ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy has urged commanders worldwide to make every effort to accommodate sailors whose families have been caught up in Hurricane Katrina to take emergency leave.

“This is providing a little guidance from the top about an issue that is obviously of national interest, and although it does not modify the emergency leave policy, it sets out some guidance and encourages commanders to support their sailors,” said Navy spokesman Cmdr. Ron Hill.

The Navy has 33,700 personnel living in the region hit by Hurricane Katrina, Hill said. That number includes active duty personnel, reserve personnel and civilians.

“It seems prudent to provide the guidance encouraging the commanders to make these decisions and make sure these people have the assistance when they get there,” Hill said.

Sailors can request emergency leave if they have a death in their immediate family; if one of their immediate family members is dying, injured or seriously ill; or if their immediate family’s residence has sustained severe damage, Hill said.

Sailors that are granted emergency leave are told to call Command Navy Region Southeast when they arrive in the region by calling (866) 203-6004, he said.

The Southeast command can help sailors deal with local authorities and, “Sort of keep people from going down there in large numbers who don’t have these contacts and become part of the problem,” Hill said.

The Navy is the only branch of the service to issue such a policy for servicemembers whose loved ones have been affected by Katrina. Representatives from the Marines, Air Force and Army said it is up to commanders in the field to decide if their troops should get emergency leave.

“But, of course, commanders will take in consideration first and foremost a Marine’s need to go home and assist with his family if needed,” said Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Doug Powell.

A spokesman for the Combined Information Center in Baghdad said the hurricane has affected 300 soldiers in Iraq with the 155th Mississippi Rifles, 84 of whom were granted 15 days of emergency leave.

“Soldiers’ requests for emergency leave were and will continue to be evaluated at all levels of the command and every effort will be made to get the most seriously affected soldiers back to Mississippi on emergency leave,” wrote Staff Sgt. Donald Dees.

In early September, the Air Force sent home 300 airmen based at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., to help their families cope with the disaster.

The Air Force also announced that 100 additional airmen from Keesler slated to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan would remain on the base.

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