Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he introduced an amendment on the House floor which would authorize reimbursement of air costs incurred by members of the U.S. Armed Forces in connection with travel while on leave from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“As a Vietnam veteran, I am fully supportive of the military’s Rest and Relaxation (R&R) program which allows soldiers who have served 12 straight months to qualify for R & R and allows them to return home and see their families. However, at present, this program only provides travel to hubs such as BWI and requires soldiers to make their own way home,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “Oftentimes airfare costs are prohibitive and leave soldiers stranded far from home.”
“Thankfully, the Senate passed an amendment to its supplemental appropriations bill which would extend the R & R program to include domestic travel and I am hopeful that the House will now demonstrate its commitment to our soldiers. Our soldiers serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom should not be burdened with the costs of travel to return to their home of residence to briefly reunite with family, friends, and loved ones. Moreover, soldiers whose home of residence is American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands should not be excluded from any R & R program that may be offered.”
“Although others have offered amendments in support of R & R for our soldiers, it is unclear as to whether language proposed by other members for this same type of funding would extend to soldiers whose home of residence is American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, or the Virgin Islands. While I am confident that it is not the intent of Congress to exclude soldiers from the Insular Areas from the benefits of a reimbursement program, I want to make sure that soldiers serving from American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are afforded the same rights and privileges as every other man and woman serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.”
“Again, as a Vietnam veteran, I am painfully aware of the sacrifices that our soldiers are making in defense of this nation,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “Only last month, one of American Samoa’s young sons was killed in Iraq and I accompanied his body home to American Samoa. Like others before him, like more to come, he gave his life so that we may live in freedom.”
“While we can never repay the sacrifices being made in our behalf, I do believe members of the U.S. Congress can agree to do right by our soldiers. We can begin by reimbursing service members for the cost of their airfare home to be reunited with their families under the terms of the R & R program. We can also make sure that travel reimbursements are made available to all members of the U.S. Armed Forces, including those from the insular areas.”
“As I have said before, American Samoans have a long and proud history of supporting the United States. Tutuila’s harbor is the deepest in the South Pacific and the port village of Pago Pago was used as a coaling station for U.S. naval ships in the early part of the century and as a support base for U.S. soldiers during WWII. To this day, American Samoa serves as a refueling point for U.S. naval ships and military aircraft.”
“American Samoa also has a per capita enlistment rate in the U.S. military which is as high as any State or U.S. Territory,” Faleomavaega said. “Our sons and daughters have served in record numbers in every U.S. military engagement from WWII to present operations in our war against terrorists. We have stood by the United States in good times and bad and it is time for the U.S. Congress to now stand with us.”
“At this time, I am hopeful that my colleagues will support my efforts either by passing this amendment or agreeing to include the substance of my amendment in the final bill that will be negotiated between the House and Senate and later presented to the President for signature. As always, I thank my colleagues for their support and most importantly I commend the men and women of American Samoa who are serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during these difficult times. I commend them for their courage and, above all, I wish them and their families the very best,” the Congressman concluded.