CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) – Military family members, troops and advocates welcomed a Pentagon announcement this week that long or frequent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan will earn them extra vacation, but some questioned if the policy went far enough. Others said troops would rather have cash.

The Pentagon said Wednesday that active-duty troops will accrue an extra day of leave for each month they are deployed more than 12 months in a three-year period. For the National Guard and reservists, extra vacation kicks in when deployed more than 12 months in a six-year period.

“If it is going to benefit us for doing a long tour, that’s always nice,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Joseph Loewy, 26, who served in Iraq three times since 2003 and, if sent back, would likely be entitled to extra leave.

Some, however, pointed out that it takes hardship to get the benefit.

“I am glad they are at least throwing us a bone, but at the same time you have to go through so much to get that leave,” said Iraq veteran Sgt. Greg Porquez, 24, of San Francisco, who is assigned to Camp Pendleton, the West Coast’s largest Marine base.

After months of debate about the new plan, the Defense Department decided that more time off made better sense than more money. Troops already get $1,000 extra pay for each tour that lasts beyond one year.

Wednesday’s announcement came a week after the Pentagon said 12-month combat tours would be temporarily extended to 15 months for active duty Army. Under the new policy, the number of extra leave days a month that service members can earn rises to four when certain thresholds are met.

Tennessee National Guard Col. Jeff Holmes, commander of the 278th Regimental Combat Team, said troops serving extended tours need time to recover from the “tremendous burden” of long deployments.

Holmes returned last October with 3,200 members of the 278th from a yearlong deployment in Iraq – the largest single deployment of Tennessee National Guard soldiers since World War II.

“As long as there is some kind of repayment, whichever form, it’s important to give it to them,” he said.

Holmes said he would prefer that soldiers have the option of taking more time off or getting a monetary bonus. He said some soldiers could use those bonuses to buy homes, but others might want to spend more time with family.

Pentagon spokesman Marine Maj. Stewart Upton said troops can sell unused regular leave days back to the government. Extra leave earned in combat cannot be sold in this way. Active duty troops typically get 30 days vacation a year.

Most Marines go overseas for seven months at a stretch, but many are on their third or fourth deployments.

Meredith Leyva, founder of Operation Homefront, a national support network for military families, said the new rules do not go far enough.

“The good intentions are there but this policy will not do the trick. It has left a lot of military wives shaking their heads,” she said. “It’s a very poor attempt to retain people who have been pounded by deployments.”

Cassie Harnish’s husband, Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony Harnish, recently set sail for the Persian Gulf and will be gone for six months. Another deployment of the same length is already lined up within a year of him coming home.

The 21-year-old said one extra day’s leave a month was a good start, but it’s not enough. “I don’t think one day extra cuts it,” said Harnish, who is getting accustomed to bringing up her new baby on her own. “Being away from your family, you need to reconnect with them.”

Some Marines wondered if they would have time to take any extra days off before being sent back overseas.

“If you are going back to Iraq or Afghanistan, where are you going to go on leave anyway?” Marine Sgt. Ryan Glover, 23, of Houston, said.



Associated Press Writer Kristin M. Hall in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.

AP-ES-04-19-07 1912EDT


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