WASHINGTON Service members and Defense Department civilians on 12-month orders in Iraq and Jordan supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom now have a rest and recuperation leave program that will allow them to take up to 15 days, excluding travel time, to visit family or friends in the United States or Europe.
David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, approved a U.S. Central Command request for the program Sept. 23. Participants have the choice of traveling free from Iraq to gateway airports in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles or Frankfurt, Germany, and return, according to Chu's approval memo. Travel beyond those points would be at the members' expense.
CENTCOM officials said the program's trial period, now under way, will accommodate up to 270 people a day, with hopes of expanding that number significantly as the program matures, perhaps to as many as 800 per day.
"U.S. Central Command thinks quite a bit about the readiness of its forces," said Marine Corps Maj. Pete Mitchell, a CENTCOM spokesman. "When it was determined that U.S. forces were going to be spending 12-month tours in Iraq, the first thing we thought about was providing for the welfare of these forces, because providing for their welfare is improving readiness."
Mitchell explained that each local commander in Iraq will have a specific number of allocations for the program at any given time, and will invoke operational requirements in deciding who goes and when . But, he added, CENTCOM's goal is to "go to the absolute threshold" in accommodating as many people as possible without affecting operations.
Though the program is new for Operation Iraqi Freedom, it's by no means new ground for the U.S. military services.
"R&R leave has been a tradition in the U.S. military for hundreds and hundreds of years," Mitchell said. "When U.S. forces are in a combat area for an extended period of time, it is extremely important from a leadership perspective to give these young men and women an opportunity to rest, recuperate and reunite with their families, even if for a short time."
CENTCOM officials said R&R periods are limited to one per 12-month period. Because of the small scale of the initial part of the program and the fact that some units will return to their home bases before everyone is able to participate, not everyone serving in Iraq will be able to take advantage of the program.
Active duty personnel become eligible after serving 60 days in the Area of Responsibility (AOR) and remain eligible through 60 days prior to their scheduled redeployment to home station, however, a general officer may approve R&R Leave up until 45 days prior to redeployment.
Reserve component personnel mobilized on 12-month tours of duty must serve not less than 270 days in the AOR to be eligible for participation.
In Accordance with DoD Directive 1327.5, R&R leave is considered regular, chargeable leave. Leave starts on the first minute of the day after arrival at the actual leave destination.
The R&R Program will pay for the traveler to fly from the APOD to the commercial airport nearest to the approved leave address and back. Any movement by ground transportation is paid for by the traveler. (See Related Article). Currently designated APODS are Frankfurt (Rhein Main Air Base), Hartsfield International Airport, Atlanta, and DFW in Dallas, Ft. Worth.
Military members continue to receive all pay and benefits as they did when deployed (combat pay, family separation allowance, etc).
R&R Leave is not a "right." The unit Commander ultimately has the authority to decide who is authorized to take R&R leave, based on mission requirements.
In addition to the R&R Leave Program, there is also a R&R Pass Program. This is a four day pass program (non-chargeable "time off") in Qatar which does not allow military members to fly home and is shorter in duration, but it can be a welcome alternative when mission requirements keep service members from participating in R&R leave. R&RPP, and the R&R leave programs are separate yet complimentary programs. The participation in one program does not preclude participation in the other, unless dictated by local command policy.
American Airlines has announed, effective through the duration of the Iraqi Freedom Rest and Relaxation Program, American Airlines is opening its Admirals Clubs, free of charge, to U.S. Soldiers in between flights at airports with no USO facility. This is a great way for American Airlines to say 'thank you' to our U.S. military personnel.