Back From R&R, Soldiers Ready for Another Round of OIF
By Staff Sgt. Nate Orme, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP WOLF, Kuwait, Oct. 14, 2003 The first group of 265 soldiers to take advantage of the Defense Department's rest and recuperation leave program returned to the Operation Iraqi Freedom theater Oct. 13 after about 15 days of R&R leave.
The ATA Airlines plane they arrived on was contracted for them by the Army as part of the plan, which included round-trip travel to and from Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany, or Baltimore. Some soldiers were able to receive discounts on connecting flights to their final destination from airlines working with the military to provide tickets on short notice at reduced cost.
Although few soldiers said they were eager to return to Iraq, most said they felt the R&R usually home to family, but for some, to explore Europe was well worth it and prepared them to take on their final months in Iraq.
Soldiers debark in Kuwait on Oct. 13 after 15 days of R&R leave to visit friends and family or to go on vacation. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Nate Orme
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Besides providing flights, the R&R program helps soldiers with various concerns through briefings with experts. For example, anxieties about returning to the war zone and separation from family, are discussed in a chaplain's briefing and through follow-up contact information.
Spc. Joseph Meadow, an infantryman with the 173rd Airborne Brigade based in Vincenza, Italy, and in Kirkuk, Iraq, for Operation Iraqi Freedom, was the first off the plane. He was part of a 30-soldier detail that removed bags from the plane as the other soldiers boarded buses to go to a briefing tent run by the 105th Personnel Services Detachment, a National Guard unit from Lincoln, Neb.
"Everybody was really happy to get a chance to go, and I hope all my friends get a chance to go also," Meadow said. "I got to see my family in Birmingham, Ala., go deep-sea fishing (and) go to Atlanta. I went to Washington, D.C., to see the White House during the layover in Baltimore. I got to do all those things that Americans do."
On the bus ride from the plane to the briefing tent, Spc. LaToya Lang, a shower/laundry and clothing repair specialist with the 157th Quartermaster Company from Fort Hood, Texas, said she saw her family in Muskegon, Mich.
"It was an opportunity to go home. I had a death in the family, which was not considered immediate family, but I was able to take R&R and go home regardless," Lang said. "I only have a couple of months left now. It's all downhill from here."
Also on the bus, Capt. Bryan Sims, a family practice provider with the 21st Casualty Support Hospital at Camp Balad, about 70 miles north of Baghdad, said the trip home to family at Fort Hood was a chance to rejuvenate.
"It was absolutely fantastic. I got to see family and friends. I went to a University of Texas (Austin) football game with my family. The Longhorns beat Kansas State 24-20," Desert Storm veteran Sims said. "I've been here seven months, and I have five months to go. The R&R just makes it more doable."
At the briefing tent, the large group was broken into groups based on their final camp destination in Iraq. Soldiers were briefed on camp facilities and schedules, and were assigned a tent for their short stay here before flying to Baghdad in the next day or two and then traveling to their respective camps.
"It was worth it. It gives a sense of new beginning. It (the R&R) was only two weeks, but you come back and think 'I can do this.' I did it once, I can do it again," said Spc. Christina Perez, a personnel services specialist with the 320th Military Police Battalion, an Army Reserve unit from Ashley, Penn.
(Army Staff Sgt. Nate Orme is assigned to 3rd Personnel Command.)