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ARLINGTON, Va. — The military’s “rest and recuperation” program to give troops deployed to the Middle East a break is slated to expand “in the very near future,” possibly as early as Nov. 1, officials said.

The program, which started in late September, not only will increase in the number of troops granted leave, boosting the current 279 troops who fly out daily to possibly as much as 500, but will include two additional cities that troops will be flown to — Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, said Gary Jones, a spokesman for Army Forces Central Command in Atlanta, and another source familiar with the program.

Details still are being worked out and should be finalized by next week, Jones said.

Currently, troops fly either to Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany, or to Baltimore-Washington International in Maryland. From there, vacationing servicemembers have to pay their own way to travel elsewhere.

The addition of the Atlanta and Dallas airports make sense as the next phase of R&R gears up, Jones said.

“A majority of our bases are in the southeast and southwest. It was logical.”

Troops eligible for the program, deliberately named rest and “recuperation,” are those on 12-month orders in theater. They are able to use 15 days of their annual leave for vacation, excluding travel time to airports in either Frankfurt or Baltimore.

However, that message apparently is not making its way down to all units in the Iraq theater, adding confusion to a program plagued with turmoil since its early stages.

Staff Sgt. Al Beyer, an Army reservist from Washington state whose transportation unit is stationed in Kuwait, told Stripes in a Thursday e-mail message that while his commander at first told troops “leave starts when we land in Baltimore and ends when we get back to Baltimore,” that message was modified Thursday.

“Our leave now starts when we leave the company area [in Kuwait], and ends when we get back here, which means instead of at least 14 days home we have 12-13 days,” Beyer wrote.

That is wrong, said Central Command spokesman Marine Maj. Peter Mitchell.

Troops are not to be charged travel time out of Iraq or Kuwait against that 15-day leave. Leave begins once troops go through processing stations at Rhein-Main or Baltimore, in which they are given official paperwork that includes their return travel plans and an emergency phone number in the event they can’t make the return flight, Mitchell said.

“If that is happening, their recourse is their chain of command and they certainly can exercise the right to use that,” Mitchell said.

One program problem received a lot of attention recently when leadership of the 368th Engineering Battalion out of New England told 58 soldiers to buy their own plane tickets since only nine had been selected for a particular run. Army leadership and Central Command frantically worked to get reimbursements for the soldiers from the Kuwait airlines.

Staff writer Lisa Burgess contributed to this report.

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