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TROOPS GET 'IN-COUNTRY' BREAK AT NEW BAGHDAD R&R FACILITY ONCE USED BY SADDAM'S REPUBLICAN GUARD

V Corps Release

Release Date: 10/21/2003

By Spc. Christopher Stanis 1st Armored Division Public Affairs Office

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Tens of thousands of soldiers under V Corps and coalition command have spent the last six months or more in Iraq and many have at least as long to go.

Many are at now getting two weeks of leave time to go home for some rest and relaxation. Others are getting the opportunity to go for a week of R&R in Qatar. Still, not every soldier will want to - or be able to -- take advantage of these options.

That was the motive behind Freedom Rest, the Task Force 1st Armored Division-driven coalition R&R center that had its grand opening here this week.

"It's our commanding general's desire that everybody have the opportunity to do something," said Lt. Col. Dennis Slagter, the division's personnel officer. "And we know that we can't get all of our soldiers on R&R leave, or all of our soldiers to Qatar, so this recreation center bridges that gap."

The former Republican Guard Officers' Club offers soldiers three days and two nights to get away from the action, with facilities that include a fitness center, swimming pool, game room, Internet caf, TV and movie room, indoor and outdoor movie theaters, outdoor basketball, tennis, and volleyball courts and a field for flag football and soccer.

Slagter said commercial-grade linens and wall lockers were purchased to give soldiers as close to a real hotel experience as possible in the "Rest's" bunk-bedded, six-to-eight-person rooms.

Pfc. Lydia Flores, a supply specialist with the division's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, was among the first group of soldiers to check in.

"I think it's a great place," said Flores. "It's a lot nicer than we expected it to be."

Still, she added, a few more days off and a "Class Six" (alcoholic beverage store) favorite would make it perfect.

Because these soldiers remain "in-country," their absence from their units does not count against the 90 percent personnel strength level those units are required to maintain here, Slagter said. That means more soldiers can be sent to the facility at one time.

Freedom Rest can currently house 90 soldiers every three days, or approximately 1,100 a month. But that's just the beginning.

"We hope to grow that to about 150 per stay in the next 30 days," Slagter said.

Slagter said the mix of assets used to get Freedom Rest up and running are representative of the whole task force here.

"We used Iraqi vendors, Iraqi construction workers, National Guard construction workers, U.S. Army soldiers, and even contracted civilians to bring this facility and its programs together," he said. "And we did it in record time - 45 days from start to finish."



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