Vermont service members stranded in Kuwait

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(Host) At least three Vermonters are among U.S. service members stranded in Kuwait even though they’re supposed to be headed back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

As VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, the same delays that have fouled commercial airline schedules are now affecting the military.

(Sneyd) Vermont Army National Guard Specialist Clinton Holt should be on his way home from Iraq early next month.

But he can’t get a flight out of  Kuwait. And his mother, Waneta Mayhew of Marshfield, says it could be June before he’ll be able to return.

(Mayhew) "That’s not a long extension. But the thing of it was, he was so excited about being home in time to go to fish camp, which is a yearly thing with a mess of guys. And he was so looking forward to that. And then he said yesterday in the email, go ahead without him, he’d make it next year."

(Sneyd) The U.S. military says it’s at the mercy of commercial airlines, which ferry service members between the U.S and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Rice of the U.S. Transportation Command says airline bankruptcies and maintenance problems are to blame.

(Rice) "At this current time, all the passengers throughout the defense transportation system are definitely experiencing inconvenience and flight delays that are resulting from the decrease in the commercial passenger airlift capacity.”

(Sneyd) Here’s the problem. ATA Airlines is one of the major private carriers for the military. It filed for bankruptcy earlier this month and stopped flying.

And, Rice says, other airlines are having maintenance issues that are reducing the number of flights.

Congressman Peter Welch says the military relies too heavily on private companies.

(Welch) "I think this reflects just how overstretched our resources are and how dependent we’ve become on contractors. And that diminishes the level of control.”

(Sneyd) Family members aren’t satisfied. Waneta Mayhew says it’s beyond her why the U.S. military can’t get soldiers home after they’ve served a year overseas.

(Mayhew) "I’m not satisfied with the way they’re running this outfit. I mean, where are our military planes?… Let the president’s plane go and bring these boys home. They’ve done they’re year and they’re planning on coming home. And then they keep coming up with one clinch or another.”

(Sneyd) Welch says he agrees and he’s pressing the Pentagon for more answers.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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