New R&R Ports to Put Service Members Closer To Home
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 26, 2004 Beginning June 15, the Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth international airports will become the primary ports of debarkation for service members arriving home from Iraq and Afghanistan for rest and recuperation leave, Army officials announced this week.
Army Col. Paris Mack, chief of the Army's Rest and Recuperation Task Force, said soldiers no longer will fly into Baltimore-Washington International Airport, as thousands have done thus far during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
She said the Defense Department is trying to get service members home as "fast and efficiently" as possible by reducing the travel distance to their final destination.
"We looked at the time frame of how long it would take that soldier to get to his final leave destination, and we wanted to get them there in the quickest manner that we could," she said, "because he's only got 15 days." The Army is trying to reduce the portion of those 15 days spent waiting for onward travel, she explained.
Mack said changing the ports of debarkation to Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth adds convenience for soldiers. Most service members in the theater, she said, are deployed from bases in the southern and southeastern parts of the United States, such as Fort Hood, Texas, home of the 1st Cavalry Division, now in Iraq.
"This will get soldiers to their final leave destination in a much quicker manner," she said.
Another factor in the decision was the fact that Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta airports both have 24-hour operations, which she said will provide "more opportunities for a soldier's onward travel."
Because the two airports are always open, they can accommodate service members who arrive late in the evening and need early morning connecting flights, as opposed to perhaps needing overnight accommodations near the Baltimore- Washington airport, which closes at midnight, the colonel said.
The change also will save the Army money, she noted, because of less need for billeting, meals and transportation incurred by service members forced to stay overnight en route to their final destinations.
An Army analysis of all three airports revealed that yearly cost of operating what it calls a "personnel assistance point" would be $15,552 for Dallas-Fort Worth, $16,500 for Atlanta, and $44,400 for the Baltimore-Washington airport.
Mack said the Army would re-examine unit demographics regularly to determine if changes are needed to accommodate future troop rotations. Meanwhile, Mack said, service members and their families transferring to and from overseas assignments in Europe and Southwest Asia would continue to use Baltimore- Washington International Airport.
Service members deployed for one year in the U.S. Central Command theater of operations are eligible for 15 days of additional leave. Commanders in the theater, because of operational requirements, determine when soldiers can take part in the R&R leave program, Mack said.