Wednesday, 21 November 2007

R&R Leave

I’ve been terribly remiss in posting. Let me get back on track and tell you about my R&R (Rest and Recuperation) Leave.

All service members deployed for 12 months or more are entitled to R&R leave, more correctly titled Environmental and Morale Leave (EML). If you’re deployed for 12 months you get 15 days leave; if you are deployed for 15 months you get 18 days of leave. I’m deployed for 15 months, so I got 18 glorious days of R&R leave with my beautiful wife, Joyce.

R&R leave sounds simple, but the logistics of moving a few hundred thousand Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines out of country to their desired leave location and getting them back again is extensive and amazing. To illustrate, I’ll tell you about my trip to and from Germany.

First, I had to get from FOB Salerno to Bagram Airbase (BAF), which for me required a STOL flight-- a CASA 212, which carries passengers and mail around Afghanistan. In order to catch your flight on time you need to leave a few days early. Wait too long, and weather or maintenance can delay your flight, causing you to miss your flight out of BAF.

Once at BAF you wait around a few days in the Transient Billeting. For some, that means staying in a big fest tent with a hundred of your closest friends. For me, I was fortunate enough to score “VIP” quarters, basically a metal container with two or three other officers.

From BAF we all go to Kuwait, to an Airbase where they sort everyone out based on final destination. For me this flight was on a USAF C-17, a workhorse cargo aircraft.

The process in Kuwait is amazingly efficient,
considering the number of troops flowing through
every day. The average stay in Kuwait is less than 24 hours. At the airbase
there are hundreds of tents across acres and acres of desert, another chance to share a tent with 20 of your closest friends. For me, another VIP tent with only 12 instead of 20!

Most Soldiers go home to the US, but they’ve been known to go all over the world: Europe, Australia, Japan, almost anywhere you can imagine. For me, going to Germany, I took a commercial flight to Frankfurt Airport.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of going from the combat zone to the “real world”, from an austere FOB in Afghanistan to the land of plenty. Actually, the process of getting from the FOB to your leave destination is therapeutic-- a chance to decompress and relax with fellow Soldiers before you get home with “civilians”.

The 18 days in Germany were some of the best days I’ve ever had. Coming from Afghanistan, everything was better; the food, the wine, the beer, the city of Heidelberg, Germany, everything. Every day was a holiday, a perfect day. We slept and hiked and ate and drank (but not to excess!) and just enjoyed ourselves, just enjoyed being together after almost 10 months apart.

For the first week we stayed in Dilsberg, a small village outside of Heidelberg.

We hiked to another of our favorite villages,

Neckar-Steinach, the village of four castles.

For the second week we stayed with friends in Nussloch, a village south of Heidelberg. In Heidelberg we visited the castle, of course. And the weather that day was beautiful.

One day Joyce and I hiked up the Heilegenberg, to the ruins of an ancient monastery and along the famous Philosopher’s Way. It was a beautiful day, and a wonderful hike.

Hiking was lovely, but dining in Heidelberg, on the Hauptstrasse, with Joyce, was a nice way to end any day.

One of our last trips took us by train to a wonderful walled city, Bad Wimpfen. It is one of the prettiest villages in Germany.

As I said, every day in Germany was a wonderful, perfect day. Just being with Joyce, just being away from the daily grind of the war, was incredible.

But even wonderful, incredible vacations have to end.

The trip back is just a reverse of the trip out. The leave is chargeable, not free leave. Thankfully, the leave does not start until you arrive at your destination and it ends as soon as you arrive back at the airport for your return flight.

For me, the return took me from Frankfurt back to Kuwait on Lufthansa, then back to Bagram Airbase on a C-17 and finally back to FOB Salerno, Afghanistan on a CASA 212. And that’s it, that’s the process of R&R leave from Afghanistan.

And in the next blog, I’ll write about what it’s like to come back to the FOB, to the war, after R&R. I promise not to wait too long for the next post.

Phillips, out.


David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 11/23/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...

Katrina Reid said...

Good to hear you had a great time. Seems to be how everyone's has been, that I've talked to. Almost Surreal. Wow, I hope you don't take as long as the last one that was a very difficult wait.

Ky Woman said...

Definitely way too long...We were ummm, concerned! Glad that you had a wonderful R&R with your wife. Let us know as soon as you can how things are going there at FOB Salerno.
You all Stay Safe!

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