Leave Rotations End

Most in the unit have returned to Iraq after their two-week leave, a hiatus granted to each soldier, spread out over the year to maximize productivity. Some chose to go home to family, while others vacationed in foreign countries. All agreed that the leave provided a needed break from the conditions here in Iraq. Most also thought they were the shortest two weeks of this deployment -- they wished their lives away in anticipation of leave, and prayed time would stop during it.

Though the two-week leave provides a needed break for soldiers and their families, several soldiers have admitted the program has been as tough mentally as anything else they have experienced in Iraq. I haven't gone myself, but from conversations with those who have, it seems the process generally goes as follows:

About a week before their leave is scheduled, the soldier is extremely excited. Conversation is increasingly dominated by their family and the things they want to do when they get home. As the departure day comes discussion dwindles to "I just want to get the hell out of here."

From my perspective, they leave the unit and show up in Iraq again almost three weeks later.

Upon the soldier's return, we greet him or her with a "Welcome back! How was leave?" In all cases the reply is something like, "It was great!" One soldier indicated that once reaching home, he and his family felt a huge emotional shift, from the excitement and pleasure of home, to an overpowering daily dread of an inevitable return to duty in Iraq. Some of the personnel have had the fortune of returning home in time to see their first born into this world, while others visit immediate family or even their employers. As they get back into the swing of things, adapting to the particular day or night schedule, conversations about what they did on leave trail off.

Some say call the return to Iraq one of the hardest things they've done. Others were so impacted they choose not to reveal their feelings when asked. Returning our monotony, willingly separating themselves from the comforts on home, can take several weeks to overcome.

Back home there must be a similar emotional rollercoaster that starts with the extremely slow clack of time, up until their soldier's arrival home. With the first sighting of their soldier, time crests the huge hill and speeds through the course of small hills and turns until the fun comes to a lurching stop and their soldier departs for Iraq again.

With the end of the leave cycle also comes the the beginning of the end of the deployment. For a time we all were pulling extra weight, getting the job done, affording everyone the opportunity to take a load off at home. We've returned to our fat lineup allowing us to spend time on extra duties like packing up shop.

By Bert Stover |  December 8, 2006; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Al Asad, Iraq , Al Taqaddum, Iraq , Departure
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This post is spot on, I always found the stress of returning from R&R was worse than the stress of being in theatre. It is worse for the guys who go on leave first, it always seems to them that they have the longest tour than anyone else in the unit.

Posted by: Steve Langdale | December 8, 2006 08:55 AM

I was a draftee in the army from 1969 to 1971, no combat, posted to Germany. Even so, the pale imitation that I felt of the same emotions ranged from the highest highs to the lowest lows. I know by comparison I can't pretend to appreciate the dread for soldiers in combat and their families. I wish we could send enough troops so you could keep other safe, stop the killing and get out.

Posted by: Richard Waddell | December 8, 2006 11:27 AM

I am a Vietnam Theatre veteran who recalls the R&R opportunity I was offered during my one year tour in Theater. I specifically declined R&R because I didn't want to deal with the up then down feeling associated with being away from my unit.

I find it even more remarkable that one would go home and then want to go back to the war theatre and I am impressed by the commitment of those who weather those emotional highs then lows.

Please let all the guys know we have learned a lot in this country about wanting to support our soldiers even when they are on unpopular missions, Thank God.

I work in a program that serves veterans who served in combat theatres like Iraq. It was a program originally started as a result of the poor reception received by Vietnam veterans. Let them now many of us particularly the veterans who served in combat in this war and others are here to help you when you return.

May God be with you all. Feel free to contact me if I can be of any help at vacons@yahoo.com

Posted by: Rod Williams | December 8, 2006 07:34 PM

You are right for those of us at home, there are a rollercoaster of emotions that one goes through as we prepared for our loved ones to come home.

Some of us experience great excitement and anticipation while others do not want to see their soldiers because we have already sensed a change in behavior and attitude. Even though those changes are to be expected because of what you all go through it is hard because as much as we want to and as much as we try to we will never understand what it is like for you. On the other hand that is a two way street as some of you will find once you are home for good.
When my then soldier but now ex came home for two weeks, I dreaded it because I was so angry, something he did not know. When did I get over that..when he called and said I'll be at the airport at such and such time. The first week was not so great as I soon realized that the man who came home to me was nowhere near the man I had said goodbye to in January. The second week was wonderful or so I thought because even though he was with me physically and I could see him and touch him if I wanted to, he was never really with me....he was still in Iraq that whole time. He will have a long way to go to overcome what he has gone through as will alot of you. I just pray as I always do that you will all come home and that your loved ones will be patient with you and realize you have gone through basically, hell. But I also pray that all of you will be patient with your loved ones as well.....God Bless you all.

Posted by: Candice | December 10, 2006 04:25 PM

An overnight pass in Mombasa was a welcome respite from Mogadishu. I hadn't seen a pane of glass, green grass, an undamaged car, a flush toilet, or a bathtub in months. That night I sat in a lounge chair sipping an adult beverage and just relaxed.

My welcome back to the US was my CO handing me my car keys. I was surprised that I could still drive a stick shift. I went home with a and didn't get out of the shower until I'd used the an entire full-sized bar of Ivory soap.

Posted by: vet | December 11, 2006 11:14 AM

These excitements in life are surely well described with ups and downs like a roller coaster ride. At the moment you guys might feel full of surprise and nervous when you are about to meet your friends and family, but that kind of feeling is quickly taken away when it is time to return.

Posted by: James W. | December 18, 2006 08:00 PM

God Bless all of the military personnel and their loved ones. I pray for you all every single day.

Posted by: Daniel Linton | December 21, 2006 07:54 PM

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