Short R&R Leave Bittersweet for U.S. Soldiers

The last time he was at Baltimore-Washington International Airport (search), Pfc. Eric Stucky was mobbed by family members who hugged and kissed the returning soldier, waved homemade signs and introduced him to the 4-month-old son he hadn't met.

On Sunday, the scene will likely be much different.

That's when Stucky, 20, boards a plane to head back to Iraq after two short weeks of rest and recuperation leave.

"I wish I had like 30 days. I only have 15," said Stucky, who packed his time home with seemingly mundane activities at the family home in Newark, Del., and hours doting on his new son, Eric Jr.

"He has this little seat that he sits in," Stucky said of his son. "It has little toys that hang from a bar. ... He grabs the bar, and he pulls himself up. He can't crawl yet, but he can pull himself up.

"Seeing my kid for the first time was really the big deal," Stucky said. "It's going to be a lot harder going back."

He is one of about 7,000 soldiers who had come home from Iraq for leave as of Tuesday in the Pentagon's "rest and recuperation" program (search), the first such program since the Vietnam War.

Each day since Sept. 26, when the program started, a flight carrying soldiers on leave has arrived at BWI. For the past two weeks, a second flight has been leaving BWI every day, carrying soldiers back to war.

The program started with the idea that the first soldiers sent into Iraq would be the first to get leave, said Army spokesman Joe Burlas. To qualify, soldiers must have been in Iraq for at least three months, but less than 12 months.

Because active-duty Army troops, reservists and National Guardsmen are supposed to be assigned to a maximum one-year tour of duty in Iraq, Burlas said, "If they're approaching the end of their time there, it doesn't make sense to send them home for two weeks, bring them back to Iraq and then turn around and send them home again."

Stucky, who arrived home Oct. 10, leaves Sunday, when his wife, Christine, 20, will see him off at BWI.

For the Stuckys, the visit could not have come at a better time: The couple celebrated their first anniversary Oct. 13. The high school sweethearts said just after his flight arrived at BWI that they planned "to hide" on their anniversary, but they ended up celebrating at a nice Italian restaurant.

Stucky's mom threw a welcome-home celebration for him two days after he got back, where he got to see most of his family and friends.

"Everybody wants to see me before I leave," he said.

Stucky — a cook in the 101st Division, 1st Brigade, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry — said he expects to be in Iraq until March, the one-year anniversary of his deployment. Then he will return to Fort Campbell (search), Tenn., to complete his three-year active-duty commitment.

He said he is looking forward to coming back to the United States, when Christine and Eric Jr. will join him in Tennessee.

Late this week, Stucky said he did not have big plans for the few days he had left on leave. He will be "pretty much hanging out with my wife and my kid" for the rest of the week.

He's done the little things he said he missed the most, including going Tuesday to see the first movie he had seen in "at least a year" — "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Stucky's mom, Chris, baby-sat Eric Jr. so Eric Sr. could enjoy the movie.

She said she has noticed a change in her normally quiet son — he's become even quieter.

"I think his heart's just already breaking knowing he's got to go back," she said.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.