Airmen's reaction to new travel policy is mixed
RAF MILDENHALL — At first, some airmen in the 501st Combat Support Wing thought the commander’s new travel restrictions were too, well, restrictive.
Col. Blake Lindner, the 501st commander, has implemented a travel regulation that requires airmen to take leave when they travel off England’s home island.
Although it has been more than two months since Lindner implemented the travel regulation — which also requires airmen to take leave if they’ll be more than five hours’ traveling time from their duty station — word is still filtering down to affected servicemembers.
“My reaction to the policy initially was … that this was an unfair policy,” said Tech. Sgt. Shauna Walker from the 421st Air Base Squadron. London, for example, is just slightly less than a five-hour drive for Menwith Hill residents, she said.
But Lindner says the plan was instituted to make sure troops can be accounted for on short notice or in an emergency.
Commanders were concerned that another attack like the July 7 London bombings could strand personnel on the European continent and could leave units searching desperately for airmen during a time that everyone’s services might be vitally needed, he said. That’s a concern that falls away if the person is on leave at the time, he said.
“I understand the need for accountability, but still I believe it’s going to lower morale,” said Walker, adding with the amount of leave she gets, weekend jaunts will be fewer and further between.
Lindner said the new restrictions also are meant to standardize the rules for the 501st, which oversees seven bases spread across England and includes about 2,600 airmen and dependents.
Tech. Sgt. Justin Grant from RAF Croughton, who has taken weekend trips to Germany without being on leave in the past, said he was shocked when he first heard of the policy.
“At first, I wasn’t too fond of it. It was like, ‘This is crazy,’” he said.
But after some thought, Grant said, he understood the reasoning behind some of the guidelines and has warmed to the policy somewhat.
Flying to the European continent and expecting to be able to return at will isn’t feasible all the time, Grant said, and should require leave.
“Now I can say I’m split with it 50/50 to tell you the truth.”
Capt. Ben Cook, from RAF Alconbury, agreed that the policy made sense and should have little impact on many airmen who don’t spontaneously travel great distances.
“I think the five-hour limit, while it may seem restrictive, the restrictions are necessary for force protection and readiness,” Cook said.
Both Cook and Grant also said the policy wasn’t much different from others they’d encountered in the Air Force, such as the leave policy for the 48th Fighter Wing, based at RAF Lakenheath. At that wing, according to public affairs staff, airmen must also be on leave or have a special pass to leave the island, but don’t have the five-hour travel restriction.