Pfc. Jonathan Reynolds completed all his holiday shopping online ahead of his wife and two sons arriving in Augusta on Thursday to take him home to Arkansas for a three-week break.
He wanted no distractions for only his second Christmas in the U.S. since returning from Japan in 2012.
“Amazon and Omaha Steaks dot com,” he said about shopping, with his wife, Yukiko, and two sons, ages 2 and 7, by his side. “It’s time to relax and watch TV.”
Reynolds is one of more than 3,000 advanced individual training soldiers in Fort Gordon’s 15th Regimental Signal Brigade who were sent home Thursday for holiday block leave.
Starting around midnight and continuing throughout the morning, hundreds of soldiers boarded charter buses, family vehicles and international flights at Augusta Regional Airport to start their journeys home, some traveling as far as Guam, Japan and Germany, said brigade commander Col. Steve Elle.
Elle said the soldiers are expected back Jan. 3, except for 500 trainees who graduated his program Monday. They’ll be assigned to their first duty station after break.
“It’s an intensive effort that takes months of planning and coordination across multiple agencies,” Elle said of the soldier sendoff and brigade shutdown.
The commander said his unit set up four holding areas across Georgia for buses, airplane and vehicle pickups. He said one solider planned to ride a bus home to Washington state at a discounted rate of $250 round-trip.
“That’s a three-day trip, six days of travel,” the commander said.
For the 100 soldiers unable to see relatives for the holidays, which includes a Samoan who could not afford the $2,000 plane ride home, Elle said his unit will treat them to Atlanta Hawks and Falcons tickets, discounted golf, ice skating and movie outings.
Those who could make the trip home covered a broad range of area that spanned much of the Southeast.
Reynolds, of Batesville, Ark., was picked up promptly at 7 a.m.
He grabbed his wife and hugged his children, showing no signs of fatigue after not having slept.
“It’s exciting to have him home again,” Yukiko Reynolds said of her husband, who first arrived at Fort Gordon for training six months ago. “I plan to treasure every moment.”
Pvt. Kierstyn Myers left shortly after him, en route to her home outside of Raleigh, N.C.
Her grandfather Joseph E. Allen was so excited about the trip home he made reservations at the Fort Gordon Army Hotel a month in advance.
“The furthest she has been away from home is the mailbox,” he said.
Myers said she arrived for training at Fort Gordon a month ago. Since then, she said she has been looking forward to her family’s tradition of opening a present on Christmas Eve.
“It’s definitely a new experience being away from home,” she said.
Spc. Robert Burns Jr. said his first task, after seeing family, including his grandparents, is finishing Christmas shopping.
His father Robert Burns, Sr. said the shopping will have to wait until after a seven hour, 450-mile trip home to Spanish Fort, Ala.
“My wife gave strict orders to get him home safely,” he said.