By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Dec. 10, 2010 - As Defense
Secretary Robert M. Gates made his way back to Washington from an
overseas trip, he had some extra passengers aboard this Air Force E-4B:
soldiers deployed to Afghanistan who were heading home on rest and recuperation leave to spend time with their families during the holiday season.
Gates was returning from visits to Oman, Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates.
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
said the secretary has long wanted to give a ride home on his plane to
servicemembers going home for R&R leave from the war zone.
"So in advance of this trip, we put the word out to the
command in Afghanistan that we had extra space and we wanted to offer
those seats to troops who may be coming home for the holidays," Morrell
said. "He's thrilled to finally be able to do this. It's something he's
wanted to do for a long, long time."
The secretary uses the E-4B from the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base,
Neb., for his overseas trips primarily because of its communications
capabilities, Morrell said. It's a large aircraft, and often has empty
"We are very glad to be able to offer those seats to four
troopers who are deployed to Afghanistan but are coming home to see
their families for the holidays. This way, they'll get a more
comfortable, hopefully enjoyable, and certainly faster ride home to see
Because Gates had one more stop to make in the United Arab
Emirates when he left Afghanistan, the soldiers spent the night at the Emirates Palace Hotel
in Abu Dhabi with the official party, Morrell said. The rest and
recuperation leave program covers transportation home and some expenses
servicemembers incur in their travel, he added, and "one way or the
other," the four soldiers would not have to absorb any of the costs of
their stay at the hotel.
Two of the soldiers – both sergeants first class – are a
married couple. The husband has 17 years of combined service in the
Marine Corps and the Army, and his wife has been a soldier for 14 years.
They've both deployed previously to Kosovo and twice to Iraq
before their current deployment in Afghanistan. They were traveling to
Texas to visit their three children, who are staying with relatives
while the couple is deployed.
The other two soldiers are both specialists. One, who is
serving the second Afghanistan deployment in his three years of Army
service, is a human resources specialist and is engaged to be married.
He was heading to Indiana for his leave.
The other is a euphonium player in an Army band that
performs at official functions and also tours Afghanistan to entertain
the troops with various kinds of music. He's married with one child, and
he was going to spend his leave in Tennessee.
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