Photo by Heather Middleton
By M.J. Subiria Arauz
About 100 people came together for a day of celebration and recognition, during the "Atlanta Military Personnel Assistance Point Recognition Event," at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
The event, on Feb. 17, recognized entities that assist the U.S. Central Command's Rest and Recuperation Leave Program location, at the Personnel Assistance Point in Atlanta, located on the third floor of the airport's atrium. The event also celebrated the program's recent milestone of assisting 1 million service members at the Atlanta location since 2003.
"For the entire airport team, it is truly a privilege and an honor to support the Atlanta Military Personnel Assistance Point and the USO [United Service Organizations] as they help our brave service men and women reconnect with their friends and loved ones at home," said Balram Bheodari, interim assistant general manager for operations, maintenance and security at Hartsfield-Jackson.
Bheodari said there are entities at the airport that assist troops going through Hartsfield-Jackson, which include the federal agencies that process troops, and the Interfaith Airport Chaplaincy.
"The airport thanks [you for] your service you provide day in and day out," added Bheodari.
Maj. Gen. Jeffery Arnold, director of human resources policy and assistant deputy chief of staff for the Department of the Army Headquarters, was the event's keynote speaker.
"The R&R program is critical for our troops," said Arnold. "It's a force multiplier, which ultimately improves our military readiness."
According to Arnold, the Rest and Recuperation Leave Program allows eligible troops and U.S. Department of Defense civilians, serving within the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility, to go home, rest and see their families and loved ones.
For example, troops and civilians deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom for 15 months are authorized 18 days of chargeable leave days, according to the program's web site, www.armyg1.army.mil.
"R&R builds soldiers so they can go back and continue their mission," said Arnold.
Arnold said the USO is important to the troops going through the program, at Hartsfield-Jackson. He said troops seeing the friendly faces and smiles of USO volunteers greeting them, makes their duties and responsibilities more meaningful.
"Soldiers can tell from the charisma and spirit that is given off to them and it's evident that the spirit is there," Arnold said of the USO.
Several groups were recognized with framed certificates of appreciation during the event, because of their various services to the program. Those awarded included the USO at Hartsfield-Jackson, the Interfaith Airport Chaplaincy, the Delta Honor Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, The AeroClinic and Delta Air Lines.
Brian McConnell, coordinator of the Delta Honor Guard, said he felt proud of the recognition. According to McConnell, the Delta Honor Guard salutes the fallen soldiers that go through Hartsfield-Jackson.
"It's a very proud feeling for Delta and the honor guard to be recognized," said McConnell. "I just want to thank them [troops] for taking their time for thinking of everybody, and the sacrifices they make for our freedom."
Mary Lou Austin, CEO of the USO of Georgia, said the event highlighted the numerous entities that assist the Rest and Recuperation Leave Program, which demonstrates how the airport and local community supports the men and women in the armed forces.
"I just want to express my own personal privilege and pride and thank those that participate," added Maj. Gen. Arnold.
Sgt. 1st Class Cesar Delgado, of the U.S. Army, was enjoying a piece of cake during the reception. Delgado said the R&R program is crucial to the troops serving overseas.
"R&R is vital for this mission ... a way for us to recharge our batteries," he said.
He said he was heading back to Iraq, but that being able to see his family was nice.
"It makes it all worthwhile," said Delgado.
U.S. Army Spc. Michael Lovell held a medallion in his hand that he received during the reception. The medallion commemorated the program's milestone of receiving 1 million service members. All the troops that attended the reception received it.
Lovell said he just visited his family and was flying to Kuwait on a mission that will last one year.
"I think it's good to be able to see your family," he said. "It goes by really quickly. It's a gift to be back with family."