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Army stops benefits for extending overseas tours
This story was first published at 4:39 p.m. EST February 26, 2016
A congressionally authorized program that provides special incentives to enlisted soldiers who extend their overseas tours by 12 months or more has been placed in cold storage by the Army.
Acting Army Secretary Patrick Murphy will not approve the inclusion of any military occupational specialties or geographical locations to the Overseas Tour Extension Incentive Program, according to a notice issued Feb. 24.
"There are no active or projected MOS or geographic locations (for OTEIP) in the foreseeable future," according to the announcement.
Since the inclusion of OTEIP in federal law nearly 40 years ago, the program has been authorized for soldiers in select MOSs serving in Germany, South Korea, Japan, Alaska and other overseas locations outside major combat zones.
When authorized, OTEIP has featured a menu of incentives, including special pay, special leave, travel entitlements and lump-sum bonuses. Soldiers who met the specialty requirements, and who extended their overseas tours by at least 12 months, were eligible for one of the following benefits:
- Special pay of $80 per month during the period of extension.
- 30 days of non-chargeable leave.
- 15 days of non-chargeable leave, and free transportation of the soldier (but no family members) to the nearest stateside port.
- Annual $2,000 lump-sum bonus.
During the period of heavy deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army used OTEIP to reduce assignment turbulence and improve the personnel readiness of overseas units outside the combat zones.
In recent years, participation in the program has been sharply curtailed. For example, in fiscal 2015 the Army provided OTEIP benefits to 27 soldiers at a total cost of $54,000.
Budget projections submitted to Congress in early February indicated the Army would limit OTEIP benefits to no more than nine soldiers in 2016.
Pentagon personnel officials emphasize that two programs similar to OTEIP remain in effect for overseas commands.
Those are the In-Place Overseas Tour Extension (IPCOT) and Assignment Incentive Pay (AIP) programs.
"The Overseas Tour Incentive Program is sometimes confused with IPCOT and AIP, which are guided by different sections (of federal law and Defense Department Instructions), and that most overseas commands use to incentivize keeping soldiers in place for readiness purposes," according to a statement provided by the Office of the Army G1 (chief of human resources).
While the Army is authorized to use OTEIP as an incentive for certain enlisted soldiers to extend their overseas tours, the program will remain in inactive status, as it has been since 2007.
"We do not need OTEIP to preserve readiness in overseas units," according to the G1 statement.
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Soldiers recharge batteries with Army’s mid-tour leave program
by Sgt. David Dasilma, 4th Sqdn., 10th Cav., 3rd BCT, 4th Inf. Div. CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq – There is a special time during a deployment which every soldier anxiously awaits. If one were to listen to the conversations around Task Force Blackjack, 4th Squadron, 10th Cavalry, 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, he or she would hear plenty of chatter pertaining to second greatest moment during a deployment: Environmental and Morale Leave. While it remains second to redeployment, EML is one of the most talked about items among deployed soldiers. They discuss the foods they will eat, the people they will see and the adventures they are planning. EML is a special privilege and is one of the things that keeps morale high in TF Blackjack. The EML Program is mandated by U.S. Central Command and was implemented on September 25, 2003. The program was initiated to provide eligible service members and Department of Defense civilians who are serving in support of Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom, in one of the 17 designated countries, an opportunity for rest and recuperation, as well as to aid with temporary family reintegration. This leave is different from the previous tours in OIF. As of April 8, 2010, it became non-chargeable, which is to say it doesn’t count against soldiers’ accumulated leave, a provision that only applies to those deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Further, the leave starts the day after entering one of the two assigned U.S. ports of entry, which allows a full day of travel for connecting flights. “If I had to use up 15 days of chargeable leave for EML, I wouldn’t have enough left over to take post-deployment block leave. Or I’d have to go in the hole,” said Pfc. Jason Dudley, of Seattle, Wash., Blackjack aid station medic and soldier who benefits from the new policy. In addition to non-chargeable leave, soldiers do not pay for airline expenses to their destination, a provision that falls under the Fully Funded Onward Movement Program, implemented on January 1, 2004. Army Human Resources Command sees the EML program as an investment in the well-being of soldiers which will, in turn, improve their mission performance. “I had a lot of fun on leave. I got to hang out with my old friends, relax and eat great food. What’s cool is that last deployment it was chargeable, and now it’s not,” said Spc. Lester Burgard, of Mountain Grove, Miss., Blackjack medic.