The Fort Sill holiday exodus begins

By Christopher WilsonDecember 15, 2022

The Fort Sill holiday exodus begins
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Trainees with Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 22nd Field Artillery Regiment, 434th Field Artillery Brigade, line up to stage for their Christmas holiday block leave. Over the course of about two days, thousands of trainees will travel around the world to spend time with family and friends. (Photo Credit: Christopher Wilson) VIEW ORIGINAL
The Fort Sill holiday exodus begins
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Spc. Spc. Valerie Kurgan, a basic trainee with Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 22nd Field Artillery, get a surprise visit from Santa Claus while waiting to go home Dec. 15, 2022 for holiday block leave. (Photo Credit: Christopher Wilson) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT SILL, Okla. (Dec. 15, 2022) — With a “ho-ho-ho” and a “Merry Christmas” Santa Claus sent thousands of Fort Sill trainees home for the holidays, signaling the start of the annual Fort Sill exodus Thursday, Dec. 15.

“I’m ready to go home and see my family for Christmas,” said Spc. Valerie Kurgan a trainee from Huntley, Illinois. “This is a good time to refresh and reconnect with family and friends.”

Over the course of a couple of days, fleets of busses will descend on the ordinarily quiet post to load and move thousands of trainees to airports in Oklahoma City and Texas, said Col. Michael Stewart, 434th Field Artillery Brigade commander. The Soldiers will then get to spend the next two weeks reuniting with friends and family to enjoy the holidays before returning to the rigors of basic combat training.

“This gives our trainees a chance to go home, but it’s also a time for our cadre to relax too. Everyone gets a chance to re-energize and return to training refreshed,” said Stewart. “This is about taking care of people and their families, so any chance we get to connect our trainees with their families is worth it.”

Moving an entire brigade’s worth of trainees is no simple task, Stewart said. Much like a deployment, it takes his entire team to coordinate transportation, ensure tickets are purchased by the Soldiers, paperwork is complete and luggage is packed. His team also ensures the travelers have transportations from their destinations to home. He said the process begins several weeks in advance.

While the post will essentially become a ghost town, there are always some who, for many reasons, choose to not return home, said interim Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill Command Sergeant Major Michael McMurdy. For those Soldiers, he said there will be plenty of activities and off-post excursions to keep them busy.

“For those staying back, we’ve got events planned every single day,” McMurdy said. “We’re going to take them to a basketball game, trips to the wildlife refuge. There’s FMWR Days and the USO has events planned. Also, several local families have opened their homes over Christmas for the Soldiers staying back. There will be a lot of stuff for the Soldiers to do and none of it related to training.”

Even though he only has a few weeks left in training, Pfc. Larz Malungahu, a trainee with Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 22nd Field Artillery, is excited to see his family soon. He immigrated to the U.S. from New Zealand to join the Army and hopes to become an officer one day. In the meantime, he’s looking forward to eating. A lot. He said he also plans on keeping up with his physical fitness.

“I can’t wait to get to Utah where I’ve got family,” Malungahu said. “It’s good to get the chance to relax and all, but I’m also ready to eat a lot but stay physically fit and then come back and finish training.