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Hundreds of soldiers in Europe to get ticket refunds after holiday leave snafu

Soldiers assigned to the 4th Aviation Regiment, 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division walk toward UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters during exercise Combined Resolve XI in Hohenfels Training Area, Germany, Dec. 5, 2018. The Army has negotiated refunds for about 250 soldiers from the unit who bought airline tickets before their vacations were approved by a higher command.

MATTHEW J. MARCELLUS/U.S. ARMY

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 18, 2018

STUTTGART, Germany — The Army has negotiated refunds for the majority of the 250 soldiers on rotation in Europe who had bought airline tickets home for the holidays before learning the leave granted by their unit hadn’t been approved at higher levels.

“The command and refund coordinators have been working nonstop to rectify the situation and it is still an ongoing process,” said Elisia Lukasik, a U.S. Army Europe spokeswoman.

The 4th Combat Aviation Brigade out of Fort Carson, Colo., is deployed to Europe in support of the U.S. military’s effort to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank. In November, many troops made vacation plans. The problem: whatever informal approval soldiers received from their command had not cleared U.S. Army Europe.

USAREUR policy states that deployed units are not authorized ordinary leave and that special exceptions must be granted. However, due to mission requirements an exception was not supportable, USAREUR determined. The troops are spread out on missions stretching from the Baltics and Poland to Germany.

To resolve the situation and ease the financial burden on soldiers, the Army assigned refund coordinators to each of the brigade’s battalions to help soldiers secure refunds. There are still some unresolved cases.

“Currently the refund coordinators are working diligently on about 50 refunds, all others have been fully refunded or a refund is expected,” Lukasik said in a statement. “The command truly regrets the undue stress this has created for our soldiers and their families and will continue to work with each soldier to address their individual situation.”

The 4th CAB is nearing the end of a nine-month deployment in Europe. The rotations are part of the military’s Atlantic Resolve campaign, which aims to deter potential Russian aggression against allies.

The troops are deployed at a time of heightened tensions in Europe. Russia’s attack last month on three Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea, and subsequent capture of about 25 Ukrainian sailors, prompted condemnations from the U.S.-led NATO alliance. Ukraine enacted martial law for 30 days in some parts of the country following the attack.

On Monday, Russia said it was deploying more than 10 fighter jets to Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the jets would be permanently stationed on the peninsula.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

 

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