Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey canceled the two week Rest and Recuperation program
for the next two months for the roughly 47,000 soldiers under his command in
"We did make a command decision, that would be me, that we couldn't do any
more environmental leave, R&R, after 31 January," said Dempsey, commander of
the Wiesbaden, Germany-based 1st Armored Division. "We did that principally
because we have a mission to accomplish in transitioning the city of Baghdad
over to the unit following us."
Dempsey said Monday during a press briefing from Baghdad that the 1st AD
would be leaving "over the next 90 days."
Several active, Guard and Reserve units fall under Dempsey's command, working
in and around Baghdad.
Troops there had complained of getting mixed messages.
Army leaders in the States tasked with running and speaking for the R&R
program said they were not aware of the 1st AD's decision to cancel leave for
such a large population of U.S. forces in country, and had made emphatic
statements recently that the program had not been canceled.
"The program, in general, has not been canceled," Gary Jones, a spokesman for
Army Forces Central Command in Atlanta, said Monday. However, he said, he
hadn't been aware of the general's decision, which affects a large number of
Several soldiers and families have e-mailed Stars and Stripes seeking
clarification between what they're being told and what they've read.
A story in the Jan. 23 editions of Stripes reported, "[t]he Army is not
canceling the Rest and Recuperation program for troops in February and March —
misinformation that seems to have made its way around the country, from
commanding officers telling their troops to public affairs telling the media."
"Your article is wrong and irresponsible," one soldier wrote in response.
"The R&R program has been canceled for our unit. Your article makes it hard for
our families to believe us, as it is canceled for us."
Some 1st AD soldiers and those under the division said they weren't surprised
at the decision to stop R&R leave since the unit will be preparing to return
home in the next few months. They expected all soldiers currently on R&R would
be back in Iraq to help the unit move out.
"Most everybody got to go home except people who just got here a few months
ago," said Pfc. Carlos Guzman, of Company B, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry
Regiment, 1st Armored Division. Guzman said soldiers who have been in Iraq less
than six months did not expect to qualify for R&R leave, anyway.
Pvt. Ben Bates, also from the 1st AD, said he had been on duty in Iraq for
five months. "I'm not worried about it at all because I didn't think I deserved
it. There are other guys who have been here a lot longer than me who got to
To qualify, troops must be deployed on 12-month orders and can take leave
between the second and 11th month in country, though most aren't granted leave
until the six-month mark, Jones said.
"The decision whether to continue or suspend the R&R leave program during
this crucial transition period … will reside with the local commanders, with
the mission on the ground taking priority," Central Command spokesman Maj. Pete
Mitchell said. "The silver lining for those forces in [Operation Iraqi Freedom]
1 who might miss the opportunity to take R&R leave is the fact that many of
them have already begun transitioning back to the United States" or to their
In spite of the 1st AD's decision, R&R continues for other troops in country,
Jones said. "There are others for who it is still carrying on, and yes, it's up
to individual unit commanders to decide if the soldiers can go based on mission
Though Central Command chartered planes specifically for R&R, units are
facing difficulties getting troops in and out of country, Dempsey said. "We
also were beginning to bang into some transportation problems, challenges."
For example, while the leave was capped at 15 days, the clock didn't start
ticking until the soldier reached the United States and it could take upwards
of 10 days to get them out of theater, Dempsey said. "It was taking about 25
days from start to finish."
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of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as
a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and
has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and
1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been
in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen
in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf
War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the
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