Chartered R&R flights for troopsin Mideast set to resume next month
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army will resume chartered flights for troops leaving the Iraq theater for R&R “on or about June 15,” and will boost the number troops leaving every day to between 500 and 600, said program chief Col. Paris Mack.
Since Feb. 1, when Central Command’s Rest and Recuperation program was scaled back for operational requirements and because new U.S. forces were flying in to replace outbound troops, the program resorted to commercial airlines flying out of Kuwait City International Airport, and ferried out roughly 80 troops a day, down from average of 200 a few months ago, and down from 479 a day when the program was in full swing.
When contract air resumes around June 15, flights will leave from Kuwait bound for Frankfurt, Germany, and then on to Atlanta, Ga., and Dallas/Forth Worth, Texas, Mack said.
A message sent to family members this week by the 1st Infantry Division’s rear detachment commander, Lt. Col. Christopher Kolenda, said the division expects to get about 100 R&R slots per day.
That’s about 20 more than previously expected, he added, which would allow about 80 percent of the division’s soldiers to get the 15-day leave before its “window” closes Nov. 30.
Kolenda said the division is using a points system to determine who gets leave to avoid any appearance of favoritism. He also said the division is purchasing additional passes to a resort at Lake Dokan, in the mountains of northern Iraq, so more soldiers can get time off. But, he added, soldiers who take R&R trips there won’t be disqualified from going home.
Commanders of 1st Armored Division soldiers, who were extended in April for at least 90 days past their one-year deployment mark, have approved granting leave to some, and are working to send soldiers home, said division spokesman Maj. David Gercken.
In addition, the division is sending soldiers to Qatar for a four-day R&R program and working with the 1st Cavalry division to send troops to the Freedom Rest R&R site in Baghdad, Gercken said.
Also, the Army is in the process of developing procedures with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to reimburse troops who had to pay their own way to their final destination once they landed at one of the designated hubs.
At first, the Pentagon planned to reimburse troops who had to pay their way after Dec. 19, when policy leaders approved the Onward Travel program. A bill signed into law in April makes reimbursements retroactive to the program’s inception of Sept. 22.
Central Command started the program in September to give 15 days of leave to troops deployed on 12-month orders in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. Troops are eligible to take leave after being in theater for 90 days, and through their 10th month. However, which individuals get to go remains a unit commander’s decision.
Army officials have suspended for the current rotation of deployed troops the use of Baltimore-Washington International in Maryland as a main hub for R&R for two reasons: a significant number of the troops in theater are from southern and southeastern states, and the Atlanta and Dallas airports are open 24 hours a day, unlike BWI, which shuts down at midnight, Mack said.
“We are trying to provide more opportunities for our soldiers for onward travel,” Mack said. “They can depart the Atlanta [and] Dallas/Forth Worth International airports and proceed on to their final leave destination as opposed to maybe having to be billeted at BWI until a flight is available the following day.”
The decision upset one lawmaker, who plans to ask fellow lawmakers to review the Army’s decision.
“I am disappointed to hear that the Department of Defense plans to end a program that works,” said Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-Md. “The employees at BWI Airport, along with the dedicated USO staff and volunteers, go above and beyond the call of duty for our troops and their families.”
Maryland spent $1.1 million in construction for a one-of-a-kind USO International Gateway Lounge that hosts more than 250,000 military personnel and their families each year, he said. The military travel program brings more than $20 million annually to the state.
The Army’s Materiel Command will continue to use BWI as a military port on AMC-contracted military flights from the States to Europe and Southwest Asia, moving about 153,000 passengers a year on 2,000 missions.
Stripes reporter Steve Liewer contributed to this report from Würzburg, Germany.