in Oklahoma where they will spend the holidays.

Brown admitted that the break in the training cycle is tough on drill sergeants, who have to re-teach numerous tasks, including discipline and customs and courtesies, when the Soldiers return from leave.

However, he said "the break is also good for trainees who come back with a little more pride about training to be a Soldier."

Articles

This is how the 'missing man formation' honors fallen pilots

The first time I witnessed a 'missing man formation' was at the funeral of my grandfather, who flew the B-25 Mitchell during World War II. After his service in the Army Air Corps, he became a commercial pilot for TWA and then ventured into private flight. He died in an airplane crash at the age of 74 and my family gathered with his aviation community at Santa Paula Airport for his memorial.

At the ceremony, we looked to the sky as a group of planes from the Condor Squadron flew overhead. One of the planes banked away, leaving an empty space in the formation.

The symbolism was not lost on me.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less
Veterans

This Army vet started a supplement company dedicated to education

Before John Klipstein joined the Army, he smoked a pack a day and his PT test run time was roughly 23 minutes — which accounts for the time spent throwing up on the side of the track. The military turned that around. The newly-minted 13B found a love for fitness and pushing his body to the limit. After leaving the military, he developed a line of supplements to help others do the same — safely.

Keep reading... Show less

Taiwan is ready to push back against China's aggression

Tensions between the Peoples Republic of China and Taiwan have recently flared up as China held the largest show of naval force in its history in April 2018, and made new threats directed towards Taipei.

"We would like to reaffirm that we have strong determination, confidence and capability to destroy any type of 'Taiwan independence' scheme in order to safeguard the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Ma Xiaoguang, a spokeswoman for the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, recently said.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

The president is getting a new Marine One after almost 60 years

Marine One is an icon of the presidency and for the most part, one helicopter has carried that load for almost 60 years: The VH-3, which first carried President Eisenhower in 1961. The current D model of the VH-3 entered service in 1978 and was later backed up with the introduction of the VH-60N in 1987. But, the fact remains that both of these helicopters are getting older by the day.

Keep reading... Show less

Why South Korea suddenly stopped blasting propaganda up North

South Korea announced April 23, 2018, it has halted its propaganda broadcasts, which it blasts from speakers along the Korean border, in preparation of a highly-anticipated summit between President Moon Jae In and Kim Jong Un.

South Korea's defense ministry announced in a statement it would pause its radio program in order to "reduce military tensions between the South and North and create the mood of peaceful talks."

Keep reading... Show less

China is stealing American technology to grow its sub fleet

China has made marked advancements in its undersea-warfare capabilities and is using stolen US technology to further that progress, US Navy Adm. Philip Davidson told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 17, 2018.

Davidson, who was before the committee as the nominee to lead US Pacific Command, told senators in written testimony that while the US has a "significant asymmetric advantage in undersea warfare," the Chinese navy "is making progress" and that Beijing "has identified undersea warfare as a priority, both for increasing their own capabilities as well as challenging ours."

Keep reading... Show less
International

This is what makes SAS selection the toughest in the world

The Special Air Service is the longest active special missions unit in existence and has remained one of the best. Staffed with the toughest and most resourceful enlisted and commissioned soldiers the United Kingdom has to offer, the SAS only accepts the cream of the crop. Of all candidates who try to earn the coveted beige beret and the title of "Blade," only the very best make it through.

Keep reading... Show less