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NEWS | Dec. 19, 2022

MEDCoE leaders encourage safety, rest during holiday block leave kick-off

By Tish Williamson Director Communication, U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence

Leaders were out in force at the San Antonio International Airport to check-on Soldiers during the largest travel day in the holiday season for the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence in the early morning hours of Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022.

Maj. Gen. Michael Talley and Command Sgt. Maj. Victor Laragione, the MEDCoE command team, were among leaders who engaged with hundreds of traveling Soldiers, airport personnel, and volunteers during holiday block leave, or HBL. The pair circulated for over two hours with other key leaders including Joseph Bray, Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army and former Vietnam veteran, and the 32nd Medical Brigade command team of Col. Marc Welde and Command Sgt. Maj. Gilberto Colon.

“In the coming days, over 2,600 of our Soldiers will take to the air and roads on their way to reconnect with their friends and families during holiday block leave,” Talley said. He also thanked MEDCoE planners, the airport staff, the USO, and all the volunteers who make Soldier transit as safe and enjoyable as possible.

Though many services allow holiday leave, the Army is the only service that pauses both Basic Combat Training, or BCT, and Advanced Individual Training, or AIT, during the holiday season. HBL is a break in formal military training to allow Soldier trainees, drill sergeants, and cadre the option to leave BCT and AIT for a two-week holiday.

“I, along with Command Sgt. Maj. Victor Laragione and many other leaders, cadre and drill sergeants are here throughout the week to check on the safety, physical, and mental well-being of our Soldiers as they travel,” Talley said. “Getting our Soldiers home as swiftly and safely as possible is our primary focus, not just today, but through their safe return after the holidays.”

Traveling in camouflaged battle uniforms, MEDCoE trainees are visible reminders to fellow travelers of what it takes to build capable and confident Soldiers.

“This is important for our trainees and our Army,” Talley said. “Block leave connects these young Soldiers with, not just their families, but the American public to show all that they have accomplished so far.”

For the all-volunteer force, recruiting quality citizens to join the ranks is also a top priority.

Speaking to a crowd of over 60 medical AIT students, mainly 68W combat medics, relaxing before flights at the San Antonio Airport USO, Talley told the group how proud he was to serve alongside them.

“Go home. Your families are going to be excited to see you,” Talley said. Talley began his career as a combat medic after graduating from the same organization he now commands. Though he said the level of difficulty in AIT has increased over the years, he can still relate to the trainees’ need to decompress and reconnect with their families.

“Be safe when you go home, reset, and spend some quality time with your families,” Talley said. “Come on back here, ready to rock and roll, complete your courses, and finish strong.”

MEDCoE trains and educates the Army’s medical personnel. Though medics are their largest specialty, the MEDCoE has a throughput of more than 30,000 trainees annually in 21 enlisted and 104 officer specialties. They have 192 training programs, including nursing, dental, veterinary, ophthalmology, physical therapy, respiratory therapy, behavioral therapy, and medical administration. Though the training programs vary in length, combat medic training is 16 weeks long. After AIT Soldiers will depart for follow-on training like Airborne school or their first unit of assignment.

“You have already done so much, overcome a lot of obstacles since they last saw you,” Talley said to a group of combat medic trainees awaiting flights home. “I know your loved ones are just as proud of all you have already accomplished for our country as I am.”

Talley congratulated the Soldiers on getting this far in training by committing to living the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. He reminded the junior Soldiers that their very presence at home will inspire others.

“I encourage you to stand tall, hold your head high, and tell your Army story,” Talley said.

Though less than one percent of the nation chooses to serve, many who serve come from a family with a history of military service. Talley asked Soldiers to remind their friends and family that there are endless ways to accomplish their education and career goals while serving in the Army.

“It’s a great profession and a great life. Be proud that you are serving something bigger than yourself,” Talley said.

Laragione, who also trained as a combat medic, reiterated the general’s message to a separate group of trainees awaiting travel. “Be safe. Enjoy your leave. This is your opportunity to rest,” Laragione said. “Recuperate, come back, and knock it out of the park when you return to training.”

He jokingly added that drill sergeants would be waiting to welcome them back with “delicious MREs,” or meals ready to eat, upon their return.

Trainees will continue to travel to their holiday block leave destinations through Dec. 22 and are expected to return after the holidays, no later than Jan. 2, 2023.

To learn more about MEDCoE holiday block leave visit