AL ASAD, Iraq -- A year is a long time. In the middle of the desert of a war-torn environment, it can seem like an eternity. Luckily, service members have the opportunity to take a short, but much-needed break during their year-long deployment to Iraq.
"The Rest and Recuperation Leave Program is basically designed to give service members, serving 365 days in the area of operations, a break," said Staff Sgt. Paul N. Whelan, adjutant, Marine Air Control Group 38 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). "They are authorized 15 days leave with the benefit of the military paying for travel to and from their leave address."
While most service members choose to take their two-week vacation back in the United States with their families and friends, the program also allows them to travel abroad.
"I went to Europe, because I'd never been there before," said Gunnery Sgt. Russell J. Murzyn, information assurance chief, 3rd MAW. "I knew that I would eventually be going back to San Diego, so I went to Europe instead.
"The leave program is great," the 36-year-old Minneapolis native added. "I recommend it for anyone, especially since we are out here for a year and they give you the opportunity to travel anywhere."
Apart from the travel expenses, this program also grants service members the opportunity to completely relax with their families and friends for a couple of weeks.
"It gives the service members some downtime and allows them to go home and see their families," said Whelan, a native of Manchester, Mich. "A lot of the junior Marines have never been away from home for more than a year in a foreign country. It helps to kind of fall back and regroup a little bit for those who are married or have families. It helps the families, too. Then, it gives those of us who are single an opportunity to travel throughout the world wherever we want to go and experience the diversity of culture."
Although this is the first year for the Marines to take advantage of this opportunity, leave programs like this one have been around since before Vietnam, according to Whelan, a Huron High School graduate.
"Generally speaking, with the Marine Corps, we only deploy for six months at a time, so it's been a while since Marines have deployed overseas for more than 365 days," said Whelan, who spent his two weeks of leave experiencing the post-soviet era of Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia.
However, there are a few requirements for the service members to meet if they choose to travel abroad rather than go home to see their families.
Leave participants traveling to locations other than Germany or the United States and its territories or commonwealths must have a civilian passport and visa, if needed, in their possession before departing the Multi-National Forces West area of operations, according to the Rest and Recuperation Leave Policy letter.
"I didn't have a current passport, as I had turned it in several years ago," said Murzyn, a Columbia Heights Senior High graduate. "When I arrived out here, I hadn't planned on doing the two weeks anywhere other than San Diego and Minnesota, but the opportunity presented itself.
"I started the whole process to get a new passport issued to me," he added. "I flew to Baghdad to do my paperwork, combat camera took my photo for me, and the legal office verified that all of my paperwork was correct for my passport. After about a week and a half went by, I was going back to Baghdad to pick up my passport. It was a simple process."
While there are a few things service members must do to enjoy two weeks in foreign travel destinations, the requirements compare very little to the benefits.
"This is probably the best thing you can do while you are out here," Murzyn concluded. "Why not take the opportunity to do something you may never get the opportunity to do again? Why not travel to Europe, travel to Russia or enjoy some new place?"
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