ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Dec. 10, 2010 — As Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates makes his way back to Washington from an overseas trip, he has some extra passengers aboard this Air Force E‑4B: soldiers deployed to Afghanistan who are heading home on rest and recuperation leave to spend time with their families during the holiday season.
Gates is returning from visits to Oman, Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates.
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said the secretary has long wanted to give a ride home on his plane to servicemembers going home for R&R leave from the war zone.
“So in advance of this trip, we put the word out to the command in Afghanistan that we had extra space and we wanted to offer those seats to troops who may be coming home for the holidays,” Morrell said. “He’s thrilled to finally be able to do this. It’s something he’s wanted to do for a long, long time.”
The secretary uses the E‑4B from the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., for his overseas trips primarily because of its communications capabilities, Morrell said. It’s a large aircraft, and often has empty seats.
“We are very glad to be able to offer those seats to four troopers who are deployed to Afghanistan but are coming home to see their families for the holidays. This way, they’ll get a more comfortable, hopefully enjoyable, and certainly faster ride home to see their families.”
Because Gates had one more stop to make in the United Arab Emirates when he left Afghanistan, the soldiers spent the night at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi with the official party, and Gates personally paid for their meals, Morrell said. Morrell said the rest and recuperation leave program covers their transportation home and some expenses servicemembers incur in their travel, and that “one way or the other,” the four soldiers would not have to absorb any of the costs of their stay at the hotel.
Two of the soldiers – both sergeants first class – are a married couple. The husband has 17 years of combined service in the Marine Corps and the Army, and his wife has been a soldier for 14 years. They’ve both deployed previously to Kosovo and twice to Iraq before their current deployment in Afghanistan. They’re traveling to Texas to visit their three children, who are staying with relatives while the couple is deployed.
The other two soldiers are both specialists. One, who is serving the second Afghanistan deployment in his three years of Army service, is a human resources specialist and is engaged to be married. He’s heading to Indiana for his leave.
The other is a euphonium player in an Army band that performs at official functions and also tours Afghanistan to entertain the troops with various kinds of music. He’s married with one child, and will spend his leave in Tennessee.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)