The Deployment Diary

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Day 215 - R & R, What is the True Story?

I read with interest Sarah's R & R entry this evening. If this isn't the norm throughout the Army, the leadership within the Army needs a swift kick in the tail.

The way I understand it, lower enlisted soldiers go first. No questions asked. Among the lower enlisted, those with babies due - the command will try to work the R & R time to coincide with the due dates if at all possible. Soldiers with family issues or a sick family member that would not necessarily qualify for emergency leave via a Red Cross message also take priority. After that, some draw names, others go alphabetically - but it always starts at the bottom and works its way up.

Rarely (at least from my friends' experiences who have husbands that have already returned from their one year trip) do all soldiers in a company get to take advantage of the R & R program, regardless of what the news would have you believe. Unlike Vietnam (since so many love to compare OIF to Vietnam), soldiers don't get weekend passes to Baghdad or Jordan to toss a few back, raise some cane and rest up - at least not that I'm hearing. Many are spending the entire year in combat, with no escape other than when they sleep - if they are lucky enough to dream about home when they sleep.

NCOs take care of their soldiers first and foremost. At least, that's what I have witnessed through the years watching my husband and his close friends do their job. When NCOs and officers start putting themselves at the top of the list for R & R, someone from above should make the proverbial shit roll down hill.

This was a subject my husband and I had discussed before we even knew he'd be heading over there for a year. The topic had come up on a message board I frequent. He was sitting in his recliner not too far from the computer desk. I asked him if he went over, if he was offered it, would he take the 15 days to come home or would he pass on the opportunity?

Both of us were torn. We felt even a day together was better than nothing. However, when you are gearing up to go - you don't really have an idea of the conditions you'll be living in. You can imagine what it will be like, but until you get there and see how good you'll have it - or how bad, there's only speculation. You're heading over with everything from how the area will look to how violent it will be, as nothing more than how you can imagine it.

After about an hour of me reading responses from others to him and both of us discussing the different emotional aspects, we both agreed that it would be better for all of us, even if offered, that he stayed put. He thought it would make it too hard to get back into the groove that he would have had prior to the break. That while you're there, you have your mind focused on the job, and the light at the end of the tunnel when you roll out for good - not having to go back into the thick of it a few weeks later. He felt he might lose some focus, saying good-bye again in the same year for the same place and job would be a strain.

I felt that we'd become accustomed to the day in and day out mundane that is life for the most part when he isn't home, if he were deployed for a year. Two weeks is barely enough time to get comfortable as a family again and we'd immediately be shoved back into the emotional roller coaster that is those first weeks to a month after he leaves. Getting through the "last time we heard this song, last time we drove down this road he was telling us about..." or "last time we ate pizza..." Idiotic things I do when he leaves - but through the years seem to be the norm for me. Once I make it through all the "last times," I start to feel more level. More apt to look forward instead of constantly behind me. Fourteen days would be just enough to take me return to the heartache that is day one.

The children, we both felt would suffer the most. It would be just enough time to open the wound that is - when Daddy leaves. It could possibly cause them to regress farther than even the original goodbye - from our little ones handling the separation fairly well, to not handling it at all.

After a long discussion, we decided that no, even if offered to all soldiers (which at the time we didn't think was a possibility, but the program was so new I could find little information about it online), if he were to deploy for a year, he would stay put. When we were finally reunited, it would be the reunion, not just enough to remind us in reality - instead of our dreams and memories, of what all we are missing by being separated for such a long time.

Of course, later on we were facing that year apart personally. Again, we talked about R & R. I had wondered now, that we weren't discussing a hypothetical but the real deal, if either of us would have changed our minds. We hadn't. We sat outside on the porch and pretty much reiterated all the feelings and concerns we had discussed months earlier.

At that point, I still wasn't certain how the R & R program worked. Honestly, I'm not sure if there is a set standard beyond each company having so many slots each month and it being left to each command as to how they are doled out. I've not located any standards issued by the military online yet - but haven't really searched either. If someone has a link, I'd be interested in reading it!

I do know for my husband's company, they have started at the bottom. The general consensus of the spouses back home is, by the time they get up the ladder through E-5 possibly a few E-6s, it will be about time for the program to be stopped to prepare to come home.

I've read one or two spouses post at online sites that their husbands' units started at the top and their specialist or private didn't get the R & R. I felt then as I feel now, those folks making these types of self serving decisions should get their rears in a sling.

Do I feel all servicemembers doing a year there should get some time out of their work environment? Yes, I admit that I do. Even if it's just a few days at a relatively safe palace in country where they can watch some TV, not have to be "on," spend extra time on a computer or telephone with home. I've not thought to ask my husband what his thoughts are about everyone at least getting a few days somewhere to relax a bit. For me though, I can't help but feel a year with no down time (other than when you're washing your clothes, showering or trying to catch a few hours of sleep) has to be hard - without even taking into account how dangerous it is there.

Most wives I have talked with say they'd gladly forego the R & R, just send them home 15 days earlier than planned so this deployment can finally be over. If only those at the Pentagon had asked our opinion...we could have saved them millions in movement costs ;).

Is your loved one deployed? How has the R & R program worked in your and your loved one's experience?

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