ARLINGTON, Va. — Family members of 1st Armored Division soldiers whose Iraq tours have been extended will get priority treatment this summer when using U.S. military aircraft to travel to the United States.

Gen. Charles F. Wald, U.S. European Command’s deputy commander, recently approved an initiative that allows 1st AD family members to get a higher seating priority when they travel space-available on planes “within the command’s theater of operations,” according to Navy Cmdr. Ike Skelton, a EUCOM spokesman.

But because EUCOM leaders can only make policies that apply to their own area of operations, once members arrive in the United States they will revert to regular “Category 3” status, Skelton said. Thus, family members would not be eligible for “Cat 3-plus” status returning to Europe.

The Pentagon needs to approve the plan for flights returning to Europe. U.S. Army Europe commander Gen. B.B. Bell requested this in May, but has not yet received a reply, according to his personnel chief, Brig. Gen. Russell Frutiger.

“We got as much as they could give us in-country,” said Frutiger. “If we can get it for them coming home, we’d sure like to have it.”

The program was designed for command-sponsored family members of Task Force-1AD servicemembers whose tours of duty were extended beyond 365 days, Skelton said in a Wednesday telephone interview.

A 1999 policy already allows Europe-based command-sponsored family members to travel Space-A without their military sponsor in Category 3.

The new EUCOM plan, however, creates a sort of “Category 3 plus” that puts qualified 1st AD family members at the top at the Category 3 list, Randall Jones, EUCOM Quality of Life office, said in a Wednesday news release about the priority listing.

1st AD family members can apply for these seats on flights to the United States from two Germany locations: Ramstein Air Base and Rhein Main Air Base, Skelton said.

The program is good only until their soldier returns from downrange or Aug. 31, whichever comes first.

The priority listing will “offer relief” for 1st AD families who are already facing stress from the extended deployments of their sponsors, Skelton said.

To qualify for the upgrade, 1st AD family members must bring to the airport a memorandum, signed by the designated rear detachment commander, dated within seven days of the desired date of travel.

The memo must include the sponsor’s name, sponsor’s Social Security number, date of deployment to Iraq, and expected return date.

The memos are available in 1st AD unit orderly rooms, Skelton said. Family members should go to their particular sponsor’s unit to pick up a copy.

Space-A travel is a U.S. government-mandated program of travel that allows qualified passengers to occupy Defense Department aircraft seats that remain open on a flight once all space-required passengers have been accommodated.

There are six Space-A categories that determine who gets chosen for a flight when more people want to fly than seats are available. Category 1, the highest priority, is reserved for those on emergency leave. Category 6, the lowest, is mainly for retirees, students at military schools, and reservists.

A boost in priority for Space-A travelers is especially sought-after during Air Mobility Command’s busy summer months.

Summer flights are often crowded with military members and families changing permanent station, who travel under “space required” orders. Meanwhile, many military families are hoping to take vacations while their children are out of school, with families based overseas often particularly eager to visit the United States.

— Stripes reporter Jon Anderson contributed to this report.

Taxes raise travel cost

ARLINGTON, Va. — Some passengers who fly on a space-available basis this summer will notice a slight increase in cost.

The increase is due to two taxes charged by the U.S. Customs Department being raised to offset the cost of providing customs and immigration services at U.S. ports of entry.

On May 22, the International Air Transportation Tax, or the “head tax,” as it’s commonly called, went from $12.08 to $13.70, while the Federal Inspection Fee increased from $11 to $12.

The head tax applies to Space-A passengers who arrive and depart the customs territories of the United States to and from overseas locations. The federal inspection fee is charged on inbound international commercial charters coming into the continental United States.

Only Space-A passengers pay these fees. Military and government travelers on “space required” status, including people who are moving to a new duty station, are exempt.

— Lisa Burgess

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