Soldiers Protest Change in Post-War Leave Policy

82nd Airborne members unload gear

Fort Bragg paratroopers returning from Afghanistan in the coming weeks will not immediately get a month off as they have in the past.

Instead, the soldiers will attend a week or two of briefings designed to re-acclimate them to life at Fort Bragg and then be given 14 days of leave. The balance of the time will be taken later.

An 82nd Airborne Division spokeswoman said the goal is to do right by the soldier while also allowing him some time to relax. She said it is the "best of both worlds."

But the decision is not without controversy.

About 9,000 soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division are coming home over the next few weeks.

The first soldiers to return arrived several weeks ago, and others will follow through mid-September.

Several soldiers have contacted the Observer to complain about the decision to change how leave is taken.

One soldier from the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade said the unit received the news in July.

"What concerns me the most is that after a year away from our families, 30 days of leave is a great time to recharge and reintegrate with our loved ones," said the soldier. "I, like many others, have moved our families out of state during our deployments. This allows for our families to have support from the extended family during our absence.

"This is my second 12-month deployment with this unit and the second time I have moved my family. (Fourteen) days is not enough time to have to move and try to reintegrate."

Others said some soldiers are angry about the change. They said some soldiers were forced to cancel or alter vacation plans because reservations were made before they knew they would not get a full month's leave.

Lt. Col. Virginia McCabe, a spokeswoman for the 82nd Airborne Division, said there is a lot of misinformation about the leave change. She said all soldiers will get the leave they are entitled to, just not all at once.

McCabe said the plan is to give soldiers a day or two off after they arrive back at Fort Bragg, then put them on a half-day schedule for 10 to 14 days.

Those half-days would be filled with briefings meant to help soldiers returning from deployment with their finances, health concerns and the accounting of their equipment.

"It'll be a lot of briefings, a lot of meetings," she said.

McCabe said the division headquarters made the decision to handle leave this way before the unit deployed last fall.

The timing is partly to blame, she said.

Thousands of soldiers are returning home just before fall, McCabe said, a time of year that is already filled with multiple four-day weekends and holidays through the end of the year.

"Obviously, you can't just shut the whole unit down," she said. "The intent is not to lose leave. It's to make sure everything is right with the soldier."

McCabe said other 82nd units followed suit more recently, but the decisions had all been made by June. She said the details of leave are always at the discretion of the unit commander.

Three brigades and the division headquarters are in Afghanistan.

The division and the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade are finishing 12-month tours; the 1st and 4th Brigade Combat Teams are finishing six-month deployments.

But not all soldiers or their families agree with the reasoning. Lisa Familo, the wife of a Fort Bragg soldier with the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade and executive director of the Harnett County Partnership for Children, expressed her concern in an opinion column published in the Observer last week.

Familo said she has seen a decrease in morale since the announcement.

That could have been avoided if soldiers and their families had known about the changes earlier, she said.

The Familo family had to cancel a trip to New York and shorten other vacation plans, she said, to accommodate the shorter timetable.

She said the shorter time puts an added burden on children who have been anxious and nervous for their father over the past year.

"The light at the end of the tunnel has been dwindled down to nothing," she said. "I hate to see this overshadow their coming home."

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Army Afghanistan