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CAMP CASEY, South Korea — First-tour soldiers are missing out on family time because they get too little leave to make a mid-tour trip home worthwhile, soldiers told the Army Family Action Plan Conference at Camp Casey this week.

The conference — a forum for grass-roots feedback aimed at improving quality of life in South Korea for soldiers, dependents, civilian Department of Defense workers and retirees — drew 150 people.

Senior Airman Mitch Carper, 604th Air Support Operations Squadron, who relayed the recommendations of a seminar on force support and entitlements to the gathering, said mid-tour leave was a major issue.

“Soldiers on average accrue 20 days’ leave. They use up 13 days in preparation and travel to their first duty assignment. When leaving your family to go to a physically and emotionally stressful environment, seven days of leave to visit home is grossly inadequate,” Carper said.

The seminar recommended first-term soldiers be provided 15 days of non-chargeable leave, he said.

Pvt. Justin Reven, who also participated in the seminar, agreed soldiers need more leave midway through their tours.

“They want to spend more time with their family, but when these new soldiers come in they don’t have enough leave by midway through the tour. We are trying to give them 10 to 15 days extra leave so they can visit their families,” he said.

Leave accrues at varying rates depending on rank and time in service.

American Red Cross coordinator Sandy Chambers, who led a seminar on education, said one of the concerns raised was the cost of soldiers’ university studies and the amount of time allocated for them.

Lt. Star Hy, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company at Camp Casey, said her university course cost $840.

“The Army is not paying 100 percent” of that cost, she said. “We have to pay out-of-pocket costs.”

The Army, for example, does not cover the cost of books, laboratory fees and admission fees, she said.

Other recommendations from the conference included giving soldiers free Internet access in their rooms, asking off-post clubs to strictly enforce age limits for drinking and paying more attention to maintenance and cleanliness of barracks.

Joe Gall, the conference coordinator, said a review of the recommendations from last year’s conference showed people’s concerns were addressed.

“Some issues affect all South Korea. Backpacks went all the way up to the [Department of the Army] level,” he said. “Before last year’s conference, backpacks were not allowed because they were not part of the military uniform. Now soldiers can have black backpacks without logos.

“Another issue was that the gym at Camp Casey was closing too early and lacked instructors. Now it is open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays and there are instructors teaching yoga, gymnastics and tae kwon do.”

Not all of the conference’s recommendations are accepted.

The 2003 Army Family Action Plan, resulting from last year’s conference, shows a recommendation that overweight soldiers not be required to lose weight if they pass fitness tests. That elicited this response from the Army:

“Lose weight or get in shape to meet the tape.”

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