A recent change in policy for the Minnesota National Guard could have widespread implications for military personnel.
Last October, the Pentagon changed the amount of paid deployment leave awarded to the deployed Guard soldiers from four days a month to one day a month. With budget cuts looming, policy changes like this will be more common in the days to come. What is concerning is that the soldiers who were already deployed are now not getting the leave that they were promised.
This type of policy change violates the trust between soldier and leadership, and sets a dangerous precedent for the future.
From 2005-2007, Minnesota Guard soldiers spent as much as 22 months deployed to Iraq. The post-deployment paid leave program was established thereafter, awarding additional leave incrementally for Guard soldiers deployed more than 12, 18, and 24 months in a five-year period. The extra leave was designed to alleviate the strain of constant deployment, giving soldiers more time to reintegrate and convalesce with their families.
Last year, the Minnesota Guard was tasked with assisting with the Iraq troop drawdown, serving mainly as security escort for convoys. It was not until about halfway through their deployment that soldiers found out they would come back with three to four weeks less paid leave.
For many of these soldiers, this policy change represents a significant financial issue. Over a third of deployed Minnesota Guard soldiers are unemployed and were counting on that additional time to help them find a job when they returned.
More than money, time with family after a deployment is something that is not easily replaced.
The Minnesota Congressional Delegation is currently fighting the change with their own bills that stand either on their own or act as attachments to the defense authorization bill. Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) is pushing legislation through the House, and Sen. Amy Kobluchar (D-Minn.) is pushing legislation through the Senate.
According to The Hill, Rep. Kline said "It's perfectly legitimate for the Pentagon to develop a policy for those who have not deployed and change it. It's not acceptable for them to change the policy once they've already deployed troops under a policy."
The goal is to grandfather in units that were deployed before the change in policy, but it's looking like even if such a measure were successful, it would likely come too late for the soldiers' return at the end of April. If that were to happen, they would likely be awarded a lump-sum payment sometime in the future.
Regardless of whether the Minnesota Guard soldiers are properly compensated, these kinds of policy changes send the wrong message to our men and women in uniform.