Kline seeks benefits for storied Guard unit

  • Article by: MARK BRUNSWICK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 15, 2012 - 10:38 PM

A Pentagon change may reduce paid time off for 2,700 Minnesota Guard troops serving in Kuwait.

They moved the goal posts in the middle of the game on them once. Now they want to do it again.

In the midst of a deployment to Kuwait, members of the Minnesota National Guard got word that a program that was supposed to give them paid time off when they get home would be reduced under a new Pentagon directive.

This is the same unit that served the longest of any U.S. force during the Iraq war in 2007, only to have compensation denied them until Congress got involved to correct a bureaucratic snafu.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., on Wednesday introduced a bill that would ensure members of Minnesota's 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry who are now mobilized would be grandfathered in to the old Pentagon rules when they return home this spring. During a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Kline sought answers from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about the cuts. Panetta said he would look into Kline's questions but made no promises.

Kline's concerns center around a policy to allow service members mobilized and deployed in excess of 12 to 24 months to accrue paid leave in addition to their regular leave. The program was designed to allow members more time with their families and to readjust after multiple deployments.

After 2,700 members of the 1st Brigade deployed to Kuwait last year, the Pentagon issued its new guidelines, which reduced the benefits they were initially promised.

The military uses a complex calculation to determine administrative time off, combining time served in what it calls "credible deployment/mobilizations" and time between deployments. Under the current Pentagon proposal, the amount of time off could be cut by as much as half. Some members of the Minnesota Guard, according to Kline's office, stand to lose more than 27 days of paid leave under the new policy.

"I look around and I've got constituents who are deployed and suddenly the policy change at the Department of Defense is leaving them holding," Kline said in an interview. "I'm sure they never dreamed that after what happened the first time, they would get smacked again. You've changed the rules in the middle of the deployment and that's unacceptable."

Kline, whose office was informed of the changes by several concerned constituents, asked for an explanation for the change and whether currently deployed troops would be covered under the old policy, but he has yet to receive an answer.

Many members of the group who are now deployed also were part of a deployment of about 2,500 Minnesota Guard troops who were owed an estimated $10 million for their extended deployment in Iraq in 2007. The money compensated thousands of National Guard soldiers nationwide whose overseas deployments were extended during the 2007 military surge. By far the largest group came from Minnesota's "Red Bulls," which became the longest-serving brigade combat team in the war. The payments eventually were made in 2010 after Kline interceded.

Officials from the Minnesota National Guard said they would not comment on the latest situation, citing the pending legislation.

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434

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