JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —
Airman Basic Alissia Bert browsed racks of jackets, shirts and pants at the Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Exchange, looking for a special gift to send to her 3-year-old son, Darton, back home in Oklahoma City.
Bert, 20, is in her seventh week of Air Force Basic Military Training. She hasn’t seen Darton since she reported to Lackland in October. This year, she’s spending the holidays away from him.
Bert and 3,800 trainees were treated to holiday cheer Dec. 2 at the Lackland Exchange, which opened extra early just for them. Typically, trainees are not allowed to visit the Exchange or do much beyond their rigorous assignments.
“This is such a stress reliever,” Bert said, who was picking up outfits and shoes for her son as well as gifts for her mom, sister and grandparents. “To get a break from training for an hour is great—it’s awesome.”
The annual extravaganza, which included free photos with Santa, a DJ and dance contests, allowed trainees to shop for parents, family and sweethearts back home. Trainees were bused to the Basic Military Training Reception Center, where packages were wrapped for free, weighed and shipped to recipients.
Chief Master Sgt. Luis Reyes, Army & Air Force Exchange Service Senior Enlisted Advisor, greeted trainees as they came through the store entrance, shaking hands and giving high fives.
“For the majority of the trainees, this is their first time coming into the Exchange,” Reyes said. “We want them to know they are part of our family. I went through basic training about 20 years ago—I know what these young Airmen are going through. It’s hard to be away from family at 18, 19 and 20 years old, especially during the holidays. This event makes them feel special, and we want to make sure they feel at home here.”
Trainees’ family and friends across the globe viewed the extravaganza during a live feed on the Exchange’s Facebook page, hoping to catch a glimpse of their loved ones. On the feed, trainees gave shout-outs to parents and sweethearts back home.
Airman Basic Rachel Di Santos gave a shout-out to her mom, Rhonda, in Florida. Moments later, a comment from Rhonda was posted on the live feed: “Hi, Rachel.”
“That’s my mom! Hi, Mom! I love you, and I miss you,” said Di Santos, with tears in her eyes.
“Hi. I love u,” her mom wrote back.
Col. Jason Corrothers became the 737th Training Group this summer and participated in the annual event for the first time.
“I’m wildly impressed,” Corrothers said. “This is certainly a welcome opportunity for our trainees to take a break from rigorous training for a couple hours and reconnect with families by buying some gifts.”
100 percent of Exchange earnings support military members and their families, including military Quality-of-Life programs such as Fitness Centers, Child Development Centers, Youth Programs on Army garrisons, Air Force Outdoor Recreation programs, school lunches for Warfighters’ children and more. The Exchange has also hired 1,000 Wounded Warriors, second only to the U.S. Army.
“This event gives trainees an opportunity to take a big, deep breath and think about spending time with their families this year,” said Chief Master Sgt. Hope Skibitsky, superintendent, Basic Military Training, 737th Training Group. She added that every time Airmen shop and dine at their Exchange, they are making life better for their military community.
“This gives our Airmen the opportunity to take care of themselves,” Skibitsky said, “and we always appreciate that.”