JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas —
While the rest of Pvt. Leotis Jones’ family was sitting down for a Thanksgiving meal at home, the 18-year-old Army recruit was just one day away from graduating Basic Combat Training.
Jones is now in Advanced Individual Training, or AIT, at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. In a matter of days, he’ll be in his hometown of Little Rock, Ark. – just in time for the holidays. It will be the first time he’s been home in more than six months.
“I know I’m going to get home and just start crying,” Jones said.
Jones was one of several AIT students who came to the JBSA-Fort Sam Houston Exchange Dec. 10 to make the trip back home extra special by shopping for holiday gifts for family members, which Exchange associates happily assisted in wrapping and shipping home ahead of their arrival.
The Exchange opened at 6 a.m. – 2 1/2 hours early – to allow students from the Medical Education and Training Campus to take advantage of discounts up to 50 percent on merchandise such as apparel, luggage, fragrance gift sets, handbags, holiday décor and candy.
Soldiers, Airmen and Sailors were also able to cut loose on a DJ-powered dance floor; take photos with Santa Claus; participate in product demonstrations; enjoy free snacks; and win prizes including video games, headphones and a Hewlett-Packard laptop.
“It feels pretty good to get out,” Leotis said. “The vibe and energy is great. I’m having a good time out here. It really means a lot that the Exchange would put on this event just for us.”
Pvt. Abigail Blass, 19, took the opportunity to buy clothes for her newborn niece back home in Houston, Texas.
“It’s tough being away from family, but events like this help,” she said. “I feel like a civilian again. It’s nice to just relax, shop and feel normal just for a little while.”
John Burk, general manager of the Fort Sam Houston Exchange, said the event was a great example of family serving family.
“A lot of happy troops got one of their first experiences with the Exchange on Saturday,” Burk said. “I overheard one of the students talking to her mom on the phone about all the prizes and the dance-offs, and I know I would be one happy parent knowing that my kid was taken care of while they’re in AIT. It’s always an honor to serve these young service members as they launch their careers in the armed forces.”