June 21, 2012: Here's a good news/bad news situation for you. Starting this year the U.S. Army is cutting it combat zone tour from twelve to nine months. Good news, right? Yeah, except for one thing. Troops on nine month tours are not eligible for the NCR&R (Non-Chargeable Rest and Recuperation). This is the nine year old program that gives troops 15 days of extra (not charged to their 30 days a year) vacation ("leave") and a "ticket to anywhere" that goes along with it. In response to this bad news, the army has ordered brigade commanders in Afghanistan to improvise leave areas where troops can relax for a week or so while serving their nine month tours in Afghanistan.
The American military had established a recreational facility in Qatar for troops not eligible for NCR&R (air force and marine personnel served combat tours of seven months or less). Some soldiers, although eligible for NCR&R "tickets to anywhere" preferred to avoid the travel hassle and spent their time in the Qatar resort. Unfortunately it's too expensive to ship in troops from Afghanistan to use the Qatar facility. The local, improvised facilities in Afghanistan will be more austere than what was available in Qatar but they will provide peace, quiet, and access to the Internet for 5-8 days of leave. That and a lot of sleep is what most soldiers want after six months of combat.
The NCR&R program began in September, 2003, and allowed soldiers to go home for 15-18 days while they were serving in Iraq (or 16 other countries, including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Syria, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen). Over 600,000 troops took advantage of the program while it lasted. Troops got free air transportation to and from whatever destination they specified. Most troops went home, particularly the married ones. But others used the R&R program as an opportunity to go to distant places they might not otherwise visit. Australia was a popular destination, as were some countries in the Persian Gulf.
The program was originally intended just to make the long tours more bearable. The air force has four month tours and the marines seven months. But the army has found that, for combat troops, the break from battlefield stress was a big help in avoiding stress-related psychological problems. Actually, this use of leave during wartime, for combat troops, is nothing new. It was used with success during World War I by most of the nations involved and during World War II as well. Back then it was not possible to fly troops back to their families but British and German troops could travel back to their homes. For everyone else, they could go to special rest camps or travel to tourist areas in nearby countries.