SIDNEY, Australia- Cpl. Christopher Hnatiuk (left), a native of Hobart, Ind, and Spc. Joseph Shinskey, both from Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, pose during their environmental and morale leave before sky-diving March 15. Every deployed Soldier in Iraq receives 15 days of EML leave.

BAGHDAD - If there is one thing that soldiers value, it is their time off. For those Soldiers on deployment, their time off is especially valuable. With long hours, stressful missions and less than desirable living conditions, it's no wonder that soldiers look forward to a few weeks off to relax and return to a "normal" life.

Deployed units implement leave schedules to give their Soldiers time away from a forward deployed area. Known over the years by many names-rest and recreation, mid-tour leave, and for Soldiers now deployed, environmental and morale leave.

"Rest and recuperation is a necessity," said Capt. Felix Torres, a native of Sacramento, Calif., commander, Company B, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. "Soldiers are known to work themselves into the ground, so they need that break in order to re-focus and replenish their mind, body, and spirit."

Traditionally the "replenishing" consists of 15 days of leave, most often near the half-way point of deployment. Often the "mid-tour" leave is seen as a milestone during deployments.

Whether the leave is spent with the family back home, at an exotic locale, or simply on the couch at "Mom's" house, those 15 days are a chance for a Soldier to, amongst other things, relax and recharge for the rest of their tour.

The two weeks of leave are often a topic of conversation both before and after the event, with some of the themes of the conversation consisting of time spent with their significant others, the exceptional taste of a certain beverage or food, or perhaps the first time a Soldier will see their newborn child.

Many Soldiers will say they cannot make an entire year without their mid-tour leave. More than just a physical break from stress and the high operation tempo, the leave serves as a mental mid-point of the tour.

"There has to be a mental separation from the 24-hour operations in a combat environment," said Sgt. Kevin Jenson, from Savannah, Mo., Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd HBCT. "The mind just can't handle the stress for extended periods of time."

Once the leave is over, a Soldier can look back on the time leading up to the leave and realize they can handle the road ahead.

"My leave helped give me time to relax and see my family and friends," said Deland, Fla. Native, Spc. Phillip Formel, Company B, 2-1 BSTB, who recently returned from mid-tour leave. "I didn't want to come back, but now that I'm here it will be easier to handle the missions because I had a good break."

Page last updated Sat March 28th, 2009 at 08:53