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Soldiers recharge batteries with Army's mid-tour leave program

Sgt. David Dasilma, 4th Sqdn., 10th Cav., 3rd BCT, 4th Inf. Div.

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq – 8-2010 There is a special time during a deployment which every soldier anxiously awaits. If one were to listen to the conversations around Task Force Blackjack, 4th Squadron, 10th Cavalry, 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, he or she would hear plenty of chatter pertaining to second greatest moment during a deployment: Environmental and Morale Leave.

While it remains second to redeployment, EML is one of the most talked about items among deployed soldiers. They discuss the foods they will eat, the people they will see and the adventures they are planning. EML is a special privilege and is one of the things that keeps morale high in TF Blackjack.

The EML Program is mandated by U.S. Central Command and was implemented on September 25, 2003. The program was initiated to provide eligible service members and Department of Defense civilians who are serving in support of Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom, in one of the 17 designated countries, an opportunity for rest and recuperation, as well as to aid with temporary family reintegration.

This leave is different from the previous tours in OIF. As of April 8, 2010, it became non-chargeable, which is to say it doesn’t count against soldiers’ accumulated leave, a provision that only applies to those deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Further, the leave starts the day after entering one of the two assigned U.S. ports of entry, which allows a full day of travel for connecting flights.

“If I had to use up 15 days of chargeable leave for EML, I wouldn’t have enough left over to take post-deployment block leave. Or I’d have to go in the hole,” said Pfc. Jason Dudley, of Seattle, Wash., Blackjack aid station medic and soldier who benefits from the new policy.

In addition to non-chargeable leave, soldiers do not pay for airline expenses to their destination, a provision that falls under the Fully Funded Onward Movement Program, implemented on January 1, 2004.

Army Human Resources Command sees the EML program as an investment in the well-being of soldiers which will, in turn, improve their mission performance.

“I had a lot of fun on leave. I got to hang out with my old friends, relax and eat great food. What’s cool is that last deployment it was chargeable, and now it’s not,” said Spc. Lester Burgard, of Mountain Grove, Miss., Blackjack medic.

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