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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — A recent change to an Air Force regulation on taking leave can save Pacific-based airmen a lot of money.

Effective Dec. 16, the Air Force began allowing its personnel to take vacation days in the United States while traveling back to their home duty stations after a contingency deployment.

The Air Force doesn’t send its Pacific-based people the shortest route home — east — after deployments to locations such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, it requires them to fly back through the United States. The only exception is when there is a major movement of personnel, such as when an entire squadron deploys together and has a dedicated flight.

Under the old regulation airmen were not allowed to temporarily halt their travel to take vacation after hitting one of three major hubs in the States — Norfolk, Va.; Travis Air Force Base, Calif.; or Baltimore.

Instead, they had to travel back to their home duty stations in Japan or South Korea, check in with their units, and then buy commercial tickets to fly back to the States, according to Tech. Sgt. Eugene Scott, section chief of the Installation Personnel Readiness Unit at Misawa.

Now, he said, the airmen only have to pay for round-trip commercial flights from one of the hubs to their leave destinations and back to the hub before continuing on with their official travel home.

The change doesn’t affect Europe-based airmen, who fly directly back to their duty station after their deployment.

Air Force officials said troops based in the United States could request the leave, but the change is mainly meant to benefit the troops who pay upward of $1,500 to fly home from an overseas base after deployment.

Scott said Pacific Air Forces has developed a checklist that helps walk its airmen through the process. The leave isn’t granted prior to deployment, he said. Airmen are being told to apply for the leave while they’re getting ready to finish the deployment, ideally a month before they’re headed home.

Airmen interested in taking the leave must get permission from a deployed medical health care provider and the deployment and home station commanders.

The health care checkup is key, Scott said, to ensure deployed troops are “physically and mentally prepared” for leave.

When the airmen return to their home stations, the checklist, with signatures, is to be submitted with the travel voucher.

Officials have limited the leave time allowed under this new program to 14 days in the continental United States.

Airmen who deploy and travel with a weapon also must coordinate “proper turn in and accountability” prior to taking leave.

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