During two days in December, Charlotte Douglas International Airport is full of young men and women in Army camouflage. Buses full of recruits from Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C., arrive every half hour. It’s part of the annual Victory Block Leave, when about 4,500 trainees go home for the holidays.
Many of these new soldiers are teenagers and Basic Training was their first time leaving home. They’ve been in the hands of a drill sergeant for the past few months, and they are looking forward to being back in the arms of their loved ones.
Supporting the soldiers during Victory Block Leave is a team effort. CLT, the Airport USO, HMSHost, Paradies Lagardère and the airlines join together to make sure the trainees are well fed and comfortable while they wait for their flights. USO volunteers are out in force assisting however they can. Some of the soldiers need help getting to their gates. A lot of them just want pictures taken with their friends.
There are plenty of cookies, chips and candy for them to enjoy without worrying if their drill sergeant is watching. Charlotte USO Center Manager Julie Milani makes sure about that. She knows what their food intake has been during training, and the USO provides them with the things they haven’t been allowed to eat for a while. They can come back for seconds and thirds if they want.
After getting something to eat, you’ll find the soldiers relaxing, listening to music, swaying on rocking chairs and scrolling through their phones. We asked some of them what they are most looking forward to during their time off.
- Pvt. Janean Carr says she is eager to spend time with her family in Chicago, decorate the house, fill stockings and bake cookies. “I can’t wait to eat cookies without getting in trouble.”
- Pvt. Makenna Duy says she can’t wait to eat her dad’s famous mashed potatoes and spend time with her siblings in Tennessee. “They haven’t seen me in a long time and I’m sure they miss me because I’m the big sister.”
- Pvt. Dean Hawkins is anticipating seeing his younger brother when he gets home to Eagle River, Alaska. They have both been training at Fort Jackson but haven’t seen each other since leaving home. “Thanksgiving we were actually in the same dining hall, but we didn’t know it because there were so many people there.”
- Pvt. Trey Stancil says chilling out and relaxing are on the top of his to-do list when he gets to Orlando. “I just want to sit in a room by myself. I’ve had to sleep with 64 people in the room.”
The Army pauses training for Victory Block Leave so the soon-to-be soldiers and their trainers can reflect on what they’ve accomplished, enjoy time with their loved ones and come back energized. Look for them to come back through CLT in early January as everyone makes their way back to Fort Jackson.