FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. — As masterful as Santa delivering presents around the world on Christmas Eve, the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence and Fort Huachuca successfully delivered hundreds of Soldiers attending advanced individual training to the start of their Holiday Block Leave destinations Dec. 18.
Over a 24-hour period over 1,800 Soldiers were bused to a bus station and airports across Southern Arizona, allowing AIT students to begin their travel home for the holidays.
Operating out of Eifler Gym at Fort Huachuca, the departing Soldiers went through a four station process consisting of a luggage inspection with military working dogs, luggage weight check, leave documentation check, and an extensive safety brief before boarding buses to their port of departure.
“This annual event is fairly significant event for the installation,” said Capt. Daniel Jarvis, Assistant Operations Officer for the 309th Military Intelligence Battalion. “We tracked the movement of over 35 busloads of Soldiers heading to Phoenix Sky Harbor, Mesa Gateway, and Tucson International Airports, as well as, the Benson Bus Depot.”
Over 1,100 Soldiers departed from the Tucson International Airport and another 700 departed out of the airports in Phoenix. At all three sites volunteers passed out refreshments donated by the United Service Organizations (USO).
Although the vast majority of the AIT Soldiers were excited to be returning home for the holidays, a few were apprehensive about what they may find when they get there.
Pvt. Joshua Frese, Pvt. Alexandra Gonzales, and Pvt. Ginelys Salas were returning to hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico, which they have not seen since Hurricane Maria hit there four months ago.
“I am a little concerned what I will find when I get there,” said Frese. “My parents have been without power since the storm, so I am bringing them some solar-powered lights for Christmas.”
Gonzales, who left for basic training the day before the hurricane hit, was excited to get back to her 6-year-old daughter Camilla. “My daughter has started back to school, but my parents are still without power,” said Gonzales. “I hope to make this Christmas special for her.”
Salas, who kept her return a secret from her mother, was headed home to help her family repair their home. “It has been a difficult time for my family. My mother is recovering from heart surgery a month ago, and we are still making repairs to her home. I hope they get the power back on soon.”
Despite the challenges of returning home, all three said they were looking forward to returning to Fort Huachuca after their leave to finish their training and begin their military careers.
And when they do return, USAICoE and Fort Huachuca will be ready for them.