BILOXI -- One young Keesler airman will miss his mother's macaroni and cheese and his grandmother's sweet potato pie. Another will miss the typical family gatherings and will be apart from all his family for the first time.
But both understood coming into the Air Force that missing family celebrations is just one of the many sacrifices the men and women of the Armed Forces make at Keesler, the Seabee base and other Coast installations.
Oneal Brown, 23, of Warren, Ohio, went through basic training in August, partly in hopes of paying for a master's degree. He also said he wanted to protect those two women whose home cooking he'll miss this holiday season.
"I'm trying to protect them, give back and the second reason was to continue my education and get my master's degree," Brown said.
Sergio Robles, 20, who was born in Colombia but lived in New Jersey, said he was overseas studying when his family back home hit a rough patch.
"My purpose for joining was to better myself and help out my mother, who was struggling," he said.
He said he didn't want to go home for the holidays because he wanted to stay focused for classes that start in early January.
"And I didn't want to get used to them being there," he said. "I'm used to being away from them now."
Brown grew accustomed to missing family events during college.
"I've been away in college for five years," said Brown. "But I do miss our Christmas Eve when we gather around and do a white elephant type of game. You get a gift and if you don't like it, you can trade around. Every year I get something that's not a good gift, but I do enjoy playing."
The Force Support Squadron on the base has a lot of activities scheduled to keep them occupied: an ice skating trip, a Go Daddy Bowl game, a movie marathon, a 5K run on New Year's Eve among them. And the young men and women have the "V," their on-base club that often has live bands and DJs. It also has pool tables, games and a library.
And, their leader says, they also have a new family now.
"They probably haven't realized this, but they've joined the Air Force family," said Col. Scott Solomon, commander of the 81st Training Group. "So even though they are not going to be home with their family, they'll be here with our family. The Air Force is not just a job. It really truly is a way of life."