March 25, 2010:
The U.S. Department of Defense has added yet another "combat tour" vacation benefit. Troops who spend at least nine months in Iraq or Afghanistan, now get 15 more days of paid leave (vacation time). Normally, all troops are allowed 30 days of leave a year. For over five years now, troops spending 12 or more months in Iraq or Afghanistan were allowed a two week leave, and free transportation, while over there. The two weeks came out of their 30 days annual leave, but now it will no longer be deducted. Down the road, troops can take the 30 days a year in a subsequent year, or get paid for it.
The military has had great success with the use of vacation time for troops in a combat zone. Four years ago, troops in Iraq also became eligible for four day mini-vacations at a U.S. base in Qatar. These "four day passes" are usually given to combat troops, who did the most intense work in Iraq, and needed the break the most. Qatar is one of the many small principalities along the west coast of the Persian Gulf, and one of the more welcoming places, especially for Westerners. You still have to dress conservatively, but for the troops on pass, just being out of uniform, and not under fire (or threat thereof), is a major benefit. Being able to go swimming, visit Quatari shopping malls and other purely civilian (and friendly) locations is a big deal. Another perk the brass came up with was to ease up on its "no drinking in a combat zone" rule by allowing troops on pass to have three beers a night at an on-base club.
It's little things like this that keep the combat stress manageable for many troops. This whole pass idea is nothing new, as it was basically developed during World War I, when insightful officers noted that the stress of trench warfare was causing many troops to become ineffective. But a few days of leave in a village beyond the sound of gunfire, did a lot to decrease the combat fatigue losses. Such pass policies have been continued by most nations ever since. Making the two week leave "free" (not part of the normal 30 days leave) and the allowing the "three beers" were all part of a policy of monitoring troop morale, and making adjustments as needed.