By Jefferson Wolfe
USAG Fort Lee Public Affairs Office
FORT LEE, Va. – Planning for Holiday Block Leave – the time when about 4,600 initial entry training students are allowed to go home to spend time with family and friends – was on full display here Nov. 29 during a rehearsal of concept drill at Army Logistics University.
Most students will head out Dec. 19-20 with an expected return date not later than Jan. 3. Leaders from the Combined Arms Support Command and other Fort Lee organizations gathered in ALU’s multi-purpose room to examine and refine the intricate logistics for this year’s operation.
Training brigade leaders use lessons learned from previous years to shape and improve the HBL movement process, making it as efficient as possible. Refinements for the upcoming operation include a notable change to where troops will be picked up by relatives or friends who choose to provide transportation in privately-owned vehicles. The new pickup site is the parking lot adjacent to the Samuel Sharpe Warrior Restaurant, building 18028, on the Ordnance Campus.
Those picking up students will enter post through the Temple Avenue Access Control Point, elaborated Brig. Gen. Michael B. Lalor, Chief of Ordnance and commandant of the Army Ordnance School. The pickup times can be anywhere between 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. on the HBL movement dates.
Cadre from the training schools here will be present at the pick-up site, creating an opportunity for family members to interact and ask question about the Army training that takes place at Fort Lee.
“It’s a good opportunity to facilitate that communication and talk to families about what’s happening here,” Lalor said.
The pickup site last year was a vacant parking lot on the north side of Fort Lee. Although it was easily reachable and did not require entry through an ACP, it did not allow family members to see the installation, noted Maj. Gen. Mark T. Simerly, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general.
“We really missed an opportunity to tell the Army story and let them see what an Army installation looks like,” he said.
About 20 percent of students heading out for HBL are picked up by relatives or friends. The remaining 80 percent can purchase their own tickets for leave. Most, 70 percent, will leave via air travel, others will go by bus or train.
The Army provides transportation to the Richmond airport and bus station, and the Ettrick train terminal in Petersburg, which is another change from previous years when rail travel was out of Richmond as well.
From an overall perspective, the intent is to conduct the HBL period safely, make sure every student understands departure and return date requirements, and that leaders maintain 100 percent accountability for the trainees throughout the process, according to Simerly. Also, planners are to ensure movements are effective, efficient and customer focused. In this case, the customers are the traveling students and families they visit.
“We want to make sure they have a good experience,” Simerly said.
The brigades on Fort Lee will work together to execute the HBL operation, Simerly emphasized, and they will coordinate tightly.
“There can’t be any daylight between them, and their standards of execution will be identical,” he said.
In addition to making sure current trainees are accounted for at all times, Fort Lee leaders must track and prepare for those reporting here from Basic Combat Training stations such as Fort Jackson, S.C., after HBL concludes, Simerly said.
The Fort lee Garrison staff will integrate the CASCOM efforts, balancing security and the efficient movement of people on and off the installation, said Fort Lee Garrison Commander Col. Jim Hoyman.
While troops are away on leave, as well as the lion’s share of the permanent party and civilian workforce, the garrison will continue its mission of installation support. Hoyman noted there will be some consolidation of ACP operations, likely effecting gate hours, and only one Warrior Restaurant on post (building 3500) will be operational. That facility will serve a Christmas meal Dec. 14 and begin transitioning to an HBL schedule Dec. 17 for those who do not go on leave.
Soldiers who elect to remain at Fort Lee through the holiday break will have a planned Family and MWR activity they can choose to attend nearly every day. Options include movies, sports events and tickets to attractions off post. Unit-hosted holiday parties also are planned.
Kenner Army Health Clinic will consolidate some of its operations as well. Troop Medical Clinic 1 will be closed during the holiday break and TMC 2 will remain available to the stay-behind population, according to Lt. Col. Jordan Inman, KAHC commander. The main KAHC facility be open throughout the holiday break, except Dec. 26 and Jan. 2.
Additional information about clinic services can be found on its website, kenner.tricare.mil.
Inman said service members who have a serious healthcare issue – including contracting COVID – during their leave should contact the TRICARE nurse hotline (1-800-TRICARE), as well as their immediate chain of command.
Religious services on Fort Lee during HBL will continue. The schedule can be found at home.army.mil/lee/index.php/about/Garrison/religious-support-office or on the Fort Lee Religious Activities page on Facebook.