Most Americans look forward to taking a little time off around Christmas. It is also a time of year when tens of thousands of military trainees, in the midst of basic training and AIT (advanced individual training), take part in the annual holiday pilgrimage known as Exodus.
A two-week Holiday Block Leave (HBL), Exodus break begins generally a week before Christmas and lasts until a week after Christmas. The primary reason for Exodus is so Drill Instructors, Basic and AIT training staff can spend Christmas with their families.
To accomplish this, the process started weeks before with Drill Instructors and Command leadership organizing and conducting briefings about holiday safety, emergency and medical information, and providing specific unit guidance to ensure their trainees get home swiftly and as safely as possible and return to base under the same principles.
Most service members don’t have enough leave saved up during training to take the break, but the military will allow them to “go in the hole” to take advantage of this time to reconnect with family. Service members have the choice of whether to take the break. If they choose not to take the break, they can remain at the training school assigned to various details during the Exodus period. Morale, welfare, and recreation activities have been identified to ensure the well-being of those who decide to stay at their training locations during HBL.
A few years ago, my husband and I happened to be returning through the San Antonio airport on the day that Exodus started. It was a sea of Camo-clad warriors —soldiers, airmen, and sailors— from Joint Base San Antonio making their way home for the holidays. Over that first weekend of Exodus, thousands of service members from Joint Base San Antonio, the home of U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School —which trains combat medics and other health personnel— Navy Medicine Education, Training, and Logistics Command, Technical Schools, and the Air Force’s Special Warfare Training, fill the airport terminals and USO lounge. Volunteers lead service members through the check-in process and then provide food, coffee, and snacks at the USO lounge.
For many new trainees, this is the first time out from under the “all seeing” eye of their Drill Instructors and TAC NCOs. It is also the first time these new trainees have been away from home. With visions of rules and regulations dancing in their heads, warnings of proper military conduct echoing in their ears, and the sneaking feeling that the Drill Instructor is watching from some unseen corner, they nervously make their way home.
Christmas Exodus provides service members a much-needed and well-deserved break from their initial military training to return to families. When they return home they will be much different than when they left. There is a new maturity, a new confidence and pride in what they have accomplished thus far. Brimming with excitement, these one-time civilians have become warriors in training and are anxious to show their families what they have become when they get home for the holidays.