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Leave en route policy change benefits Airmen

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AFNS) -- Some Airmen will now have the opportunity to take leave en route within the continental United States when they return home, or redeploy, from the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

This change can save Airmen significant time and travel-associated costs, as well as provide them an opportunity to reconnect with family and friends.

Air Force Instruction 10-403, Deployment Planning and Execution, was recently changed to allow redeploying Airmen, including those permanently assigned at overseas locations, a stopover in the continental United States on their way home. Previously, Air Force policy did not allow Airmen to take leave en route during redeployment; they were required to report directly to their home stations upon leaving the area of responsibility.

"This is the right thing to do for our Airmen," said Lt. Gen. Gilmary Michael Hostage III, the commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command who championed the change. "It maintains the critical reintegration process as Airmen return to their permanent duty stations, and enables them to reconnect with their loved ones as they redeploy."

Subsequently, Air Force headquarters agencies at the Pentagon including the personnel, operations, and logistics directorates as well as the surgeon general's office, collectively supported the change to Air Force policy. As part of its implementation, the change allows for waivers for Airmen who meet specific criteria including medical clearance by the deployed location, home station and deployed commander approval, and required weapons turn-in.

"This policy change isn't intended to provide blanket approval to every redeploying Airman to take leave en route. The intent is to provide the opportunity where it makes the best sense for our Airmen and the Air Force, particularly where cost savings and morale benefits are realized for the Airmen," said Rick Leech, assigned to the AFCENT personnel directorate at Shaw Air Force Base.

The waiver policy, approved in December 2009, applies to leave en route from an air expeditionary force or overseas contingency operations deployment to a location within the continental United States. Each Air Force Forces staff is authorized to coordinate an implementation plan to execute this policy change, Mr. Leech said.

A leave en route policy for deployed AFCENT members was approved in March 2010. One specification of the AFCENT leave en route policy is leave will be chargeable and limited to 14 days from the date of arrival in the continental United States. The home station reintegration process will still be required upon each Airman's return to duty following his or her leave en route, Mr. Leech said.

Currently, the Air Force is staffing a revision to AFI 10-403, Deployment Planning and Execution, in order to incorporate the waiver policy and enact the change. The estimated completion date of the AFI rewrite is summer 2010.

"We want to do what is in the best interest of our deployed Airmen," said Lt. Col. Susan Airola-Skully, the AFCENT personnel directorate deputy. "We are implementing this change in a logical, deliberate fashion to ensure those who meet the criteria have the opportunity to save money and spend valuable time with friends and family. It is a great opportunity to take care of Airmen especially during this Year of the Air Force Family."