FORT RUCKER, AL, UNITED STATES
Story by Kelly Morris
U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence Soldiers who did not go home for the holidays were able to enjoy some food and fun during the last two weeks of December.
Single Soldiers remaining on post at Fort Rucker during the holidays were able to participate in some free activities throughout the two-week holiday block leave period, thanks to the efforts of Fort Rucker MWR. To do so, Soldiers presented a certificate from a voucher booklet they were issued.
Opportunities included free bowling and a burger and fries at Rucker Lanes; and a free movie with a large popcorn and drink at the Post Theater. Also, sub sandwich luncheons at the BOSS (Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers) Building were also provided on select days.
Those single Soldiers wearing an ugly sweater as they bowled at Rucker Lanes on Christmas Eve had a chance to win door prizes like free games, food, drinks and pro shop credits or merchandise.
Although AIT trainees and warrant officer candidates at Fort Rucker all tend to leave post during the holidays, Soldiers from other units may remain on the installation.
“There’s pockets and handfuls of Soldiers that are here,” said Chris Mendez, Fort Rucker MWR marketing manager.
Mendez’ goal was to make sure single Soldiers remaining on post had some options available to them.
USAACE Soldiers at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., had an array of options on post and in their local community for fun and camaraderie.
Generous sponsors provided sandwiches and goodie bags for the Soldiers on post. Volunteers from Crossroad Community Church provided a home-cooked holiday meal, gifts and goodies for Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 222d Aviation Regiment’s hold company on Christmas Day.
Soldiers had the option to participate in several planned outings to local area attractions, including to a movie at an IMAX theater, a trip to Busch Gardens ‘Christmas Town’ to help get into the Christmas spirit, and to Virginia Beach. They also had the opportunity to tour of the USS Wisconsin battleship. Transportation was provided.
Activities on post included movie marathons, hot chocolate, milk and cookies and a corn hole competition. Soldiers also had the option to attend religious services provided by the chaplains during the holidays if they chose to do so. A holiday ugly sweater party and a New Year’s Eve party were also planned.
“Every year we try to play something per day that’s an option for them other than just taking their own local day pass, just to give them something to do that maybe they didn’t know about in the area,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Joseh B. Warren II, 1-222d Aviation Regiment command sergeant major.
“Some Soldiers have been here a very short amount of time so they haven’t had the opportunity necessarily to get as acclimated with the area. This is also an opportunity for them to go out in a group that maybe they feel a little safer with, that they’ve made some connections with as opposed to trying to find it themselves,” he said.
Warren said for some Soldiers, cost may be a factor when it comes to traveling home for the holidays, and some may want to save their leave. His goal is for them to stay active during the holidays.
“We just want to make sure they’ve got something to do other than just doing PRT and hanging out in their barracks space. I want them to keep their spirits up and keep them focused,” Warren said.
Warren said it’s important for cadre to have time with their families as well, so they approach the scheduled offerings with that in mind.
“Holiday block leave is a time for these Soldiers to reset and regroup a little bit, but hopefully a little bit of time for the cadre to do the same. There are definitely times of longer hours and repetitive motions sometimes, and it can get tedious, so it’s a good time to reset for everybody,” Warren said.
Soldiers were allowed to go off post on their own during the leave period, but they quickly signed up for a variety of scheduled opportunities, according to 1st Sgt. Gustavo L. Canales, Company A, 1-222d Aviation Regiment.
“Even though we are away from our families, they are part of the Army family, and we want to make sure that we emphasize that as an Army family we take care of our own, and that we’re not only maintaining accountability but we’re also doing fun stuff to keep their morale up during the tough time of not being with their loved ones,” Canales said. “It’s important for their mental wellbeing and helps build that unit cohesion. We’re here for them.”
Soldiers also helped their fellow unit, Company A, 2-210th Aviation Regiment, to move their equipment and CH-47 aircraft into a new training hangar.
At Fort Huachuca, Ariz., the spirit of giving was already in full sway in mid-December as USAACE Soldiers from Company D, 2d Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment participated in an ugly sweater ruck in support of Toys for Tots. They collected more than three boxes of toy donations from Soldiers to help the local community.
Activities for Soldiers during holiday block leave included paintball, bowling, a potluck feast, and a Coronado National Memorial hike.