NAPLES, Italy — After nearly a decade of providing troops in combat zones with a four-day pass for rest and recuperation, the U.S. military is shuttering its rest-and-recuperation program to Qatar, despite the fact that thousands of troops still in Afghanistan are eligible to participate.
Central Command’s R&R program to Camp As Sayliyah, near the capital city of Doha, gave troops a respite from war. Since its inception in 2002, it has served nearly 200,000 servicemembers and Department of Defense civilians.
But with the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq — and the transportation difficulty for troops to get there, especially from Afghanistan — the military has decided to end the program, according to a statement from base spokesman Jason Chudy.
The program has seen a sharp decline in participants over the past few years, dropping from 29,907 in fiscal 2008 to 8,332 in fiscal 2010. Of the nearly 30,000 serviced three years ago, 2,907 hailed from Afghanistan. That number dropped to just one last year, and seven so far in fiscal 2011, Chudy said.
The Army decided in January to terminate the program when the contract for services expires next month.
“The Rest and Recuperation Pass Program has been a highly successful program since its inception in 2002. However, over the past three years the number of personnel utilizing R2P2 has dropped to approximately 6 percent of program capacity,” Maj. Gen. Michael D. Jones, chief of staff at Central Command, wrote in a memo to the commander of Army Forces Central.
“The result is due to a changing environment and the establishment of ‘Rest in Place or Freedom Rest’ programs that mitigate the need for servicemembers to travel away from their units.”
Other reasons for the overall decline in participation have been a reduction in the number of troops stationed in Iraq and Kuwait, and the lengthy travel times it takes for the troops, who must fly military air in and out of Qatar. Often, it took longer to travel in and out of country than the respite period itself.
Troops who partook of the program were able to participate in a number of recreational activities, including bowling, swimming pools, a driving range and miniature golf, and off-base trips to sand dunes, a local mall and for deep sea-fishing.
Though the program doesn’t officially end until April 30, the last group of 29 troops has already come and gone, Chudy said.
U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan did not respond to repeated requests for further information on the in-country “rest in place” programs, or to explain why military travel in and out of Afghanistan might be more arduous than from Iraq or Kuwait.