Retired US Army Staff Sgt. Recalls his first vacation on the road | Herald of Fort Hood

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COPPERAS COVE – Retired U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Johnnie Banks of Copperas Cove has been out of the military for a few years now, and he clearly remembers the loneliness of being away from home on vacation.

“It kind of depends on how long you stay,” said Banks, a self-described military brat who was born at Fort Bliss in El Paso, moved to Germany for five years and then in Missouri, then in Kansas and Virginia. , back to Germany, California and Texas, where he graduated from Ellison High School in Killeen in 1997.

“A brand new soldier experiences something like this for the very first time, vacations are when it comes to home… I really do that. I’m really in the military now.

“The very first vacation season I spent away from my family, I was 18, stationed in Korea. I reported to my unit before Thanksgiving, and was fortunate enough to have a roommate who made sure I got out of the room and somehow fit into the unit so that I don’t be alone for Christmas or Thanksgiving.

“The two times I’ve been deployed (Iraq and Afghanistan) and vacationed away there is so much camaraderie and brotherhood within the unit that you are always in. family. It’s just not a blood family – it’s your military family.

Banks enlisted in the service between his middle and high school years and retired in December 2019 with 22 years of service. In the meantime, he’s missed so many family vacations that he can’t count them all.

“I don’t think I can answer that question,” he said. “I guess I would say the answer is endless.

“I know that in 1997-98, I missed Thanksgiving and Christmas because I was in Korea. And my deployments (in combat) stand out because it was a long time. Being away for the holidays makes you appreciate the things you take for granted when you are at home. Something as simple as hugging your family, kissing your wife, things like that. When I came back I really got a better appreciation for everything.

” Time is precious ; experiences vary.

“When I joined the military, I personally couldn’t wait to leave home, so I knew what I was getting into. Going on vacation for the first time really opened my eyes. But I’ve been struck by so many different “firsts” that I guess I didn’t have time to focus on the real aspect of being away from home. “

When he was in Iraq, the troops received plenty of care packages from home, Banks says, and they did their best to have a fun vacation, although living in the Middle Eastern desert isn’t exactly auspicious. to festive celebrations.

“It was in ’05,” Banks said. “We created our own ‘The First Day of Christmas’ video. We sang Christmas carols. We had a blast. It was pretty awesome.

“The dining room in general… you go to any dining room on post or during deployment, (and) they put an impressive spread. They try to make it as traditional as possible. The top echelon of your leadership will serve as food, so you’ll see the leadership looking after the soldiers (and) making sure they all eat.

“And you have to understand that the people back home also think about the deployments of the soldiers, so almost everyone has received a package of care. When you get stuff like that it’s an injection of happiness for sure. It’s pretty big. It’s easy enough to lose sight of the big picture, and it helps you remember what you’re coming home to. When you’re two or three months away from a 16-month tour, you need to establish special daily routines so that you don’t drive yourself crazy. Everything is a bit the same; the same; the same.”

For the soldiers who are now experiencing the same emotions and feelings he experienced during his times away from home, Banks says it’s important not to isolate yourself. Take part in all the activities offered and accept all invitations.

“I turned 22 and always tried to look at the positive in everything. It can certainly be easier said than done. When you’re a young soldier, it’s hard to do.

“If you’re in the barracks, don’t let those four walls close in on you. Go out and do something. I know if I had soldiers who had nowhere to go for Thanksgiving, we would always invite them. I’m sure they still do now.

“If you get an offer like this, don’t turn it down. Go out and have fun. Enjoy. It’s all too easy to be depressed on vacation, especially if it’s your first, second, or third time away from home.

“The military doesn’t stop for nothing, and if you don’t allow yourself to step back and appreciate what is on offer – taking advantage of the chance to spend time with your comrades in a different environment – It can drive you crazy.

“As a leader you have to make sure that every soldier has a place to go.

“Just a simple invitation. The fact that you allow a subordinate to come to your house and enjoy a meal with your family, that alone means a lot. They discover another side of their leader. For the most part, the higher you rank, the more detached it can seem like you are from humanity, if that makes sense.

“So when they see your human side it’s like, ‘OK, now I understand why Sgt. Baker does this; why he is like this. He’s just human. And it works both ways, for the soldier and the leadership.

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