Soldiers on R&R will bypass BWI

Army picks Atlanta, Dallas as new transit points

Most troops from South, Southeast

U.S. Army decides to drop BWI as transit point for troops on R&R

May 27, 2004|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

Soldiers coming home on two-week leaves from service in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan will no longer travel through Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the Army announced yesterday.

Instead, the soldiers will primarily use the Atlanta and Dallas airports when the currently suspended leave program resumes June 15.

About 10,500 military personnel participating in the rest and recuperation program traveled through BWI from Nov. 2 to Jan. 1.

The Army said it decided to stop using BWI as a transit point for soldiers on leave because most of the units deployed in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan are from the South and Southeast.

"It just so happened that for this rotation, the majority of them are from the South," said Army spokesman Hank Minitrez. "It just made sense."

Military demographics will be re-examined regularly, and future rotations of soldiers on rest and recuperation leave could be routed through BWI if they live closer to the Baltimore-Washington area, the Army said.

Service members transferring to and from overseas assignments will continue to use BWI, the Army said. Last year, more than 153,000 used BWI for that reason, the Army said.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger - whose Hero Miles program urging people to donate their frequent-flier miles to troops flying home led to a law requiring the federal government to pay for their flights - said he was disappointed with the decision not to use BWI for soldiers in the leave program.

"We've already gone through the exercise of attempting ... to see who would be the best venue to have the troops come in, and Baltimore was chosen," said Ruppersberger, who plans to try to get the decision reversed. "If something is working, why change it? This is what disturbs me."

Ruppersberger said BWI is ideal because of its proximity to Washington and to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Fort Meade and other bases. He said airport volunteers and others in the community work to make soldiers' time at BWI pleasant.

Ruppersberger said he was told that BWI was not going to be used for the program because it is not a 24-hour airport, requiring military personnel arriving in the middle of the night to go to hotels and motels. Army spokesman Minitrez said that wasn't an issue.

"What we want to do is always take care of the soldier," said Rhonda Paige, an Army spokeswoman.

BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean called the decision "logistical and demographic" and said the airport cannot question the military's decision to make the most of soldiers' leave time.

"BWI is one of the military's busiest passenger gateways, with thousands of military personnel and their families passing through each year on their way to and from duty overseas," Dean said, "and the military remains committed to using BWI as one of their primary gateway airports."

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