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December 25th, 2009
06:00 AM ET

A Soldier's Story: Army recruit blogs on Christmas leave

Editor's Note: We're tracking three recruits from their final days as civilians through to deployment. It's an unprecedented look inside the life of a soldier. This is a blog written exclusively for CNN by Army recruit Will McLain as part of the American Morning original series, "A Soldier's Story."

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Army recruit Will McLain is home on Christmas leave from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri."]

By Will McLain

I've been through a month of boot camp so far and it's been a huge change. You rapidly learn the protocol and it becomes a way of life.

It's kind of sad at first because you start missing everyone and the fun times you had, but you just have to remember the reason for leaving. For me, it's to make a good life for me and to be able to retire young, hopefully with a family.

Through boot, naturally there is a lot of screaming and push-ups, but you know it's what's going to keep you alive later. Also, with all the courses you do, it helps develop a strong sense of confidence in your abilities and an even stronger sense of trust in your partners and teammates.

I'm also lucky enough to be part of the cycle to get Christmas leave. It's two weeks long, which is short to me, but it's great to be able to see all the friends and family that I missed. I even got to see one of the biggest people in my life who was visiting from Texas – my best friend Kayla.

The other plus is it gives you time to relax and recuperate a little. I run and still do some PT in the morning so I don't go back out of shape and suffer again. That's not really a worry to me, just something I don't want to risk.

I'd say my one worry I do have is I don't want to end up coming home next time I'm on leave to see all the old friends gone. But out of the things I enjoy the most, it's for sure being home for Christmas and then being able to spend New Years with friends.

Filed under: A Soldier's Story • Military
soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. Momma T

    My daughter will be entering the army boot camp this spring. Her sister is getting married at the end of his 6th week of training. We would love for her to be able to be a part of this ceremony. Will the army allowed her a weekend visit to come be a part of this occassion?

    March 21, 2010 at 9:19 am |
  2. Sean

    Is this story over and done with? Not one word from you people at CNN on how that young man is doing. I'm not a reporter, nor will I ever be, but if I dropped the ball as it seems you have I would be out of a job. I will never again participate in following one of your "stories" such as this. May God bless Will, and keep him safe. I don't make a habit of watching your news programs, but usually you guys do a pretty good job. Just wondering what happend to this story. As I've stated before I served in the Army in the early 80's, and this story sparked my interest to witness how our very brave young men and women are currently being trained. Other folks have asked the same question, so please when you can find the time let us know,,, Respectfully yours Sean

    February 28, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
  3. Dawn

    Hello all! Thank you to all the guys at FLW for having to deal with CNN being there. From what I hear they are harder on the recuits when the cameras are around. Thank you Will for doing this! My fiancee is right there with you at go old Fort Lost in the Woods. God bless all that are serving and have served and the families living for the letters or phone calls back home!

    February 27, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
  4. Kevin J. Woods & Helen Woods

    Hey Will, just wanted to say stay up and do your family proud , but most of all do yourself proud and come home in one piece. I hope to see you when you get back to Rosamond Coach Woods!!!!!

    February 9, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
  5. Kevin J. Woods

    Hey Will, I just wanted to say stay up and do your family proud, but most of all do yourself proud and come home in one piece. I hope to see when you get back to Rosamond!!!!!!

    February 9, 2010 at 11:04 pm |
  6. Helen Woods

    Hi Will, this is Marquiel's mom hope everything is well and you are taking one day at a time stay strong and I will see you when you get home......

    February 9, 2010 at 10:56 pm |
  7. Bob

    In response to "Jose" The army has been sending soldiers home on Christmas leave for the last 35 years. All training bases close for the holidays, its the only way the trainers get a chance to be with their families. Its been an Army tradition that does not effect the soldiers
    training / discipline at all. I dont believe I have seen any problems
    with the practice in the last 30 years or so, the soldiers that the U.S .Army has produced during this period are still the finest trained and best disciplined in the world.

    Maybe you should do a little research before you make comments about things to which you dont have a clue about!

    Bob D
    US Army retired, 2006

    February 9, 2010 at 9:53 pm |
  8. Kevin J. Woods

    Hey Will, just thought I'd tell you stay up man and keep up the good work!! Make your family proud but most of all make yourself proud and please come back in one piece. I will see you when you get back to Rosamond!!!! Coach Woods...................

    February 9, 2010 at 7:48 pm |
  9. mike bruvarny

    hello,great story the american people need to take note of the stress this young man is under and his family,and its true everyone has blinders on about how many young people are being killed ,maimed and mentally damaged if everyone was aware, and the media wouldnt sugar coat all the deaths and disabilitys from this war,how long can we have politics destroy so many familys...............................thank you,

    February 8, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  10. Bill

    Did the guy go AWOL or what is the deal? Give us some closure.

    February 3, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  11. Strawman

    Did you guys completely abandon the "Soldiers Story"?

    February 2, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  12. Lisa

    My son is in basic at FLW with this unit as well, and I was very glad to have him home for those two weeks over the holidays, but it was hard to say goodbye to him again when he left. I noticed a big change in him, and I'm very proud of what he and the others are doing for themselves and our country. I hope there will be new videos soon, I'd love to see how the group is progressing! I love him very much, and I can't wait to see him at graduation!

    January 30, 2010 at 8:25 pm |
  13. Natalie

    Like the comment above-does anyone know when the next series will be coming out? I know those guys are starting weapon training right now, so that would be nice to see. Very curious to see more footage and videos!!

    January 25, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  14. Sean

    Will you and your platoon brothers are doing what it takes to keep America safe. All we can do in life is our best. You and the other young men and women in our armed forces, warfighters, make us all very proud. I work for the United States Air Force as a jet engine mechanic. Everything I do is in support of the warfighter, if close air support is needed we make sure you have it. I was in the army in the early 80's. I was 11B Infantry at Fort Benning. However we were trained to fight the Soviet Union, you guys and gals face a different kind of battle. So keep your inner spirit high and try and learn all your DI's teach you. Most of them have probably been in combat and know what they are talking about. I was foutunate enough not to experience combat, and I thank god for that. God bless you all.

    January 23, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  15. Elisa

    My brother is doin basic in ft. leonardwood to so its cool to see what he kinda goes through. But i agree with some of the people that said they dont think its a good idea to send them home for the holidays because it was really hard to say good bye again and he says its even harder now. When is the next airing going to be?

    January 22, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
  16. Mike

    When is the next installment going to be on?

    January 22, 2010 at 6:16 am |
  17. Christina

    i just wanted to say thank you cnn for covering this story because my husband is in the same platoon as Will he actually bunks next to him. I love getting a glimpse of what hes doing. When i watch the videos i sometimes feel like im there with him! Once again thank you to the new recruits,cnn, all our military, and most of all my husband!

    January 15, 2010 at 9:33 pm |
  18. lisa

    Great story. Keep us updated. My son graduated from FLW in November. Watching these videos help me to understand what he went through. Thank all of our Soldiers!

    January 11, 2010 at 7:37 pm |
  19. ben

    Come on we need an update here. Im hoping to leave for basic here soon and like reading this! Maybe there should be a story about marines next.

    January 10, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  20. callie

    my brother just came home for christmas and u can see that the military does change them but for the better.........................hooah god bless our troops and god bless america

    January 9, 2010 at 1:47 am |
  21. Laurie

    Thank you very much for A Soldier's Story. My son is there going through boot camp with with Will. It's nice to be able to follow what they are doing and going through. It also makes people aware of the transformation they go through in this short time.

    January 7, 2010 at 10:28 pm |
  22. Herman W. Hill, Jr.

    Maybe this new approach to Boot Camp might have some merit. Sure, training is meant to be rigorous, grueling, and discipline based. I am a former Air Force Securtiy Force instructor and have the highest respect for Army Drill Instructors. They have, each and every one of them been there, done that and train these recruits to the best of their abilities. If there's a new innovation to be tried.....try it! You don't take the humanity out of a recruit; you reinforce it! that break might mean the difference between a recruit quitting or squeezing a little more effort out of Boot Camp! Sure the break might result in the opposite. But do we know that yet? Don't base your experience on what you think this new recruit should be doing. it's unrealistic. I think this new approach might make a big difference in the end. support them! Don't rag them out.....Not yet! These kids need your support..

    H.W. Hill,, Jr. (MSgt/USAF-Security Force Instructor) Retired

    January 6, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
  23. Jason

    I enjoy reading and watching what you are going through. I am 18 and have enlisted in the Army. I myself will be going to Ft. Leornardwood (Lostinthewoods) in August for myBCT/AIT to become a MP. This is such a moral booster for myself watching some of the things that I will soon be going through. Keep up the good work!

    January 6, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  24. Steven Sfeir

    Granting Soldiers leave for Christmas (it's called Exodus) is standard practice in the Army. Anyone who disagrees is either lying or ignorant. Drill Sergeant's work incredibly long hours and deserve time off for the holidays. It is impossible to keep the recruits on base with no supervision and therefore are granted leave. I went through Basic Combat Training in 2008 in South Carolina and experienced the same thing. It sounds glamorous. It's not. Firstly, as you have no leave built-up, you start your career with -16 days and spend your next few years struggling to catch up. Secondly, it extends the total time between start to finish of your Basic Training. Trust me, you want it over as quickly as possible. Thirdly, it is an awful feeling to have to return.

    January 6, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
  25. Amanda Smith

    This is so interesting! My brother-in-law is the Drill Sgt. blowing the whistle while catching the new recruit sleeping. I don't get to see this side of him. We are so proud of him and all he does for our country! Keep up the good work Phillip! See you soon!

    January 5, 2010 at 10:45 pm |
  26. Misty

    My son is in the same Company as Will at Ft. Leonard Wood. I thought it was strange that he got to come home for Christmas but he did. He was home for two weeks and flew back on New Year's Day. It was really hard to say goodbye to him again but I was glad to see him and the little changes already only a little over a month.

    January 5, 2010 at 9:58 pm |
  27. Tracie

    My daughter is at Fort Leonard Wood and came home for Christmas. It was nice to have her home for the holidays but it was hard on her and our family to send her back. I am not sure coming home during boot camp is the best decision.

    January 5, 2010 at 10:28 am |
  28. Sean

    Hang in there Will... learn all you can and God bless.

    January 4, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
  29. Renee'

    Hey Rey I get to FLW on Jan. 19th. I hope we get to see him too!

    January 4, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  30. shane underwood

    this is kinda cool to watch. i went thru the same company the cycle before this. my bunk was actually the bottom one where the private got caught sleeping. its nice to see a video that shows what its like from day to day rather than all the videos you see of just the fun things that we went through

    January 2, 2010 at 2:12 am |
  31. Rey

    Maybe I will run into this guy at Basic . I get to FLW on Jan 11 !!

    January 1, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  32. Joan

    There is no such thing as being granted a 2 wk. leave while you're in boot camp. One of our kids enlisted when he was 17 yrs.old (the enlistment varies form state-to state). Once an individual signs that committment, you belong to the military.Missing family functions, birthdays for example are part of the sacrifice that is being made.If you survive boot camp, then AIT is a little easier; however, you are always being tested to make sure that you are focused and on target with your job qualifications.

    January 1, 2010 at 8:47 am |
  33. Amanda

    To CNN, Jason Caroll, Will McLain, and the other soldiers that will share their experience – I appreciate you providing a glimpse into a civilian becoming a member of the Armed Forces. Though no experience is the same between the different branches, I believe there is some commonality in the transformation the individual makes through training; the fear, the lonliness, the comradery, the confidence to succeed, etc. I hope all of our future members of the Armed Forces can view this piece and be encouraged to serve our country.

    To the Posters: I hope you realize that all Armed Forces start the same, with United States – U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force. Despite the difference in training, I believe all branches share a common goal, and that is to protect and defend our country. It is disparaging to see posts that tear down or speak ill of the Army or those who want or currently serve. It may not be your branch of choice, but it is one of the branches that continues to protect and defend. Be a true Patriot, please encourage instead of discourage.

    December 30, 2009 at 11:43 pm |

    christmas leave from boot camp? you have got to be kidding me! when i was in bootcamp, you did not go nowhere. if it was a holiday, that day did not count towards your training, but, you were still active in training. im very proud of our GI'S, but what has our once great military structure coming to. maybe im old school (bootcamp / 1979)

    December 29, 2009 at 1:11 pm |
  35. Active Duty

    To the soldier: The real Army starts after basic/ait. Don't be stupid and blow your sign on bonus like I did back in the day on something stupid. Hopefully you will be going to a good duty station. If you go to fort bliss, I feel sorry for you.

    To the posters: Basic training is a joke now FYI. That's why we have things called NCO's that will square him away after training.

    December 29, 2009 at 12:32 pm |
  36. Bill

    I joined the Army in October 1997. I also received a 2 week break during Christmas. You think any of the officers or enlisted personnel want to be around recruits during Christmas.

    Jose-You sound as if you have never been in the military. You seriously believe the 2 week break during boot camp will make someone suicidal during a deployment. Are you serious? I had 2 major deployments to Kosovo and Afghanistan with Ranger units. The suicide and PTSD problems are because we are not doing enough to take care of the mental aspects of the soldiers while deployed and returning home. Please don't comment on something unless you have some actual experience. If you have this experience please share with the rest of the class. My brother also went through a split boot camp. He was awarded a silver star and a purple heart last year in Iraq. Do you think if he was in a non-split basic training he could have dodged the bullets?

    December 29, 2009 at 12:13 pm |
  37. Marcia

    Recruits didn't get leave during basic training when I was in the Army. What's up with this? What has the Army become?

    December 29, 2009 at 11:55 am |
  38. mikey

    i went to boot camp during christmas 2006. we definitly didnt get anytime off.

    December 29, 2009 at 11:54 am |
  39. David

    Since when do recruits get leave? Or is this just at Army thing?


    December 29, 2009 at 4:49 am |
  40. Jose

    The first major issue that I see is how can the Army grant leave to these "recruits" during boot camp? Boot camp is a transformation from civilian to military, granting leave on christmas for 2 weeks allows these recruits to engage in activities other than the intended during boot camp. Boot camp is supposed to be a mental and physical breakdown of a recruit. to endure what he will eventually face especially in the army...that is combat. Now i can see why the suicide rates are high and the army standards are even lower and easier to achieve....If your in boot camp, you should train through the holidays...because when your in combat the enemy doesnt stop and take a cease fire for christmas. U.S. army raise your standards on training there recruits, in the end their families will have to suffer from these undisciplined soldiers....

    December 28, 2009 at 7:46 pm |
  41. Leslie

    Thank you for doing this story! My son actually just graduated from Fort Leonard Wood early in November of this year. In fact Drill Sgt. Rix was his drill sgt. as well. My son has told us many things about his training, and we even have a video that was given to him after graduation showing some of it, but this story really helps fill in some of the gaps for us as parents/family members. Keep up the good work, and Will God Bless you!

    December 28, 2009 at 12:52 pm |