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As of April 1, troops going on R&R leave from the U.S. Central Command area of operation will no longer travel on government charter flights, but will receive individual commercial tickets, Army officials said Friday.
With fewer troops taking the flights, using individual tickets will be less costly to the government than charter flights, according to the Army, which is the Defense Department's executive agent for CENTCOM's R&R leave program.
The move also gives troops much more flexibility, said Army spokesman Hank Minitrez. Troops will no longer have to fly through Atlanta, which was the last remaining R&R gateway hub in the U.S. Troops now will be able to fly directly to the airport closest to their approved leave destination.
When troop levels were at their peak in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 1,000 passengers a day were flying charter air to Atlanta or Dallas. Now, the number of R&R passengers has decreased to about 15 to 20 per day, due to a change in Army deployment policy, the end of operations in Iraq, and the reduction of forces in Afghanistan, Minitrez said.
About 96 percent of the troops flying home through the R&R program have been soldiers, because the Army has been the only service with standard deployment lengths long enough to merit a mid-tour R&R break.
Costs of flights will be substantially reduced, Minitrez said, saving about $390 per seat per flight, or about $673,050 per month.
In addition, commercial ticketing will result in more available flights and reduced waiting times for troops. The change will reduce the number of travel days, which supports both troop morale and operational readiness.
The requirements for R&R leave remain the same; troops must submit R&R leave packets no later than 90 days before their planned departure.
To be eligible for R&R flights the service member must be on at least a 12-month tour within the CENTCOM overseas area of operations, with at least 270 days on the ground, according to information issued by the Army News Service.