FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — More than 7,000 Fort Leonard Wood trainees boarded planes, trains, buses and automobiles to spend time with family and friends for the two-week Christmas and New Year’s time period commonly referred to as holiday block leave, or HBL.
However, about 150 trainees decided to remain on post — they’re referred to as holdover trainees — and it was up to Company B, 35th Engineer Battalion to ensure they had plenty of fun and enriching activities available.
“We wanted to provide as many relaxing, exciting and entertaining events as we could for the trainees who remained with us over the holidays,” said Capt. Kyle Schlauch, Company B commander. “Not everyone has somewhere to go, and some would rather just save their money, so it was on us to make sure they could enjoy their down time here.”
In addition to daily opportunities to visit the gym, Bravo Company put together an extensive list of activities the trainees could choose from — scuba diving, archery, paintball, bowling, movies at Abrams Theater and tours at the John B. Mahaffey Museum Complex to name a few.
“We tried to come up with something for everyone,” Schlauch added.
Unit leadership also made sure the trainees were provided with a special Christmas Eve dinner at Pershing Community Center.
The holiday season is commonly noted for being synonymous with giving, and Bravo Company worked with the Fort Leonard Wood Blood Donor Center to allow the trainees the opportunity to donate blood Dec. 27.
The holiday block leave period is an especially important time for blood donations here as most of the center’s donor pool is away for the holidays, said Carl Norman, Armed Services Blood Program donation recruiter.
In total, 35 units of blood was donated by eligible trainees during the drive.
Many trainees also raised their hands when volunteers were sought to help Boy Scouts from Fort Leonard Wood’s Troop 149 clear and mark on-post hiking trails over a two-day period.
“The Scouts have really been focusing on improving the trails around Fort Leonard Wood to allow for people to enjoy them,” said Adam Hilburgh, one of the troop’s adult advisors. “We wanted to give (the holdover trainees) the opportunity to do some volunteer hours.”
The Stone Mill Spring trail is about one-mile long and winds up a hill to overlook the Big Piney River near the Piney Valley Golf Course. When the Scouts asked for 20 volunteers to help clear debris there on the first day — Dec. 22 — more than 40 trainees raised their hands.
Pvt. Jonathan Coop, a National Guard trainee from Company C, 84th Chemical Battalion, was chosen to help.
“I like doing hikes and helping clean up the community so it’s nice to do this,” he said.
Coop, who came to Missouri from Bay Point, California, chose to remain at Fort Leonard Wood because he’s scheduled to graduate from One Station Unit Training in February and will be going back home then anyway. He said he’s very thankful for and impressed with the variety of activities that were planned for the two weeks.
“We’re having a pretty good amount of fun,” he said. “I’d heard a lot of great things about holdover HBL here and they were right.”
Schlauch said while the drill sergeants did an excellent job managing trainee movements around the installation during HBL, the planning of events was significantly helped by Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation and the USO.
“They gave us options … and they made the events wonderful,” he said. “The USO and FMWR teams are the real MVPs for this mission.”