Augusta Regional Airport was awash with Army BDUs as soldiers participated in the annual tradition of “Holiday Block Leave.”
As Augusta’s largest employer, with roughly 30,000 military and civilian employees, this marks the beginning of the holidays for enlisted men and women. More than 4,500 soldiers participated in the departure. The Army anticipates more than 38,000 service members nationwide will travel home from posts across the country.
“I’ve been looking forward to it the past 28 weeks that I’ve been in basic training. Then, I’ve been in AIT (Advanced Individual Training) for about 15 weeks now.” Said PFC Ryan Massey with the 551ST Signal Brigade. “I can finally go home and see everybody that I’ve been wanting to see. Just that break that we need from the chaos of the military and the stress of learning my job.”
Massey is heading west to Reno, Nev. while PVT Oluwaferanmi Adekunle is heading north to New Jersey, where her parents and brother are waiting for her. An older sister is also in the military, stationed in Tacoma, Wash., and won’t be able to join them.
Adekunle, stationed with Delta Company 369th Signal Battalion, is a first-generation American. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Nigeria.
“They birthed me and my siblings here. They kind of did that so that they can have better opportunities for us, like joining the Army, for example, something to make our lives a little bit easier. Something that they couldn’t have, like when they were younger,” she said.
The Holiday Block Leave began just a few days after the U.S. House and Senate passed an $866 billion defense package.
Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Ga), said among the bill’s provisions is a 5.2% pay raise for military servicemembers and the Department of Defense civilian workforce. The bill also authorizes $73 million for the construction of a Cyber Instructional Facility at Fort Eisenhower.
Warnock said, “I’m proud this legislation includes a provision I have been proud to champion—expanding the benefits of surviving spouses of fallen servicemembers. My message to Georgia’s servicemembers and military families is clear: I’ve got your back.”
Massey and Adekunle, both 19 years old, understand they are actually part of two missions. The first is to protect national security. The second is part of a major component of the nation’s economy.
“The fact that I can go home, and my family can see a different me, somebody I never thought I’d be able to do,” said Massey. “Where they can see, not just a boy who has been living with them for the past 19 years, but a man who can actually serve and protect the people that we care about.”
“I feel it’s really important just to kind of be the example, to branch out to other people and kind of get people involved in what we do. Especially because it’s not something that a lot of people really know that much about, or if they do know, it’s only because of things that they’ve heard,” added Adekunle.
“Everybody joins for different reasons, whether it’s for familial ties, planning for future college training, any reason that you join the service, it’s important to you and that’s the most important thing to remember,” explained SSG Jamie Keene, an instructor at the Cyber Schoolhouse. “What do you hope is the one big takeaway they get from seeing their families is it’s always good to spend that time with your family. Family is one of the most important things to the whole soldier.”
The soldiers return to duty after Holiday Block Leave ends on Jan. 3, 2024.