SAN ANTONIO – After spending months away from home, hundreds of troops stationed in San Antonio are ready to see friends and family.
“I’m looking forward to surprising them. They don’t know I’m coming home and it’s a wonderful feeling,” said Pvt. Sharon Sweet, 68W Combat Medic in training.
The annual holiday block leave for military service personnel is underway at the San Antonio International Airport. More than 1,200 soldiers had the opportunity Saturday morning to go home for the holidays.
“For most soldiers, this is the first time they are going home. This is the first time their family and friends will see them as a soldier. They departed as a civilian,” said Maj. Gen. Dennis LeMaster, US Army MEDCoE.
It’s a team effort to get these service men and women in and out of the airport over the next few days. Airport, military officials and the USO planned months ahead of time to make sure these soldiers get to their destination safely.
“Three months ago we started planning this and looking at every aspect of moving personnel from Fort Sam Houston to here, to plane tickets and ensuing they would get to where they need to be,” said Sgt. Maj. Clark Charpentier, US Army MEDCoE.
“The whole organization, city, community comes to gather to help move these soldiers,” said LeMaster.
The hard work is worth it after months away for Army training.
With safety considerations for COVID-19 and variants, traveling soldiers are required to wear their masks as well as uniforms during travel.
To comply with the secretary of defense’s August order requiring all service members to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, active duty units were expected to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 15 barring any valid exemption requests.
Over the next few days, more than 2,300 soldiers will leave for two weeks and return to San Antonio after New Year’s Day.
“I can’t wait to spend holidays and spend a good New Year’s with my family. It’s been especially hard on my mom, me being away for such a long time,” said Sweet.
“It’s nice having these weeks off, appreciating them and getting to spend quality time that we missed for the past six months,” said Pfc. Dan Montenegro, 68W Combat Medic in training.
“It’s something that is incredibly powerful and I can tell you walking through the airport this morning, the smiles and enthusiasm is something we look forward to seeing every year,” said Sgt. Maj. Charpentier.