Rochester Post Bulletin
The Red Bulls just can't seem to catch a break.
The Minnesota National Guard's 1st Brigade 34th Infantry Division deployed to Iraq in 2005. They stuck around for 22 months — six months longer their initial assignment — and by the time they finally came home, they had served the longest deployment of any infantry unit since World War II.
Those 2,500 Minnesota soldiers were among 23,000 nationwide who were promised a bonus, but it was a long time coming. Several years, in fact — and only after 2nd District Rep. John Kline publicly confronted Defense Secretary Robert Gates did the military finally cough up the $10 million in bonuses that our troops had earned.
Then the soldiers got another unpleasant surprise when the IRS decided those bonuses were taxable — even though Congress had intended them to be tax-free.
And the hits just keep on coming. The latest blow to the Red Bulls happened on Sept. 30, 2011, when the Defense Department changed the rules concerning something called the "Post Deployment/Mobilization Respite Absence Program."
In a nutshell, this is a policy that grants extra leave (paid vacation to us civilians) to troops who serve longer-than-usual deployments. For each "extra" month that is served, troops are supposed to earn four extra days at home, spending time with their families and getting a much-needed morale boost.
Last September a rule change by the Defense Department slashed that monthly reward down to two days, or even one, depending on where a soldier is deployed. According to 2nd District Rep. John Kline, this decision will cost the Red Bulls an average of 16 days of leave.
That's ridiculous. Imagine, if you will, that you show up one morning and are told that you'd have to cancel the trip you had scheduled for next month because your company had eliminated or substantially reduced your allotted vacation days — effective immediately.
You'd be pretty upset — and you're not halfway around the world, separated from your family and wondering if there's an improvised explosive device in the cardboard box that's lying next to the road.
Kline, who never hesitates to fight for our troops, is acting aggressively to right this wrong. He wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to inquire about the rule change, then challenged him publicly during a meeting of the Armed Services Committee. Not having received a satisfactory response, he has now introduced a House bill that would force the military to honor its commitments to our troops. Troy Young, Kline's communications director, summed things up this way: "Promises made to our troops should be promises kept, and Congressman Kline is ensuring that those promises are kept."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar immediately followed suit by filing a similar bill in the Senate, and she also wrote a letter to Panetta demanding that he act immediately to right this wrong.
Panetta can take care of this himself, and he should. It shouldn't require an act of Congress to give our soldiers the time they've earned with their families.