Gates Brings Deployed Soldiers Home for Leave

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)

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