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Hundreds of soldiers thought they had holiday leave. Now the Army’s trying to help them cancel their tickets.

U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopters assigned to 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division out of Ft. Carson, Colorado await their next mission in support of exercise Combined Resolve XI in Hohenfels, Germany, Dec. 7, 2018. CBRXI at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center is in support of Atlantic Resolve in Europe, which evaluates the interoperability of U.S. forces with their NATO allies and partners. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Ron Lee, 382nd Public Affairs Detachment, 1ABCT, 1CD released)
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Scores of soldiers deployed to Europe could be on the hook after purchasing airline tickets home for the holidays, only to learn that their leave was never fully approved.

The 4th Combat Aviation Brigade out of Fort Carson, Colo., is nearing the end of a nine-month deployment in support of the U.S. military’s effort to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank. In November, troops were told by their brigade commander that holiday leave was approved, allowing for soldiers to return home, according to U.S. Army WTF Moments — a site where troops often vent about military snafus.

The problem: whatever informal approval 4th CAB commander Col. Scott Gallaway thought he’d received hadn’t been cleared up the U.S. Army Europe chain of command, the website reported.

Policy states that deployed units are not authorized ordinary leave and an exception must be granted, according to USAREUR.

“Due to mission requirements, an exception was not supportable,” USAREUR spokeswoman Beth Clemons said. “Unfortunately, many soldiers purchased tickets before the leave approval process was complete.”

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The Army has assigned refund coordinators to each of the brigade’s battalions to help soldiers try to get their money back, Clemons said.

About 250 soldiers bought tickets home, Clemons said.

“The command is doing everything in its power to rectify the situation and ensure no Soldier has to pay out of pocket for incurred expenses due to unapproved leave,” Clemons said in an email.

The confusion has been a source for unit strain. Soldiers “… are facing financial hardship due to inability to obtain refunds, pay high cancellation fees, and deal with the emotional toll being placed on these young families,” stated the message posted to Army WTF Moments.

But on U.S. Army WTF Moments’ Facebook page, there wasn’t an outpouring of sympathy among all commenters.

“So, the rotational force to bulk up NATO forces against Russian forces actually thought they would get Christmas leave from Europe, even after current hostilities in the Kerch Strait? Lol get real,” wrote one poster.

Another unsympathetic commentator weighed in: “if you’ve been in the army longer than a day you know never buy tickets for leave without insurance on the flights, this (expletive) happens all the time,” the Facebook poster wrote.

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However, there was some concern about the toll on the children back home.

“It’s not all about the financial hardship it’s about making kids happy and being a United family for the Holidays and a wish come true,” wrote another Facebook poster. “That has been destroyed.”

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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