Gulf Coast troops excited about heading home for holidays
GULFPORT, Miss. - The USO lounge at the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport is a happening place this weekend. As members of the military begin their treks home for holiday leave, they're encouraged to swing by the USO lounge upstairs at the airport to relax before the hustle and bustle of travel takes over.
Felice Gillum, director of USO Gulf Coast, said she expects several thousand students and military members to pass through the recently upgraded lounge while heading home.
Dylan Benischek and Thomas Miles are two members of the Army National Guard who were relaxing on the plush leather couches Friday morning before heading home to Iowa and St. Louis, respectively.
Planning the popping
A little later, Curtis Kahovec wandered into the lounge to hang out before embarking on a cross-continent flight to Los Angeles.
Admittedly, the 19-year-old airman first class was a little nervous, not because of the travel, but because he's planning to propose to his long-time girlfriend while on leave.
"Everybody is kind of in on it. It got out," he said. "Mostly my mom (let it slip). It was me, too. It's kind of hard to keep it a secret when you're away for so long."
Kahovec didn't want to divulge how he was going to pop the question -- something has to be a secret, after all -- but he did say that while everyone may know it's coming, the actual proposal will be a private moment.
"I've been thinking about it a lot, but I'm just going to let it happen (organically)," he said.
While Kahovec is taking advantage of leave to start a new chapter in his life, Marine Nikolai Gilbert and his wife, Tina, are traveling home with their 8-month-old daughter, Alexys.
The Gilberts need to relax now, because once they're home in Las Vegas and California, there won't be much down time.
"We're going back home to show her off to the rest of the family that wasn't able to see her (when she was born). We're going to see grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters," Nikolai said. "We're going to be traveling a lot. We're driving to three or four cities while we're there. We've been getting calls, e-mails, text messages, Skype. All of it."
Right on cue, Tina received a text message from her mother exclaiming that Friday was "THE DAY!"
"It's very exciting," Nikolai said. "When we get there we probably won't have her for a good hour or two because everyone is going to want to have her."
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Robert Kerezsi volunteered Friday morning to work at the lounge. The instructor will pack up his family Saturday and travel to Northern Ohio to spend Christmas with his family for the first time in a long time. Friday, however, Kerezsi was dispensing advice to those who asked, while also trying to give away as many goodie bags to the soldiers as possible.
"Plan, think ahead and be prepared just like for anything," he said.