BAGHDAD, Iraq — Some soldiers with the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad will soon have a chance to trade their heavy body armor for swim suits and their cramped and dirty quarters for soft beds and clean sheets, according to division commander Brig. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.

The 1st AD is buying an entire hotel in eastern Baghdad that will serve as a rest and relaxation facility for the troops, Dempsey said.

Operations are set to begin Sept. 1, and “the plan is to move 400 soldiers through every 48 hours,” Dempsey, who took command of the division in July and will pin on his second star in early October, told Stripes.

“We get that [Iraq] a miserable environment," Dempsey said. “I never thought I’d be a hotel owner, but we’re going to do this, so [the troops] can be out of the fight for 48 hours and collect [their] thoughts.”

The 1st AD’s Baghdad hotel R&R program is similar to a program already established by the 101st Airborne (Air Assault), which is located in and around the Mosul area, in Northern Iraq.

The hotel, the name and location of which are not being named for security reasons, will feature rooms with soft beds, clean sheets, private bathrooms, and television sets. The facility also has its own swimming pool and other recreation facilities, Dempsey said.

Soldiers won’t be allowed to drink alcohol, he warned.

“But you will have [air conditioning], a decent bed, a chance to get some decent food, and watch movies,” he promised three different battalions of soldiers whom he visited at their different forward operating bases in Baghdad on Aug. 9.

The 1st AD has about 35,000 soldiers deployed in Iraq, most of whom are located in and around Baghdad, Dempsey said.

The first units to use the hotel had not yet been chosen in early August, but commanders intend to give priority to soldiers who have been in Iraq the longest without a break, Dempsey said.

News of the upcoming hotel R&R program was greeted with great enthusiasm by his troops, many of whom told the general that they have been working seven days a week all summer without a break, in temperatures that often soar beyond 130 degrees in the sun.

Dempsey said he knows that conditions are rough in Iraq for his troops. The average soldier here has lost 15 pounds to the heat, he said.

The 1st AD hotel R&R program will supplement an existing R&R program run by U.S. Central Command, which is called the “Fighter Management Pass Policy.”

The CENTCOM plan gives troops a four-day pass to go to Qatar, but there are relatively few slots available, compared to the 150,000 troops deployed in Iraq.

The 1st AD has been allocated about 240 slots a month for the Qatar trip, Dempsey said.

By early August, the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, which is attached to the 1st AD, and the 2nd Battalion, 70th Armor from Fort Riley, had sent some soldiers to Qatar, Dempsey said.

So in addition to the CENTCOM plan, commanders from Army divisions all the way down the battalions have the option of devising their own R&R opportunities for troops, as long as the plans meet security requirements.

The 101st R&R, which began in July, buses about 70 soldiers at a time to Dahuk, a city in Northern Iraq. There, the troops stay for two nights either at an apartment or a five-star hotel, both of which the division has rented.

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