Saturday, May 8, 2010

Emergency Leave

One of the stories I did not have time to write was a process story about how our unit handled emergency leaves. From the week we mobilized till the last weeks in Fort Dix, New Jersey, soldiers in Task Force Diablo got a visit from their commander and first sergeant to deliver a Red Cross message. In fact, for soldiers who knew the procedure, seeing a company commander and first sergeant together, walking to someone's door, both looking stone faced, almost certainly meant bad news for someone in that room.

The soldier at the center of emergency leaves was Sergeant First Class Lori Burns, the NCOIC of the battalion S-1--the people who handle the paperwork. When the brigade received a Red Cross message, they passed it to our Operations (S-3) section who notified the battalion commander and command sergeant major and Lori. She started the paperwork and the very delicate process of determining whether this emergency was actually an Emergency Leave or not. An official military emergency leave is for immediate family--parents, siblings, children, and spouse. But some soldiers are raised by their grandparents.

As some of you may remember, I was one of the soldiers who received a Red Cross message that did not qualify as an actual emergency.  My mother-in-law died on Mother's Day last year, just a week after I arrived in Iraq.  Because there was space in the leave schedule at the time, I could have gone on emergency leave, but my wife thought it would be better to keep my leave as it was scheduled because we already had plans made.

But other guys who fell into the "not emergency" category that I was in really wanted to go home.  And most got to go home by giving up their scheduled leave.  The company and battalion commanders as well as the first sergeants and command sergeant major all would get the soldier home if they possibly could.  And unless they were off base on a mission, LTC Perry and CSM Christine were woken up and briefed on every Red Cross message.  The company commander and first sergeant delivered the message.

We had more than 50 Red Cross messages during the year of deployment and most of them got home one way or another.  Two soldiers lost newborn children during the tour.  One sergeant who lost his father went home twice.  The first time his father rallied and recovered, the next time was for the funeral.

Life seems on hold during the year of deployment, but life goes on back home.  The people who handle the emergency leaves have to deal with the reality of tragedy back home through the entire tour.