One of the “bennies” you get while deployed to an existing, established theater is something called “R&R Leave”. Vietnam had it; so did today’s GWOT. Formally, it’s “Rest and Recuperation Leave”. I’ll spare everyone the older, very politically-incorrect “informal” names. (smile)
Today’s rules may be a bit different than the Vietnam era. So for the benefit of those who’re unfamiliar with today’s policies and rules I thought I’d write this to describe those policies, circa late 2007. I’m pretty sure the policies and procedures are pretty much the same today.
And they’re indeed a sterling example military bureaucracy at its finest. (smile)
The bennies associated with R&R in 2007 – and, presumably, today – were twofold. It wasn’t a complete “freebie”; you did have to use accrued (or advanced) leave. However, the US Government paid for your round-trip transportation to your R&R leave destination. You could go to Australia or Spain if you wanted to (I know folks who went to each location on R&R). But Uncle Sam only paid for your ticket; if others joined you there, that was on your nickel. (My spouse and I met in Munich and spent my R&R at the Eidelweiss AFRC in Garmish.)
The second bennie was that only the time spent at your R&R location was counted as leave. Travel time to/from that destination was not. The net result is that you got to spend all of your leave time at your R&R destination.
Of course, some would say that the simple fact that you’re allowed to spend some time outside of a combat zone is a third bennie in its own right. To some extent they have a point – but that’s not entirely an unalloyed good thing. Some folks found coming back in-theater rougher than deploying in the first place.
Did I mention that this is all governed by numerous rules, regulations, policies and the like? Leave it to military bureaucracy to make something like going on R&R just “oh so much fun”, and damn near more trouble than it was worth.
First: your tour of duty in the CENTCOM AOR had to be long enough to qualify for you to get R&R leave. A year qualified. As I recall, six months did not; I seem to remember the “breakpoint” being 270 days, but I could be wrong.
Second: R&R couldn’t be too early or too late in one’s tour. My recollection is not before the 3rd month or after the 9th month of a one-year tour.
Third: although formally policy in 2007 stated that R&R was at the unit commander’s discretion, the reality was that R&R was pretty much mandatory for all. However, flexibility was NOT exactly encouraged. Taking less than the normal amount (15 days) took rather high-level approval. Think stars. Literally.
Fourth: you could not take your R&R anywhere in a rather lengthy list of countries, most of which are in the Middle East. The reason for that restriction should be pretty obvious.
Fifth: it was mandatory to go through the R&R processing center in Kuwait when going on R&R, even if there were more direct and faster ways to get from your deployed location to your R&R destination. Kuwait is not my favorite place on earth.
Sixth: to go on R&R, someone had to get you a flight on “yer standard USAF-operated in-theater air transportation system” to get from your duty station to Kuwait. (You got to skip this step if you were one of those “lucky souls” deployed to Kuwait – but in that case, IMO you really deserve sympathy.) This was often not an easy thing to arrange. Also, depending on where and how lucky you were this was almost always either a C130 or a C17. If you got the latter, you were lucky – a C17 is a much more comfortable flight than a C130. However, depending on overall mission needs the flight might or might not be on the date you expected. So you (and anyone seeing you during R&R) had to be somewhat flexible.
Seventh: only a limited number of people in any unit could go on R&R at any one time. You might or might not get to go on R&R when you wanted to go.
I’ve probably forgotten a couple of other R&R rules/policies, but I think you get the idea. You will have fun – by the numbers!
Lastly: you got to deal with the bureaucracy that had developed over time at the R&R processing center in Kuwait. That bureaucracy in Kuwait was, to be charitable, excessive and at least partially nonsensical. It did work – and, in their defense they were processing literally thousands of folks monthly in 2007-2008, if not tens of thousands. But the fact that it worked is really the best that can be said about it.
Here’s how it worked.
At your in-theater “home station”, someone (usually your unit’s air movements officer) made arrangements for you to fly from an in-theater airfield into the airfield supporting R&R operations. This in itself was usually “tons o’ fun” – and a foreshadowing of the fun that awaited you in Kuwait.
After you arrived in Kuwait, you then caught a bus to the R&R processing area. Before you could even leave your duty station to go on R&R, you had to arrange to get a number of briefings prior to departing. But as soon as you got to the R&R processing center – even if it was 0300 when you arrived – you got yet another similar briefing or two. These briefings were pretty standard stuff; why these weren’t also among those given at your duty station prior to departure I don’t know. Then you turned in some gear (e.g., your helmet and body armor – your weapon and ammo were stored by your unit while you were gone) and, depending on the time of day, went to transient billeting and got assigned temp quarters for the night or went directly to more admin processing.
These temporary quarters were a tent, air conditioned to a temperature seemingly just slightly above freezing. (Yes, it is possible to freeze your butt off in Kuwait.) You got assigned a bunk and a wall-locker, but only those who qualified for a VIP tent got a pillow and bedding. Hopefully someone at your unit forewarned you and you brought a blanket or poncho liner – or you like things really cold when you sleep.
Then began the fun of getting from Kuwait to your R&R location.
They didn’t seem to be able to send word ahead from the originating station to the R&R control point of who was going on R&R on a particular day, so scheduling flights wasn’t done ahead of time. So you had to do that at the R&R processing center after arrival.
If you were going to CONUS for R&R, the folks at R&R control point took your name and manifested you for a stateside R&R flight. If you were lucky, you got an flight right away and could fly the same evening you got there. If not you’d stay in Kuwait a while – maybe a couple of days – “enjoying” scenic sunny Kuwait while waiting for a flight. Joy, joy. But you’d eventually get your R&R flight assignment.
If you were going to CONUS, you also got to go through customs inspection too. This meant you got to lay out all your baggage for customs inspectors to go through looking for contraband. While Kuwait has more sand than the parts of Iraq and Afghanistan I saw while deployed, it also has quite a bit of fine powdery dust too – mixed in with the sand. The end result is that your bags and everything in them end up looking like they’ve been lightly powdered with talc. Or maybe not so lightly powdered if it happened to be a dustier than usual day.
I don’t think they’ve started strip-searching folks at customs – yet. But DHS might be doing the R&R customs inspections these days, so you never know. (smile)
Seriously, the customs inspection was (and is) actually needed. In spite of repeated a priori warnings and numerous Amnesty Boxes in the R&R processing area, every once in a while some numbnuts tries to take home something they really shouldn’t.
In either case, sooner or later you showed up at the designated time and place for your flight’s manifest call. Then you waited around for a while, caught a bus to the flight line, boarded the R&R bird, and flew stateside. On arrival stateside, you reported to another group at the stateside end who arranged the stateside leg of your trip to your R&R destination.
If you were going OCONUS for R&R, the process was a bit different. You were spared customs – but you had a different type of “fun” in store for you at the start of your trip. Going OCONUS you flew commercial. So instead of getting manifested for a CONUS R&R bird, you went to SATO to get ticketed for a commercial flight.
This could be a bit disconcerting. This was also the same SATO office that handled transportation for emergency leaves. There was usually a mix of R&R and emergency leave folks in the SATO office at the same time trying to arrange for tickets; that kinda put a damper on things.
To get your commercial ticket, you went to SATO and showed them your R&R leave paperwork – which of course had your leave dates on it. They made a copy, gave you back the original, and then gave you a time to come back (either later that day or the next day) to pick up your ticket.
SATO issued e-tickets in 2007, so I don’t really understand why a ticket wasn’t issued on the spot while you waited. My guess is that someone at another location had to approve payment for the ticket first. But given the volume of tickets issued, I also don’t understand why that individual wasn’t at the SATO office during normal duty hours to approve payment immediately.
I really can’t say I was particularly impressed with that SATO office, either. Let’s just say that getting return flights on the correct dates wasn’t something you wanted to take for granted. Nor was their fixing such a problem before you departed, even if you brought it to their attention and they told you it was “taken care of”.
Yeah, the check’s in the mail too. (smile)
I guess you get what you pay for. But as much as Uncle Sam pays for commercial airline tickets, I really don’t think that SATO getting it right before you depart is too much to ask.
After you got your ticket, when the time came you took a bus to the civilian airport to catch your flight. That part was actually fairly painless, though also a bit disconcerting (more later) – even though some ended up doing it VERY late at night.
Coming Back Part I – the Kuwaiti Part
Getting back from either CONUS or OCONUS was pretty much just commercial air travel (or so close as to be effectively that on the R&R return flight), so I won’t discuss that. But once you got to Kuwait . . .
On your return from R&R in Kuwait, more of the same “fun” awaited.
If you flew in from CONUS, after you landed you took a bus from the flight line over to the R&R processing center and signed in. You then got told to come back for accountability roll call, at which time you would also (hopefully) get further info regarding when you’d fly back to your duty station. Those roll calls were conducted at 0500 and 1900 daily. It didn’t matter if you got there at 0300 or at 2000 the previous day – you were still required to be there at 0500 for accountability roll call with all your bags packed.
This meant you had to go draw the equipment (helmet, body armor) you turned in on initial arrival before that 0500 roll call.
After the 0500 accountability roll call, a lucky group got told to proceed directly to an early flight. Those who had been manifested for a specific flight yet were told to check back at various times during the day to see if you’d made one of the later flights for that day. If you hadn’t yet been manifested by the last of those “show times”, you were told to show up at 1900 for evening accountability and to receive further info. At some point in the process, if you weren’t going that day you’d be told that and you’d go get another set of transient quarters. Then you waited for the next day so you could go “back, Jack, and do it again”. (smile)
This cycle continued until you got your flight assignment back to your duty station.
Of course, you had to check out of quarters each day before you showed up at 0500 with all your baggage – yes, that was indeed somewhat of a goat-rope – because you might fly out immediately afterwards. Or you might not.
See, I told you this was going to be tons o’ fun. (smile)
If you flew back from R&R on a commercial flight (generally from an OCONUS location), the process was the same – except for your bus ride from the airport back to the R&R processing center, which traveled on Kuwaiti highways. (As I recall, CONUS R&R and rotation flights landed at the airbase.) Kuwaiti drivers are . . . well, let’s just say that Kuwait drivers have somewhat different standards regarding acceptable risk and staying in lanes while driving than do most Americans.
Traveling on Kuwaiti highways was the most dangerous thing I ever did while in Kuwait, hands down. And you just ain’t lived until you’ve hit a speedbump/speedhump on a Kuwaiti road while riding in one of those buses. Ride-em, Cowboy! (smile)
Coming Back Part II – From Kuwait to Your Duty Station
Once you’d done all of that – and maybe stayed a night or two in Kuwait awaiting transport, going through the same daily accountability calls and check-in/check-out drill with transient billeting that you did previously when going on R&R – you caught your flight back to the airfield nearest your unit. This was sometimes the most fun part of the whole trip.
When I traveled back from Kuwait after R&R, it was really a hoot.
As I recall, I was stuck there a day or two awaiting a flight. Did I already mention that Kuwait isn’t my favorite place on earth? I did already? OK; just wanted to be sure. (smile)
Manifest call for my flight coming back was at 2000 – not long after the evening accountability call. Flight time was at midnight. Why 4 hrs in advance? I don’t really know. The bus ride over to the flight line from the R&R control point was fairly short – less than 20 min. Seems to me a manifest call 2 hrs prior would have been plenty early.
Of course, that’s assuming the flight time doesn’t get moved up. Ours did. We got the call to get on the buses about 45 min earlier than originally expected. We grabbed our gear, got on the bus, and proceeded to our plane (a C130).
Then we waited.
Seems we got there too early. Plus, there was also a maintenance problem with the bird. They told us the problem would take about 30 or 45 min to fix.
Apparently, the bus drivers saw this often enough to have a ready backup plan. The drivers took us over to the flightline’s small dining facility, which served midnight chow; that killed about 45 min. Then we returned and in reasonably short order loaded the plane. We got on board, stowed our gear, packed in tight, sat down, strapped in, got our safety briefing, got ready to take off . . . .
Then the crew chief announced to us that “the plane is officially broken.” And he told us that we’d be taking another aircraft instead.
So we all unstrapped, got up, grabbed our gear, got off the first bird, and walked over to the vicinity of the other one. We then grounded our gear and stood/sat around for about 1 1/2 hours while they prepped and pre-flighted the new bird.
Then we got the word to load up. We grabbed our gear, got on board, stowed gear, packed in tight, sat down, strapped in, got our safety briefing (again), got ready to take off . . . .
And then the crew chief announced that there was a maintenance problem with the new bird, and it would take about 30 or 45 minutes to fix it.
As Yogi Berra put it: “Déjà vu all over again.” (smile)
By now, it was somewhere after 0200, or maybe closer to 0300. Everyone was getting a bit punchy – most of us had been at the 0500 accountability call, remember – but everyone was also taking things surprisingly well.
It was interesting to watch, though. One side of the plane seemed to be in absolutely raucous high spirits, laughing and joking and apparently having a pretty good time “rolling with it”. The other side of the bird was pretty dead. Maybe all the really sleepy folks just ended up on that side of the plane – though how anyone could sleep thru the noise coming from the rowdy bunch is beyond me.
This time the bird was indeed fixed in about 30 minutes or so. The rest of the trip – including landing at BIAP – was uneventful, and we were only delayed around 3 hours or so total.
Since it was getting pretty late in the year, I think I even got back to my hooch before sunrise. (smile)
Author’s note: yes, zoomies – I know its now “AMC” vice “MAC” and that MAC hasn’t existed since 1992. Tough. I grew up referring to it as MAC as a kid, and for many years thereafter. To me, it will always be “mother MAC” – or in a few cases, “those mothers at MAC”. (smile)