Troops on R&R seeking alternative destinations
October 14, 2007
KUWAIT — France. Venice. Dublin. Sydney. Tokyo.
Not everyone leaving the Middle East on Thursday planned to spend their mid-war break at home, as attested to by the itineraries of troops waiting to go through customs.
Granted, most of the soldiers — 330 out of 370 — were heading home. But others are using the military’s rest and recuperation leave program as a ticket to ride.
“It’s usually a madhouse in here,” SatoTravel contractor officer Staff Sgt. Domenik Desimone said Thursday. “Where else are you going to get a free ticket to anywhere you want?”
He works at Kuwait’s 1st Sustainment Command (Theater) Gateway where soldiers get their international travel tickets. Those who are using the time to travel are usually multiple deployers, said the 26-year-old from Philadelphia.
“They’ve done the family thing before,” he said. “But sometimes you have no time on a family trip for yourself, as you are pulled and stretched in every direction.”
Soldiers are eligible for 15 days leave on a 12-month tour; 18 days on the extended 15-month tour. The military provides a round trip to a destination of the soldier’s choice.
Spc. Darin Rummel of the 1st Sustainment Command (Theater) chose Australia.
“We studied the exchange rate, travel time and expenses and settled on Australia,” Rummel said. “It also has what we call the ‘English Advantage.’ ”
He’s hoping an Army friend can meet him there, he said, but he may be flying solo as all leave is coordinated through the individual’s command.
His mother is a little upset with him, admitted the 21-year-old from Olin, Iowa, but, he said, she knows this is a good opportunity.
About 300 to 400 people flow through the sustainment command’s R&R tents on a slow day, said Col. Ralph Williams, the gateway’s deputy commander.
They usually spend about eight hours there — getting flights, checking their body armor and going through customs, he said.
Last year, 460,000 soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan went through the gateway, said Commander Lt. Col. Bobbi Riddle, 47, of Montgomery, Ala.
“We want to get soldiers out on a flight in 24 hours,” Riddle said. “Most want to go home. They want to see their families. Or just to touch their stuff and make sure it’s still there.”
But for Maj. Marianne Miller, getting from Kuwait to her family in Fairbanks, Alaska, requires a lot of flying time.
So instead, she’s hitting the slopes in Italy’s Dolomites, she said.
“My plans have gotten mixed reviews,” said Miller, 37, the support operations planner for 640th Sustainment Brigade. Her friends worry about her traveling alone, but she isn’t concerned.
“I like being a tourist,” she said. “There are things that I’d love to see and do in Kuwait that for political or social reasons, I can’t.”
Staff Sgt. Yetta Stewart of the 1st Sustainment Command (Theater) and Lt. Col. John Randolph Duke, commander of Task Force Gator, are getting the best of both worlds — their loved ones are meeting them in a new country.
Granted, only the soldier flies for free, so significant others, friends and relatives are on their own. The soldier also picks up the tab for lodging and all other travel costs.
But Stewart’s dual-military children are staying with her sister in England, she said, and her husband — deployed to Balad, Iraq — is going to meet her there.
“There was no doubt in our minds where we were going for leave,” said Stewart, 29, of Ann Arbor, Mich. “Our family understands — they know it’s a lot of money for us all to go home.”
The trick is to balance reconnection with relaxation, said Duke, who is meeting his wife in the U.K. to tour London and Scotland.
“There is stress and tension that comes with going home,” Duke said. “And it’s important to relink with the people you love.
“But this time I decided to do my time away, and stay away. And when I’m home, I’m home.”
The Army also has a four-day pass program; but soldiers don’t get to choose where they go. If selected, they go to Qatar.