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After a long and arduous boot camp, United States Army soldiers from Fort Eustis in Newport News earned a break before they headed home for the holidays.
And it came in the form of leather couches, plenty of food and comfort dogs at the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport.
The United Service Organizations at the airport served 483 soldiers this past weekend just before they boarded planes headed all over the country for the holiday break.
The annual event -- dubbed "Exodus" -- started at 3 a.m. on Saturday as the soldiers started to arrive at the airport by bus. From there, they got comfortable and waited for their departing flights.
“We call it ‘Exodus’ because it’s a mad scramble to get all these troops home for the holidays,” said Diane Fry, the director of USO at the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport.
“These soldiers are either 18 or 19 years old and it’s time to go back to see mom and dad so they are a little antsy while they wait for flights. Our goal is to make them as comfortable as possible.”
Fort Eustis is a U.S. Army installation located near Newport News. In 2010, it was combined with nearby Langley Air Force Base to form Joint Base Langley–Eustis.
For many of the soldiers, this was their first stop after boot camp. A majority of the soldiers departed on Saturday but Fry said a few still remained at the airport Monday waiting for flights that were either delayed or rerouted because of fog or snowy conditions near their final destinations.
The USO sponsored food and activities for the troops while they waited for their flights to leave. Comfort dogs were also on hand to greet the departing soldiers.
“We had donations from Kroger, Farm Fresh and the MDV as the soldiers were fed around the clock,” Fry said.
The airport provided TVs, video games, card games, puzzles and rented extra couches and chairs for the travelers to rest in.
“We look forward to holiday block leave every year,” said Jessica Wharton, the airport’s Director of Air Service, Marketing & Public Relations.
“The USO at the airport does a fantastic job caring for these troops as they make their way home for some well-deserved R&R with their families.”
The soldiers will return to Fort Eustis starting Jan. 2 where they will participate in aviation school, transportation school or medical battalion. That training will take three to five months.
After completing training, the soldiers will report to their first duty station, which could send them anywhere in the world.
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