MOORHEAD — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is touting proposed legislation to help the children of Guard and Reserve members deployed on active duty, and provide tax breaks for troops serving as peacekeepers in the increasingly dangerous Sinai Peninsula.
As part of a panel discussion at the Moorhead armory on Wednesday, Aug. 30, Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Guard and Reserve soldiers deserve the same benefits as their active-duty counterparts when they're sent to the world's hotspots.
For example, more than 200 Guard soldiers from southern Minnesota recently served as peacekeepers in the Sinai Peninsula. That area, which is home to groups affiliated with Islamic State militants, should be declared a combat zone, she said.
That declaration would exempt the pay of Guard troops serving there from income tax. In a strange quirk, she said the Red Sea, just south of the peninsula, is a combat zone.
"I figured that when our Guard members signed up to serve, there was no waiting line. And they didn't get a lot of grief for signing up," Klobuchar said. "And when they come home, and they need education or they need help, there shouldn't be a waiting line here, including with health care, something else we've worked hard on. And they certainly shouldn't be treated unfairly with their benefits."
Klobuchar said the Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to identify students in military families in school records so schools and teachers know which students have parents in the military and can accommodate their additional needs. But it makes no provisions for children of Guard and Reserve members, she said.
"We're really trying to get that fixed so that the Guard members' kids are treated in the same way as the active-duty kids," she said.
Klobuchar said citizen soldiers got good news in the "Forever GI Bill," recently signed into law. She said the new law closes a loophole that barred Guard and Reserve members from receiving education benefits.
Col. Anthony Polashek, commander of the Twin Cities-based 934th Airlift Wing, said members of the wing regularly deploy. "Half of our combat capability of the Air Force is in the Guard and Reserve. It's very significant," he said.
Polashek said it's time for another continuing budget resolution to keep the federal government running. He said past resolutions have covered active-duty pay, operations and readiness, but not the Guard and Reserve.
"What does that do to our nation's readiness? It's very, very significant," Polashek said. "Any continuing resolution should fund readiness for our part-timers, because we rely on them so heavily."
Guardsmen of the 2/136th, which is headquartered in Moorhead, have kept up a high tempo of operations, their commander Lt. Col. Jason Benson said.
Recently, the battalion deployed to Lithuania with all of its Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles for a NATO Saber Strike exercise in the Baltics.
"We train to the same standards as active-duty soldiers. Having the same level of benefits is important," Benson said.
Col. Brian Melton, chief of staff for the Minnesota National Guard, said he likes that Klobuchar backs legislation to increase the mileage Guardsmen are reimbursed for to attend training. He said Guard and Reserve soldiers should also be reimbursed for time spent with specialty training online, as their active-duty counterparts are.
"As traditional Guardsmen, we're not looking for or asking for anything different, or asking for anything more, we're just asking to be considered and make sure that we're remembered and treated the same as any other service member," Melton said.