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Home for the holidays: Soldiers return home to celebrate the season

By Staff | Dec 27, 2018

Ranale Jones, of Ranson, is joined by Nick Mazaleski and Delmar Hagedorn, as they await the arrival of her son, ZaBarr, from Fort Benning, Georgia. Toni Milbourne

RANSON — Several families around the Jefferson County area enjoyed the company of their military sons and daughters this Christmas season.

One such military member is Earl Hamby, a 2017 graduate of Jefferson High who now serves as a medic with the U.S. Army at Fort Polk, Louisiana.

Hamby has not been home since last Christmas, and has enjoyed spending the time his family in Charles Town.

“I look forward to this time of year every year,” Hamby said. “I can finally be around my family and friends and enjoy some leisure time.

“It also greatly benefits my mental health, not thinking about work for a few weeks,” Hamby said.

Some of those military members in the U.S. Army, like Hamby, have saved their leave time to travel home, while others benefit from Holiday Block Leave and receive a reprieve from basic training and Advanced Individual Training school.

The U.S. Army is the only branch of the U.S. military that honors the Christmas Exodus break for all recruits who are in basic training and AIT. For Christmas, the Army shuts down all its training schools during exodus, allowing their drill sergeants and instructors to have a break to celebrate the holiday.

This year, Christmas brought an extra special gift for Ranale Jones, of Ranson, who said she is extremely thankful for holiday block leave, because it made it possible for her to see her son, Zabarr, as he traveled home from Fort Benning, Georgia.

“He left as a boy and came back as a man,” Jones said of her son. “He has a different outlook, different goals.”

At her home, she not only welcomed her son, but several of his friends, who also have joined the military following their high school years. Joining in the fun at the Jones’ home is Delmar Hagedorn, who traveled home from Fort Hood, Texas, Trevon Smith, who made the trip home for the holidays and friend Nick Mazaleski, who attends Valley Forge Military Academy and College, from which he will graduate as a second lieutenant.

The group has had fun spending time in each other’s company, telling stories and getting plenty of good home cooking during their holiday break.

According to the U.S. Army website, commanders in the initial military training enterprise ensure these new soldiers get home swiftly and as safely as possible, while receiving sufficient training in preparation for their time at home, so they will honorably represent the U.S. Army in conversations with their families, during potential news media coverage and with the public.

The Holiday Block Leave allowed nearly 13,000 new soldiers to travel home from their initial military training units in mid-December this year, according to the website.

“The Army has done well for him,” Jones said of her son. “Army Strong – I thought that was just a saying, but it’s a lifestyle.”