Mary Knowlden gave her only son to the Army, but for two weeks during the Christmas holiday he is hers once more.
Smiling and close to tears, Ms. Knowlden hugged 18-year-old Ryan Knowlden, of the 369th Signal Battalion, 15th Regimental Signal Brigade, in Fort Gordon's Darling Hall on Thursday morning.
"He's my only child, and I just miss him so much," Ms. Knowlden said.
Her son was equally excited, "This is the best ever."
More than 5,000 signal soldiers, all of them in training, started boarding buses and cars before dawn Thursday for more than two weeks of holiday-block leave -- they won't report for duty until the new year. Some were taken to airplanes waiting at Bush Field and Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta.
Hundreds of soldier students sat anxiously at tables in Darling Hall as hundreds more friends and relatives queued behind closed doors just a few feet beyond. At 7 a.m. they filled the room and waited as one by one their loved ones were called. Then the hugs began.
Spcs. Casey Higson and Lane Higson, from Myrtle Beach, S.C., got headlock hugs from their mother. The identical twins said they were looking forward to some Southern, home-cooked meals.
"This is a much needed break," said Casey Higson.
Keysha Ewing came with her 9-, 8- and 5-year-old children in tow to pick up her daughter Pfc. Keyera Ewing. They live in Hephzibah but will be traveling to visit family in Westpoint, Miss.
"I'm glad she's close to home," said Ms. Ewing. "She'll be here to February, then who knows where she will go."
And Pfc. Trevor Wallis greeted his 2-year-old nephew Emerin by hoisting the boy into the air. His sister and mother also got hugs.
"It feels good to be off," Pfc. Wallis said. "(I'm) looking forward to being with my nephew the most."
Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or email@example.com.