NYT profiles a soldier home on leave from Iraq and points to a controversy over the program:
For the last 14 days, Specialist Castillo, a 21-year-old artilleryman, has been trying to savor each kiss from his wife, each minute with the baby, each inch of his bed and each sip of Mountain Dew.
But it has not been easy. Happiness is endless happiness, and it is hard to really enjoy 15 days off from the occupation of Iraq when you know war is back there waiting for you and your vacation is basically a bittersweet countdown.
“My strategy,” Specialist Castillo explained one night, “is don’t sleep too much, because you can sleep all you want back there. Eat a lot Ã¢€” my mom’s trying to get me to gain 10 pounds. And try not to think about the madness back there.”
The Army’s new furlough program is an experiment, and Specialist Castillo, who is deployed with the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, based at Fort Carson, Colo., is one of its guinea pigs. Begun in September, the program is meant to give a “sanity check” to soldiers whose tours of duty in Iraq have been extended to a year, by splitting 365 days into two manageable halves.
“Our intent was that if we can give these men and women a chance to see their families and sort out what they’ve been through, they’ll come back stronger,” said Lt. Col. Bob Hagen, an Army spokesman.
More than 3,600 soldiers have come home so far. The reunions have been joyous, of course. One Baltimore specialist got married. But some people, including some veterans, are warning that plucking soldiers out of combat zones to go back home for mere days, which has rarely been done before, is a bad idea. They say such sudden re-entries into family life may cause more stress, not less. The respite is too brief, they say, the disorientation too extreme. And the goodbyes bring twice the pain.
Some soldiers, stoically, have refused the chance to go home.
My knowledge of this aspect of military history is sketchy at best, but it does seem that we’ve had leave programs in the past–although usually in theater. Didn’t we send troops in Korea off to do R&R in Japan sometimes? Or rotate troops out of combat duty in Vietnam to relax in Saigon? It does seem that sending them home to see their families, with all knowing they’re going back into harm’s way in a few days, would be more stressful than beneficial.