BAGHDAD (Army News Service, April 17, 2007) - Rest and relaxation is a luxury to Soldiers on the battlefield, where the fears of being hit by IEDs or losing a buddy in combat haunt Soldiers daily. The recent extension of tours to 15 months makes active-duty Soldiers need a break that much more.

Freedom Rest, an oasis in the center of the Iraqi capital, helps Soldiers escape the stress of life on the front lines of war. There, they can strip away their body armor, lock up their weapons and enjoy time off without leaving the theater of operations.

Located in the International Zone, Freedom Rest is staffed by Morale, Welfare and Recreation staff. MWR specialists schedule such events as basketball, flag football, poker, dodge ball, karaoke and tug of war.

A 24-hour Internet cafAfA lets Soldiers talk and write to family and friends for free. Personal physical fitness trainers are on site, and a combat stress team and chaplain are available for counseling. Such typical services as a Post Exhange and barber shop are also available.

"We're here to make sure you have a good time. We want you to relax," said Mr. Craig Miller, a certified personal trainer at Freedom Rest.

Spc. Corey Kupiec recently took a break at the facility. "You just get stressed out sometimes. You feel like you're a grenade and your pin is going to pop sometimes," said Spc. Kupiec, who was deployed in October. "A lot of guys deal with the stress differently."

Spc. Kupiec, assigned to the 25th Infantry Division's Troop D, 1st Battalion, 40th Cavalry Squadron, 4th Brigade Combat Team, has dealt with death both near and afar. A friend back home tried to commit suicide two weeks before his stay at Freedom Rest, and ten days before, a medic in his unit died during combat operations.

"I think that is why they (command) sent me out here, to kind of let me not think about it and relax," the 22-year-old said.

The all-wheel mechanic said he sees the value of a break from the action now and then. Many of the Soldiers in his company are teenagers straight out of high school who have never lived on their own, let alone deployed to a war zone, he said.

The Freedom Rest facility originally served Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard as an officers' club. The villas Soldiers occupy today housed Iraqi officers prior to 2003. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the 1st Armored Division opened the facility to Multinational Division - Baghdad Soldiers in October 2003.

Since then, Freedom Rest has hosted more than 35,000 Soldiers, said Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Sanders, the facility's noncommissioned officer-in-charge.

"We really try to take care of the Soldier and we have nothing but good times scheduled for the Soldier," said Sgt. 1st Class Sanders. "When it comes time for them to leave, they don't want to leave, and all they say is that I hope to get another chance to come back to Freedom Rest."

More than just a resort where Soldiers can enjoy themselves, Freedom Rest is also a tool for commanders, according Sgt 1st Class Sanders.

"I want leadership to know about Freedom Rest and be able to send their Soldiers here. Even though they say they're not able to lose a Soldier for four days, this is a prime opportunity for Soldiers to be totally refreshed," Sgt. 1st Class Sanders said. "It's the only R & R facility within the Iraqi theater, so it allows the leadership to send their Soldiers for four days instead of losing them for nine if they go to Qatar."

Reservations are available despite the ongoing surge of troops into Baghdad, Sgt. 1st Class Sanders said. The facility also hosts conferences and meetings.

(Spc. L.B. Edgar writes fro the 7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)