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R&R lite
New R&R program does no service to troops

Date published: 12/12/2012

IMAGINE you've been working hard, 24/7, in a hazardous job, away from your family, and you really, really need a break. So your boss says, take a vacation--in the lunchroom! That's essentially what the Department of Defense, on behalf of Our Grateful Nation, has told U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan. Is that any way to reward their service?

Until recently, military members got two weeks off at mid-deployment to fly home and see family or just sit on a beach somewhere. Earlier this year, however, the Pentagon ended all that frivolity, announcing, instead, that soldiers, airmen, and Marines would get four days of leave to "rest in place." That's military talk for vacationing in the lunchroom.

The idea is that service members can go to some relatively safe areas on bases within Afghanistan, where they can access video games, play foosball, and maybe lounge in "Internet cafes" (!), a Morale, Welfare, and Recreation spokesman told Stars & Stripes. What, no quilting classes? The new rest-in-place plan makes no provision for family time, nor does it afford true relief from the sights, sounds, and smells of Afghanistan.

This is a travesty, especially on top of the back-to-back deployments our warriors have faced for nearly 11 years. While it's true that travel from Afghanistan is difficult, that's no reason to abandon traditional R&R. Interestingly, a government study shows that, among the U.S. military members in Iraq, long deployments were a risk factor for mental health problems. "The risk is highest during the middle months," the report says. That's just when standard R&R would allow a soldier to blow off steam somewhere. Further, long assignments overseas harm families: Children of deployed soldiers are much more prone to anxiety and misbehavior than kids from families in which a parent isn't deployed.

As Christmas nears, most Americans think of home and family, peace and rest in front of the fireplace. This nation's present to its fighting forces consists of video games and and foosball in the lunchroom. Really, when did Uncle Sam become Uncle Scrooge?