FORT LEE, Va. - It is said there is no place like home for the holidays. This holds true for more than 8,000 advanced initial training (AIT) Soldiers, at U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM), who travelled home Dec. 18 - 20 for a two-week break.
Each year during the Christmas and New Year holiday season, CASCOM AIT schools, at Fort Lee; Fort Eustis, Virginia; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Fort Leonard Wood, Kansas; Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; and Fort Jackson, South Carolina, conduct Holiday Block Leave (HBL) to give military students and cadre downtime.
"Based on the time of year Soldiers join the Army, Holiday Block Leave is the first break students get during initial military training," said Col. Marc Thoreson, assistant commandant, U.S. Army Quartermaster School. "It is very important, not only for the Soldier, but also the family members and friends of the Soldiers to share in the holiday spirit.
"It allows the Soldiers to decompress, increase morale, and enhance resiliency, allowing them to complete their rigorous training with a renewed spirit," the colonel said.
HBL allows new Soldiers, many away from for the first time, to take a break for the holidays before either returning to complete their initial military training or heading to their first duty assignment.
Adelia Palmer and Norma Williams, mother and grandmother of Pvt. Kimali Brown, waited in line during a chilly morning to pick up their Soldier going through quartermaster AIT. "I'm so excited, I haven't seen him since (basic training) graduation," said Palmer.
Both have noticed a change since Brown enlisted. "He is a man now," said his mother. His grandmother added that he has grown up.
The safe movement for the Soldiers home and back to their duty station is number one priority for CASCOM. Each of the five CASCOM schools - Quartermaster School, Ordnance School, Transportation School and Army Logistics University, all at Fort Lee, and the Soldier Support Institute, Fort Jackson - provide a movement plan covering check-in locations at local rail and bus stations and airport as well as a privately owned vehicle pick up area. Transportation and Ordnance schools also have locations set up at geographically separated schools at Fort Eustis, Fort Sill, Fort Leonard Wood and Eglin Air Force Base.
While on leave each Soldier is paired with a "buddy" who they travel with and keep in contact daily.
"It's a little overwhelming," said Pvt. Markesha Carter, an ordnance AIT Soldier, traveling to Pensacola, Florida. "I joined to better myself and even though there has been ups and downs, I know I made the right decision."
Soldiers were not only traveling to various locations in the States, Pvt. Randall Oliveira, an ordnance AIT Soldier, was traveling to see his mother and siblings in Brazil.
"I haven't seen them in almost a year," he said. "It's like magic, I can't believe I'm going home."
AIT Soldiers will return after the new year with classes starting on Jan. 7. CASCOM sustainment schools train more than 100,000 Soldiers as well as other services and international military annually.