FORT BENNING, Ga. (WRBL) – With the holidays quickly approaching, more than 12,000 trainees departed Fort Benning’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, heading home to reunite with their friends and family.

The majority were picked up on post by friends, family, and loved ones. Those of whom started to line up around 9 PM. Although they waited over three hours, they say the excitement was worth it.

Dave McKinley, a father of a US Army Private, made sure he was the first car in line , after driving over 200 miles from Murfreesboro, TN. McKinley got emotional, shedding a tear as he told News 3 how excited he was to have his son home after 22 long weeks apart.

“Words can’t describe it,” said McKinley. “I’m just so glad that he’s finally coming home. And I know he’s feeling really good about getting out of here, too. So he’s ready to start his life and his career and move on to bigger and better things. And I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

Many of the soldiers that headed home early Thursday have undergone training for the past six months. During that time, trainees had few opportunities to call family and friends, usually checking in on Sundays.

Jessica Olson grinned the entire night, excited to greet her son after being apart for six weeks. This is the longest time the mother of seven has been apart from her 18-year-old son.

“Thanksgiving was the hardest Thanksgiving yet as a mom of 24 years, being a mom, because all of Thanksgiving and Christmas, all holidays, I always had the kids,” said Olson. “This is the first year I didn’t have any of my kids at Thanksgiving. So I’m so excited to have them all at Christmas.” 

Soldiers have been away from their loved ones for a long period with limited contact, now they’ll get to spend almost three weeks together. Company Commander Eldridge emphasizes the importance of having a holiday break from the rigorous training.   

“They get a break from the trainees, the trainees get a break from the drill sergeants,” said Company Commander Eldridge. “They get to go home. They get a rest. They get to eat as much as they want. And they come back here ready to go. So it’s a it’s really it’s a wonderful time of year.”

Trainees are expected to return to post on Jan. 3, 2023.