FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- Thousands of Advanced Individual Training Soldiers departed Fort Huachuca this weekend following months of Army planning to ensure the troops could take leave safely despite COVID-19.“Taking care of people is a leader responsibility,” said Brig. Gen. Anthony R. Hale, commander, U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence. “Finding ways to return these Soldiers home for the holidays is vital to their mental health and wellness, especially in this COVID era.”Basic Training and AIT are known for their restrictions as Soldiers move from civilian life to the Army, but these Soldiers have faced a more difficult experience than most as their movements were even more tightly controlled to protect their formations from COVID.“We really owe a debt of gratitude to these Soldiers and their families who not only raised their hands to serve but then stood with us patiently throughout this year to ensure they and their teammates were as safe as possible,” said Command Sgt. Major Warren K. Robinson, command sergeant major, U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence. “We know they are tired and have COVID fatigue, we feel it too. But I thank them for doing the right things and making these sacrifices so we can continue our training mission in the safest ways possible.”Soldiers were required to preplan their travel and have their destinations reviewed by U.S. Army Intelligence Center cadre and commanders. The reviews ensured the destinations and travel plans were acceptable risks and in-line with the organization’s mitigation measures.“They will be in touch with their drill sergeants and cadre while they are gone, and have training on what to do and who to call should they start feeling symptomatic or find they are at an increased risk,” said Hale. “They know to wash their hands frequently for 20 seconds or more, wear their masks, watch their distance, and watch out for one another. CSM and I trust them to do the right things.”Soldiers were tested for COVID and isolated before their departures and will be tested again upon their return. Regardless of the test result, all returning Soldier will restrict their movement for 14 days before rejoining others on Fort Huachuca, or entering the training environment.“We’ve worked with medical experts to find the best ways to reestablish the clean training ‘bubble’ around our formations once they return and we think this is it. Ultimately, there must be some level of acceptable risk to do what’s right for these Soldiers and allow them to return to their loved ones for the holidays. They are at the very beginning of their careers, and there is no doubt many of them will miss some special days in the future, but there’s no reason that had to be this year for these Soldiers.”In 2020, Soldiers, like other Americans, have experienced increased stressors and the suicide rate has surpassed previous years. Hale is often heard discussing this and the unacceptable level of suicides and suicidal ideations with his staff.“People are my number one priority and as leaders, we absolutely have to take care of our Soldiers, civilians, contractors, and their families. This means understanding their obstacles and needs, and getting them the support they need in the most timely fashion,” said Hale. “Mental health is vital to military readiness. We need Soldiers to be mentally well, physically strong and healthy, socially connected, and spiritually satisfied. Building and supporting these pillars of resiliency ultimately affects our readiness as an Army and therefore our national security, but even if that were not the case, it is simply the right thing to do to take care of people.”Hale and Robinson drove to the Tucson International Airport Saturday morning from Sierra Vista to accompany the Soldiers on their way out. They visited with the troops, and in some cases, their families, just to ensure they were doing well and answer any last-minute questions personnel may have.Soldiers said they appreciated the command team’s presence and snapped selfies with the senior leaders who asked what they wanted to do most when the Soldiers got home.“I want to play with my dog,” said two Soldiers standing in line for coffee.“You have a dog!?” asked Hale. “Have you seen my puppy?”Whipping out his phone to show the Soldiers his young Boxer named Bailey, smiles beamed across the trio’s faces, even if only apparent in their eyes, as laughs came muffled from behind their masks.“It’s really nice of them to come out here and spend time with us,” said a Soldier. “It really shows they care.”The Soldiers will return after a couple of weeks away during which the few who chose to stay at Fort Huachuca will enjoy special activities tailored for them by the chaplain, USO, and museum.“I hope they all enjoy this much-deserved time-off,” said Robinson. “They should eat a little bit too much because they can run it off. Regardless, we look forward to having everyone back happy and healthy to resume our training after the first of the year.”Soldiers are reminded to reach out for help if needed. The 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Line is 1-800-273-8255, and the Fort Huachuca Chaplain’s Line is 1-520-508-8042.# # #Fort Huachuca is home to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM)/9th Army Signal Command and more than 48 supported tenants representing a diverse, multiservice population. Our unique environment encompasses 964 square miles of restricted airspace and 2,500 square miles of protected electronic ranges, key components to the national defense mission.Located in Cochise County, in southeast Arizona, about 15 miles north of the border with Mexico, Fort Huachuca is an Army installation with a rich frontier history. Established in 1877, the Fort was declared a national landmark in 1976.We are the Army’s Home. Learn more at https://home.army.mil/huachuca/