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Scene, Sunday, September 16, 2007

Not all Spouse Calls readers are spouses. This e-mail came from a soldier, who contributed an important addition to a recent column:

You did a good job explaining about the Red Cross (Spouse Calls, Aug. 19) and how they help servicemembers and their spouses, but you skipped over an important aspect concerning emergency leave. I am only going to discuss the Army policy, but the other services should have similar policies. If a soldier is granted emergency leave, and his or her spouse and dependents are command sponsored, then the command will pay for airline tickets to the nearest port of debarkation from the Permanent Duty Station. If a soldier is in Korea, then the command will pay for airline tickets to the West Coast of the U.S. This information is found in the Joint Federal Travel Regulation. Hope this helps.

— Robert

This is very helpful information, Robert. Since you mentioned the Army policy, I did some reading to find provisions for the Navy, Marines and Air Force.

I spent a dizzying hour or two perusing the Joint Federal Travel Regulation (Volume I) and DOD Instruction 1327.6, on the subject of Leave and Liberty Procedures. There I found the provisions for emergency travel at government expense, within specifically proscribed guidelines (hence the dizziness) for military members of all branches.

At the risk of oversimplifying several pages of government documentation, here’s a basic outline:

n Only active-duty members and their command-sponsored dependents stationed overseas qualify.

n The situation must warrant emergency leave. Usually this means death or a life-threatening issue involving an immediate family member. Completion of requirements for obtaining U.S. citizenship is also listed as a possible reason for emergency leave.

n The member’s unit commander decides if the situation warrants emergency leave and whether a government, space-available flight is a reasonable option.

n If emergency leave is granted, and space-A flight is not practical, funds from the unit are provided for commercial travel.

n Travel is provided, as you said, Robert, “to the nearest port of debarkation.” This means the first stop upon arrival in the United States, but is contingent upon the cost, not geography. For example: If I needed to go home to Oklahoma, the nearest point of debarkation might be Baltimore. But if I found a flight to Dallas Fort Worth at the same price or less, government funds would cover it. If I chose to fly all the way to Oklahoma City, I would pay the difference if the price was higher. Return travel is provided on the same terms.

Units in all service branches have funding available for emergency travel for military members and their families, as I found out through Robert’s letter. If those funds run dry, however, help may still be available from a military aid society.

Army Emergency Relief, Air Force Aid Society, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, provide help for military families in many difficult situations. The Red Cross and family assistance centers can provide information about these organizations. Individual units can answer specific questions about emergency travel at government expense.

Links to all the aid societies are on the Spouse Calls blog at http://blogs.stripes.com/blogs/. I’ll also include links to the DOD regulations for emergency travel at government expense — just in case you need some light reading.

Terri Barnes is a military spouse and mother of three. She lives and writes in Germany, where her husband is stationed at Ramstein AB. Send questions or comments to her at spousecalls@stripes.com.

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