WASHINGTON -- Beginning in April, service members going on rest & recuperation leave will be issued commercial tickets to their leave destination, instead of seats on charter flights.
Soldiers and others serving in U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, an area stretching from Egypt to Afghanistan, will have greater flexibility in traveling to their preferred destination on rest & recuperation, known as R&R, officials said.
A pilot program actually began Jan. 15, offering some service members and DOD civilians commercial tickets when flying home from Kuwait on R&R.
Previously, the only option was to fly charter air to Atlanta or Dallas from Kuwait, said Lt. Col. Dave Homza, chief, R&R Task Force, Army G-1. Now service members will be issued individual commercial tickets to their approved leave destination, be it stateside or elsewhere in the world.
Full transition to commercial tickets for all R&R passengers begins Monday as charter flights end, a Third U.S. Army official said.
The Army has been serving as DOD executive agent for the CENTCOM R&R Leave Program since it started in 2003, Homza said. About 96 percent of the passengers taking R&R flights over that timespan have been Soldiers.
Eligibility requirements for R&R flights remain the same, Homza said. The person must be on at least a 12-month tour within the CENTCOM theater, with at least 270 days on the ground.
At peak troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 1,000 passengers a day were flying charter air to Atlanta or Dallas, Homza said. Today, that number has fallen to only several dozen a day.
As the drawdown in Afghanistan picked up last year and as tours began decreasing from 12 to nine months, the Dallas R&R gateway was closed, consolidating R&R passengers going to the continental U.S. in Atlanta, he said.
Also, to further save money, smaller aircraft were chartered.
During peak troop levels, the charters made good economic sense, he added. Now, transitioning to individual commercial tickets is more economical and gives Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and DOD civilians more travel flexibility.