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First R&R Soldiers Gather for Return to Iraq

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

BALTIMORE, Oct. 12, 2003 – The first soldiers to return home from Iraq for rest and recuperation leave checked in at Baltimore-Washington International Airport here today to return to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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Army Pfc. Lindsay Clark, 123rd MSB, said her R&R leave was "an injection of good stuff" that will make the six months she has left in Iraq easier than her first six months. Photo by John D. Banusiewicz
  

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The Defense Department began the R&R program in late September to give service members a break from duty in Iraq. The program provides free travel to designated ports of entry in the United States or Germany for 15 days of leave in addition to travel time.

Army Pfc. Christopher C. Roberts had spent seven months in Iraq before the R&R program gave him the chance to go home to Hartselle, Ala., where he met his 3- month-old daughter, Emma Marie, for the first time.

"She took to me more than I thought she would," he said. Roberts had to go back too soon to spend his Oct. 24 first wedding anniversary with his wife, Erica, but the 101st Airborne Division soldier did get to celebrate his 22nd birthday at home Oct. 3.

It was hard to leave his wife and daughter, he said, "but I'm ready to get back (to Iraq) and get it over with, so we can be a family again."

Army Sgt. Shane M. Wood spent the first days of his R&R leave visiting family in Houston, but he soon drove to Atlanta, where he and his wife, Patricia, were married Oct. 7.

"We were talking about it," he said, "and when I came home, we said, "Let's just go do it." Wood, whose normal duty is as an ammunition specialist, is currently working at the Al Rashid Air Base mortuary in southeast Baghdad. He is assigned to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Jody Gutierrez is assigned to Special Troops Battalion, 5th Corps Main, Rear Area Operations Center. She said it's harder for her to go back to Iraq now than it was when she first deployed. She used her R&R leave to spend time with her husband, also a guardsman, in Phoenix.

Gutierrez had been in Iraq for 10 months when the R&R program began. She said that even though she expects to leave Iraq and return home early next year, "a taste of the good life" after the tough conditions of deployment is hard to leave behind. But she said that with the biggest part of her deployment behind her, she'll have "no problem" serving the remainder of her tour, and she's happy to have had the break.

Army Pfc. Lindsay Clark visited her family and friends in Columbus, Ohio, on her R&R leave, and said the leave gave her "an injection of good stuff" to take back to Iraq with her. She was stationed in Germany when she deployed to Iraq, she explained, so the single soldier hadn't seen much of her family since she left for the Army two years ago. The R&R leave came at a good time for her, she said.

"It helps me to have a more positive outlook on the rest of my time" in Iraq, she said. The intelligence analyst, assigned to the 123rd Main Support Battalion, said having her R&R leave at about the midpoint of her tour has refreshed her. "I have something to grab onto," she said. Noting she had done well in the six months since she left Germany, Clark said, "I'll make it even better in the next six months that I have."

Family and friends helped Army Pfc. Racheal Davis enjoy her R&R leave in McComb, Miss. She spent time with her mother, father and stepmother, but didn't get to see her fianc, a military policeman serving at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Davis, assigned to the 519th Military Police Battalion in Baghdad, said she hopes both can take leave and meet up when she returns from Iraq.

She said everyone back home told her they're "really, really proud" of her, and that her mother even considers her a hero. Davis said she doesn't see herself that way, but added that "so many more people" serving in Iraq are heroes, and she's even more proud to serve with them.

Davis said her mother gave her one piece of advice as she was leaving to return to duty in Iraq: "Pray, and always keep God first. If you do that, he'll watch over you."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Pfc. Christopher C. Roberts, 101st Airborne Division, calls his wife, Erica, from Baltimore-Washington International Airport Oct. 12 before boarding his return flight to Iraq after 15 days of R&R leave. During his leave, Roberts met his 3-month-old daughter, Emma Marie, for the first time. Photo by John D. Banusiewicz  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSoldiers returning to Iraq from R&R leave enjoy a movie at the United Service Organizations lounge at Baltimore-Washington International Airport Oct. 12. Photo by John D. Banusiewicz  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Sgt. Shane M. Wood, 2nd ACR, was single when he left Iraq for 15 days of R&R leave, but he's returning to Iraq as a family man. He and his wife, Patricia, were married in Atlanta on Oct. 7. Photo by John D. Banusiewicz  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePfc. Pfc. Lindsay Clark, Sgt. 1st Class Jody Gutierrez and Sgt. Shane M. Wood share Operation Iraqi Freedom experiences while awaiting their return flight to Iraq on Oct. 12 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The soldiers were returning to Baghdad after 15 days of R&R leave. Photo by John D. Banusiewicz  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Pfc. Racheal Davis, 519th Military Police Battalion, visited family and friends in McComb, Miss., on her 15-day R&R leave. Photo by John D. Banusiewicz  
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