By Mr. Dustin Senger
Area Support Group - Qatar Public Affairs
CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar – "No matter how stressful things get in a combat zone, family and friends are always a priority" said 1st Lt. Karly M. Mangen, from Chisago Lakes, Minn. "Close relationships can become the biggest factors influencing your mental and emotional state." Mangen is the officer in charge of the U.S. Central Command rest and recuperation pass program at Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar, an emirate off the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia. Since 2004, the program has provided Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom war fighters a temporary respite venue within southwest Asia. U.S. Army Central Command Area Support Group Qatar executes the program, recharging over 155,000 participants since its inception.
Mangen is known at Camp As Sayliyah as a positive and devoted leader. She is a worthy representative of her hometown stereotype: "Minnesota nice," a behavior attributed to the local hospitality and courtesy to others. Accompanied by several other Soldiers within her Minnesota National Guard unit, she deployed to Qatar in August, 2007.
"Since I arrived, the ability for married service members to cohabitate is the largest change in the respite program," she said.
The rest and recuperation pass program can now be more enjoyable for married couples serving in southwest Asia. New accommodations were built in January to meet all Army policies, regulations and standards for in-theater cohabitation. Once the rooms were ready, the installation commander officially authorized several living quarters for married couples on pass in Qatar – on a first-come, first-serve basis.
"I would estimate around 10 married couples have met in Qatar over the last two weeks," said Mangen. "Before the changes, it was difficult to break the bad news to those asking to stay together. Now we jump at the chance to explain the process that allows married service members to cohabitate while on pass. We have also had a mother and daughter stay together, as well as a father and son." The approval process can be submitted prior to arriving and is expected to take 24 to 48 hours – but sometimes, same day. "We know time is important to them. They only have four nights."
"Our commands really support family situations – all the way through," said Sgt. Michael Gross, from St. Paul, Minn., about the process that enabled him to depart Kuwait on pass with his wife, in subsequently shared accommodations. "In Qatar, we had approved cohabitation quarters within 24 hours! We are still waiting in Kuwait, due to availability." For Gross, the trickiest tricky part was waiting for his wife to deploy before taking advantage of the respite program. "My commander talks about the importance of family all the time. Without their support, we cannot do what we do."
"Being with loved ones makes it easier to decompress; to be your self," said Mangen. "To me, it just makes sense. If a family member happens to be deployed at the same time, it is common sense and beneficial to stay together. I have noticed many units are supporting service members in selecting pass dates that make this connection. We definitely see a lot of friends coming together in Qatar too. Although we offer a lot of trips, events and activities, the program is much more effective when time can be shared with friends and family."