In December 1989, the first story I wrote at Fort McClellan was covering at Zero-Dark-30 the transport of basic trainees by buses to airports, train stations and bus terminals. They were heading home or on vacations, with tags pinned onto their shirts saying ATL for the Southeast’s giant airport, GRE for Greyhound buses in Birmingham, and so on. Decades ago at my basic training (1980), I thought how great it was that we at Fort Jackson, S.C., did not have a holiday break such as those in training at the holidays.
Why? Because those recruits already were immersed with their drill sergeants and knew exactly what to expect when Christmas and New Year ended. Back to plenty of pushups and running, a lot of marksmanship training etc. Some trainees were “holdovers,” who did not have anywhere to go with family, or could not afford to travel or just wanted to stay at their fort and relax. No problem for soldiers who stayed at Fort Moore, the intrepid drill sergeants found things to do for the holdovers, things that were both enjoyable and educational. Here are some of the headlines:
“Thousands of Fort Moore Soldiers went home for the holidays with roughly 1,500 getting picked up by loved ones and continuing home by car,” said Camey Streff, Public Affairs Specialist at Maneuver Center of Excellence & Fort Moore. She added: “Approximately 4,000 traveling by air were transported by over fifty chartered buses to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Holiday Block Leave (HBL) started the second week of December and Soldiers returned during the first week of January.”
“Drill Sergeants perform their normal duties as leaders and mentors to their trainees,” Streff said. “They provided instructions, ensured good order and discipline, and led by example every step of the way in support of the mission. There could be several reasons why trainees may have decided not to travel over HBL. Trainees interested in traveling home are responsible for scheduling and funding their own transportation.”
However, soldiers who did not leave Fort Moore during this period were afforded opportunities to participate in recreation and entertainment of their choosing. Organizations on the fort, such as Fort Moore MWR, USO and AAFES were open during this time, in addition to local businesses in the surrounding areas. Holiday Block Leave is designed to keep the morale and well-being of Fort Moore soldiers high and keep transformation and idea generation working at all levels.
“Holiday Block Leave is just great for morale, when they come back, they’re recharged and ready to get after it,” said Maj. Gen. Curtis Buzzard, commanding general at the Maneuver Center of Excellence. He was reassigned as commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence in March 2022 and assumed command on July 14, 2022. One of Buzzard’s favorite quotes is: “Failing is where ‘optimal’ learning occurs.”
The words “The Holdovers” may be on many readers’ minds as a recent movie has that as a title. It features Paul Giamatti, known primarily for portraying Founding Father “John Adams” in a TV series with that name. At an elite New England boarding school only a few students stayed behind during the break, and only a couple of teachers and cooks. The movie has been very well received by film critics and moviegoers.
It has been a surprising hit and is already being regarded as a Christmas staple film, which cannot be said of many similar movies. In “The Holdovers” there are a lot of witty lines; and a bunch of literary and historical ones. For example, a Chinese-American boy who says, “I know this is an excellent school, and my brothers went here, but I miss my family, and I have no friends.” A sarcastic boy responds, “Yeah, well, friends are overrated.”
I know that young recruits at U.S. Army bases are often telling their friends and family that their particular drill sergeants are the toughest and unfeeling. Among the evidence is only half the story when the drill sergeants organize and supervise Holiday Block Leave at installations such as Fort Moore. It is a massive operation getting thousands of troops on their way for Christmas and New Year. Also, taking care of “holdovers” while arranging fun activities is a wonderful task for drill sergeants.

A quote from the movie sums it up: “I suspect that, like me, this is not how you wanted to spend your holidays, but such are the vicissitudes of life. And as (Army) men, we learn to confront our challenges with heads held high, and with a spirit of courage and good fellowship. In strict accordance with the dictates of the (Army) manual, of course.”

Today I am reading: “Keeping at It: The Quest for Sound Money,” by Paul Volcker; also, “Which 2028 Presidential Wannabe Had the Best Year?” in Politico.

Greg Markley moved to Lee County in 1996. He has a master’s in education from AUM and a master’s in history from Auburn University. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer since 2011. He writes on politics, education, and books.