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Troops get new orders: Leave, rest

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of American soldiers are expected to get brief vacations from the war in Iraq under the first large-scale R&R program since Vietnam.

The first 270 troops were flown Thursday out of the region en route to Germany and the United States. They are taking leave from deployments that are turning out to be longer and tougher than expected.

The rest-and-relaxation program was ordered to provide relief for forces serving 12-month tours of duty in the hot, dangerous and sometimes primitive conditions in Iraq. The program also applies to troops in support roles in neighboring countries. The R&R is available to the vast majority of the more than 130,000 troops deployed.

“Fatigue in the force exists … especially where there is a lot of fighting going on,” said Gen. John Abizaid, head of all forces in the region as commander of the U.S. Central Command.

Abizaid announced the program yesterday in response to a complaint by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., that there is inequity in the length of service among deployed troops. Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee that some troops have been getting leaves of a few days to countries bordering Iraq to “get away from the combat zone … relax, take a shower, have a beer.”

The new rest-and-relaxation leaves are 15-day vacations — some with paid transportation — for every soldier, sailor, airman or Marine staying in the region for a year, said Marine Maj. Pete Mitchell, a Central Command spokesman.

The first planeload is on the way to Germany, where other forces are usually stationed. An unknown number of the 270 on that flight were to get off there, and the remainder will continue to Baltimore and will arrive today, Mitchell said.

The government pays for flights to Germany and Baltimore. Troops continuing on from there to their homes or other places will cover that expense.

The program will start out slowly. The military eventually hopes to also provide flights to Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Los Angeles. Eventually, some 750 people are expected to fly in and out of the Iraq region daily, said Army spokesman Joe Burlas.

Yearlong rotations were ordered during the summer for most troops as violent resistance to the occupation spiraled and the Bush administration found little success in getting more nations to contribute forces.


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