Operation Iraqi Freedom Troops Return for R&R
By Donna Miles
National Guard Bureau
WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2003 Some came wanting little more than those creature comforts they said they took for granted before deploying to Iraq: long, hot baths, fast food restaurants and shopping malls.
Soldiers arriving at Baltimore-Washington International Airport hurry to their destinations to begin the 15-day U.S. Central Command-sponsored R&R leave program. Photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
For Pfc. Lindsay Clark it boiled down to basics like "flushing toilets, taking a shower every day, and knowing that you're not going to have sand pelting your face." From the Dexheim, Germany-based 123rd Main Support Battalion, she's one of the first 270 U.S. service members to receive 15 days of rest and recuperation leave under a U.S. Central Command program that began this week.
But for many of the Operation Iraqi Freedom troops who arrived this morning in Frankfurt, Germany, and Baltimore to begin 15 days of R&R, the return home had a deeper significance.
For Army Spc. Jim Short from the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade, based at Fort Carson, Colo., it was the first opportunity to hold his 8-week-old daughter, Rachael. Short's wife, parents, and 2-year-old daughter had left Mechanicsburg, Pa., at 3:30 a.m. to greet him at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Short wasn't the only returning service member to meet a new son or daughter. Army Staff Sgt. Larry Benedict from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade, 327th Infantry Regiment, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., was looking forward to his connecting flight to Kentucky so he could meet his 12-day-old daughter and to spend quality time with his wife and 8-year-old son.
Similarly, Spc. Jason Tipton, an Alabama National Guardsman with the 1165th Military Police Company, planned to surprise his wife, who gave birth to the couple's first child, Matthew, Aug. 13. Spc. Michael Richards from 2nd Brigade, 327th Infantry, was hoping beyond hope that he would get home to Michigan before his wife went into labor to deliver their first child, due four days ago.
Spc. Adrian Dupre looked forward to the opportunity to solidify his relationship with long-term girlfriend Mieasha Pompey. The two, who got engaged over the telephone after Dupre deployed to Iraq in March with the Army Reserve's 352nd Civil Affairs Command, Riverdale, Md., originally had planned to marry when he returned home in January. Those plans got scrapped when Dupre learned his deployment was being extended to March.
So when Dupre called his fiance two days ago to tell her he was coming home for R&R, the couple decided to tie the knot Oct. 3. That, they figured, will give them nine days as husband and wife before Dupre and his fellow troops return to Southwest Asia Oct. 11.
But for now, Pompey said she's too happy to think about Dupre's return to Iraq. "I'm so excited," she said, admitting that she awoke at 3:40 in the morning, unable to sleep, knowing that Dupre was on his way home.
"This R&R program is excellent!" she said. "All I can say to the Army is 'Thank you, thank you, thank you.'"
As Dupre and almost 200 other service members, all in desert camouflage uniforms and carrying huge rucksacks, filed into the airport to greet family members or catch connecting flights, many said they're proud of the work they're doing in Iraq.
"We're doing a really great job over there," said Spc. Michael Osterman from the123rd Main Support Battalion, whose job is to sweep roads for mines in advance of convoys. The work can be scary at times, he acknowledged, but he said he feels good knowing he's protecting his fellow soldiers -- and that they, in turn, are helping the Iraqis.
"It's an amazing feeling to see what a difference we're making in (the Iraqi) people's lives," said Spc. Carlos Vidas from the 2nd Brigade, 327th Infantry, as he awaited a connecting flight to take him home to Daytona Beach, Fla.
SSgt. Larry Benedict from the 327th Infantry's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade, said he gets a lot of gratification seeing the enormous changes already taking place in Iraq. "It feels really good knowing that I helped restore a country," he said. "And the Iraqi people are really grateful for what we're doing."
Benedict said he's seen a big difference in his troops since they deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom. "It's given them a better appreciation of their jobs and the value of what they do," he said.
As they make sweeping changes in Iraq, many of the soldiers who returned home for R&R said their experience in Iraq has made a big difference in them, too.
"It's been a life-changing experience," said Richards. "I don't think you can go off to war and come back the same. I think the situation (in Iraq) has made us all better people."
Clark said her deployment has helped her "appreciate the small things you take for granted in normal American life." It's also increased her pride in America and matured her personally, she noted.
"I've changed and grown so much. The Army has really done something good for me, and I'm thankful for the experience," she said.
"It's made a huge difference in me," agreed Vidas. "I've grown and I've matured. I left as a boy. I'm coming home a man."