RAF MILDENHALL, England — Airmen leaving the Middle East during next month’s Air and Space Expeditionary Force rotation will know exactly when they are leaving and when they will arrive at their home station.

“Before, we gave them an approximate date and there was still a little bit of nervousness,” said Lt. Col. Kelly Burns, commander of the 332nd Expeditionary Readiness Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq.

Airmen leaving in September will know ahead of time what day they are leaving their location and when they will fly out, he said in a telephone interview with Stars and Stripes.

The Air Force will move about 7,400 people into the theater next month, according to the AEF Center at Langley Air Force Base, Va. About the same number will move out of the theater.

For those leaving, Burns said, there will be less stress and worry with the predictable travel plans.

This is possible because the Air Force has been perfecting a similar plan for getting folks into the theater, said Capt. Robert S. Neiper, who is with the U.S. Central Command Air Force logistics directorate in Qatar. It was used for the January rotation and again in May with great success, he said in a telephone interview.

“We’re averaging better than 98 percent of the folks to their destination in less than 48 hours [after reaching the theater],” he said.

Prior to the program, the average stay at a main hub was seven to 10 days, Neiper said.

The program, referred to as Single Ticket, was a response to complaints that troops weren’t getting to their forward locations in a predictable manner, Neiper said. Now, before they reach the theater, the troops are already booked on aircraft taking them to their final destination.

“Twenty-four hours before they arrive, we have their mission [number] and time [of departure],” Neiper said.

The program has proven effective enough to offer it to troops on their way out of the theater, he said.

“We had to take it in steps,” he said. “The commanders are comfortable about getting their people on the dates we tell them they’re going to get them.

Burns said, “I think we’ve always been good about deploying into theater.” But, he said, returning troops was less predictable and less disciplined.

Both Neiper and Burns said they are keeping fingers crossed as they prepare for the AEF 7/8 rotation next month. Airplanes can always break, they said, and foul up the best-laid plans.

But they expressed confidence that airmen will spend fewer days traveling home.

“For the majority of folks that are going to redeploy,” Neiper said, “the process will work pretty well.”

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