Congress appears to support proposal to allow more leave carry-over
ARLINGTON, Va. — Though they differ on much in the 2004 defense spending bill, both houses of Congress agree that servicemembers fighting America’s war on terrorism should be able to carry 120 days of leave to the next fiscal year.
For almost two years, troops engaged in the war on terrorism have been able to seek waivers to carry up to 90 days of annual accrued leave, a month more than the 60-day peacetime limit.
Sailors and Marines, routinely deployed for at least six months at a time, have been able to ask for those waivers to the use-or-lose leave policy since 1995.
But the war on terrorism has committed more and more troops to regions far from home, and now the Army is calling for yearlong deployments to missions in Iraq, prompting some lawmakers to seek ways to better compensate those deployed troops, said aides for both the House and Senate armed service committees.
The measure is tucked into the 2004 defense budget proposal, now in conference as the House and Senate work out differences. The bill won’t be worked again until House members return from their summer recess on Sept. 2.
As it stands, those who qualify to carry over as many as 90 days are those who meet the following criteria:
¶ Uniformed personnel who have served for 120 days or more in imminent-danger or hostile-fire areas.
¶ Members, though not those in hostile-fire or imminent-danger areas, who are assigned to a designated deployable ship, mobile unit or similar duty.
¶ Members in duty assignments in support of contingency operations, as defined by the secretary of defense.
¶ Guard and Reserve members who performed full-time training or other full-time duty for more than 29 days.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in October 2002 authorized troops involved in operations Enduring Freedom and Noble Eagle to carry 90 days.
In a June 25 memo, Charles Abell, principal undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, authorized the services to let troops supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom do the same.
“That wouldn’t be a bad thing at all,” said Staff Sgt. Matt Miller, a spokesman for the Air Force’s personnel center. “They’ve earned it, they should be able to take it. But that’s just my personal opinion. I don’t make those decisions and we’ve gotten no direction.”
Marine expeditionary units that travel with the Navy on routine six-month deployments typically get roughly a month’s “down time” upon returning home, said Capt. Jeff Landis, adding the Corps has experience in giving Marines a large lump of time away from the job.
Uniformed personnel accumulate 2.5 days of annual leave for every month of active service.
The transfer isn’t always automatic, service officials warned, encouraging troops to take the initiative and apply for the special leave accrual through their chain of command and personnel centers to find out if they qualify and, if so, how much leave they can take at one time.