FORT MEADE, Md. -- As the holiday season came to a close, Spc. Austin and Pfc. Haley Wierzbicki cherished the last moments they had with their family in Walnut, Illinois, before returning to their respective duty stations to start the new year.
As a close-knit family of three sisters and two brothers, both Haley and Austin, and their parents, Nicole and Karl, acknowledged the significance behind this year's holiday visit.
This is the last season the family will have together before the three youngest siblings, Sequia, Sierra and Mason, head off to basic military training and don their Army uniforms.
"It makes me feel proud -- like I did something right along the way," said Nicole Wierzbicki, the kids' mother. "They have excelled in this [small] town and during school. They will go on to do greater things in their lives."
During their visit, the oldest sister Haley, a combat medic specialist on holiday exodus from advanced individual training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas; and Austin, a signals intelligence analyst stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, regularly shared stories about their careers thus far, they said.
Anxious and determined, "the triplets" had plenty of questions for their older brother and sister, Nicole said. The three graduate high school in the summer and are slated for BMT shortly after.
"I chose to enlist because … I needed more of a challenge and wanted to try something harder for myself," Haley said. "It was nice to be home [during the holiday exodus]. Not having a chance to see my family and being away for so long at BMT was a big change. My family noticed a big change in my brother and I after being gone for so long."
All of Haley's siblings shared similar reasons for joining the Army. The two Soldiers would often share the tips and tricks they learned to overcome the plights during BMT and AIT, Austin said.
"I was the first to go, and I was nervous because I didn't know what to expect," Austin said. "After recognizing what was right and wrong, I gave them all some advice to help make it easier. I wanted to point out [things] they should learn to help set themselves apart from their peers.
"Once they have graduated their AIT … and get to their unit, I look forward to hearing their perspective on the Army -- to see if they have enjoyed it as much as I have," he added.
Sequia is excited about her new career as a mortuary affairs specialist. After hearing many stories from her older siblings, she looks forward to the next chapter in life, and can't wait to see how the Army will shape her in the long run, she said.
"When Sequia was younger, she found a dead bird and would ask to fix it or wanted to find a way to make it better," Nicole said. "Most kids are scared of things like that, but she was always accepting of it."
Eager to follow in Haley's footsteps, Sierra initially tried to enlist as a combat medic, she said. However, changes during the enlistment process that were outside her control forced her to alter her career path. Sierra eventually chose to become a combat engineer.
"Combat engineering seemed like the adrenaline rush that I was looking for in life," she said. "It was the [demolitions and explosives] and teamwork aspect … that I thought was cool. It is going to be this exhilarating feeling, and it just seemed like an adventure that I wanted to take."
Mason considered Army artillery to be the "King of Battle" and opted to enlist as a cannon crewman.
Both Mason's and Sierra's career choices are a perfect fit, Nicole explained. The two are both "extremely outgoing" and are constantly looking for something new to do.
While Mason is excited to get out there and fire a howitzer cannon, he is mostly concerned about getting "smoked" during BMT, he said. His older siblings tried to quell his concerns, but it will be up to him to push through training after he departs.
Throughout each enlistment process, the kids kept their parents involved during the process, often explaining their career decisions and help ease their minds, Nicole said. Army recruiters were always available and there to answer many of Nicole's questions.
"[My kids] were all enthusiastic," Nicole said. "I can't be anything but happy for them and support them along the way."
Seeing a change in Haley and Austin, Nicole appreciated the lasting impact the Army has had on her family, she said. Both kids now exhibit a high level of confidence and leadership, and she can't wait to see what happens to her three youngest.
"As a parent, you see your kid in a different light," Nicole said. "When they can finally see themselves in that light, it all comes together. It will be nice to see them grow."