KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Army troops in line for rest and recuperation leave from Iraq will take a back seat during the massive movement of fresh troops into the region in early 2004.

Roughly 118,000 active-duty, National Guard and reserve troops will be moving into Iraq between January and May, replacing a similar number.

That will strain airlift, airspace, ramp space and ground transportation in the theater, said Maj. Pete Mitchell, U.S. Central Command spokesman.

That means troops waiting for R&R may get bumped in favor of getting those relief boots on the ground.

“Those force rotations will take priority over the R&R leave program, meaning that once the rotations start, we expect a curtailment in the amount of R&R leave activity during those critical periods,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said he couldn’t say exactly how many troops will lose out on R&R during the influx of new troops, but he doubts the program will completely stop.

Mark Voorhis, a U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command spokesman, was unable to provide details of the airlift requirements for the massive troop movement by Stars and Stripes’ deadline.

He did note, however, that the Air Force does contract with commercial aircraft carriers for a good deal of its cargo and troop movement.

“Obviously, positioning combat forces where they are required will take priority” over the R&R program, Voorhis said.

By early November, 479 U.S. troops a day were leaving Iraq and surrounding countries on R&R leave. Troops deployed to Iraq and to the Central Command theater of operation on 12-month orders get to take two weeks of leave. Troops usually become eligible for such leave halfway through their deployment.

Mitchell noted that the R&R program started when most troops were in their seventh month of service in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Those who miss their R&R will be going home soon anyway.

About 135,000 U.S. troops are now serving in Iraq and roughly 200,000 U.S. troops are in the entire theater.

The next group of soldiers rotating in will have a more predictable R&R rotation schedule because their deployment dates are more predictable, Mitchell said.

“In OIF 2, it’s envisioned that no one will be denied the opportunity to go home on R&R leave. We’ll have a whole calendar year to organize it,” Mitchell said.

Troops going on R&R leave are guaranteed intra-theater airlift from Iraq to Kuwait. Once in Kuwait, troops are put on contracted commercial flights either to Germany or to one of three U.S. airports serving the R&R program in the States.

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