Sunday, April 27, 2008

48 Hours Free Time

Spc. Aaron Cardinal of Randolph County, W. Va., hugs his wife Deanna and his 15-month old daughter Joslyn as he comes home to Fort Benning from Iraq with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team advance party Saturday. 277 soldiers returned to post to end their 14-month deployment, and set the stage for the remainder of the brigade's return throughout May. ROBIN TRIMARCHI 04/26/08

48 hours free time


Fifteen months gets a soldier 48 hours.

It's not an even trade, of course, for the 13-15 months that returning soldiers spend in the burning sun and the sand of Iraq's war zone. But it beats the alternative.

In the next two weeks, about 3,800 U.S. Army soldiers return to Fort Benning after deployments overseas. They'll get two days of free time before having to report back to work.

Even those fast-dwindling 48 hours are filled with restrictions. Soldiers must stay within a 120-mile radius of the post. And they must not drive for the first 24 hours of leave. Then they return to post for 10 days of classes, debriefing and paperwork.

So how are they going to spend those first 48 hours?

"The single soldiers want to get out there and have a good time. They definitely want to get downtown and hit a club, probably have a drink or two, have a good meal," said Capt. Stephen Miller, who is planning the reintegration of the returning soldiers.

Columbus' nightclubs, restaurants, movie theaters and shopping malls will all see a surge of people, if past troop arrivals are used as a model.

Chow time

Cusseta, Ga.’s Four Winds Restaurant, the close-to-post stop for a legendary, one-pound Ranger Burger, is gearing up for the fellows in camo.

When the troops were away, the restaurant found its weekly order of ground beef drop from 1,000 pounds to 500. They’ve ordered 600 pounds for next week and likely will up it again in the following week.

“It’s good to see ’em back,” said owner Susan Cox, who’d just booked for a party of 55. Some are returning customers, and some have heard of the restaurant while serving in Iraq.

“We have a lot of people coming in trying that Ranger Burger, to see what it’s all about,” she said.

It’s not uncommon to have someone pick up a check for a group of soldiers or a reunited family, Cox said. Last week, a hunter saw a mother and children eating a meal — their husband and father still overseas.

“He said, ‘I want to take care of that family,’ ” Cox said. “It makes me feel good, because my husband’s retired military. I remember, after Vietnam, when sometimes we just weren’t welcome places.”

Apartment complexes are already feeling the impact of returning soldiers.

“Soldiers in Iraq were taking our apartments two months ago,” said Sylvia Haynes, assistant manager of Whisperwood Apartments. About half of Whisperwood’s 1,008 units are rented to servicemen and servicewomen, she said.

Many soldiers, of course, will just be happy for a chance to rest. And more than 60 percent of the 3,800 returning are married and likely will be laying low during the short leave.

“I can speak from personal experience with my two deployments,” Miller said. “I just wanted to get home and spend time with my family.”

But that means nearly 40 percent of the 3rd Brigade’s returnees are single. They are the ones who are ready to hit the town, except they’re not allowed to drive for the first full day. Taxi!

No comments: