The Boston Progressive - Under The Fold

Recycled news and (hopefully) original commentary from a New England Progressive perspective -- the full text of items shown on the main page

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Massachusetts Guardsmen seek pay for post-9/11 duty

Tell me again about how well-laid these plans were?

All the time anyone questions the preparedness of the agencies of the government, or the contingencies allowed for in the Armed Forces plans, we are always told "trust us -- we know best, and we've thought of all the problems."

Well, if they *did* think of all the problems, someone forgot to tell the people making plans. Or maybe those at the top didn't care to be bothered with other than "The Big Picture."

Didn't bother to be concerned with things like:
- insufficient troop allocations
- insufficient armor for troops
- insufficient armor for vehicles
- inappropriate vehicle use (Humvees are *not* designed for use as armored vehicles, witness the problems with roll-over and handling when they are equipped with more than minimal armor)
- lack of contingency plans to secure/destroy enemy ammunition and explosives stores
- lack of contingency plans to secure/reduce enemy strongholds that were "leapfrogged" so that those strongholds were in the operation rear lines
- lack of contingency plans to secure/protect sites that would be of cultural importance (like the museums)
- lack of a *clue* in accounting for existing cultural impressions (just whose brilliant idea was it to use, as a military prison and interrogation station the complex that most Iraqis would see as "torture central" from the Saddam Hussein era?
- State Department support of a man who has been *proven* to be thief, and who also consistently fed the U.S. fabricated "intelligence"
- willful ignorance about the probability of letting the invasion turn into a breeding ground for local insurgents and extranational partisans
- and so on, and so on, and so on.

(pretty much all of the above, I think, can be laid on other heads than the military command structure -- it seems that most of these are failures on the part of the civilian authorities whose overriding objective was to try for a "short, victorious war". The planning seemed to be all concentrated towards that end, with military planners apparently being overridden at each step, from troop strength, to supplies, to pushing for headlines of entering the capital rather than securing the ground covered.

Stateside things didn't work very well either, from reduced enlistments to back-to-back deployments of regular troops and unprecedented callups of National Guard and Reserve troops.

Almost forgotten was also the callup of State National Guard personnel to provide security for local sites, such as airports, reservoirs and nuclear power plants.

And, in Massachusetts at least, someone neglected to remember that the National Guard troops have lives and businesses and finances that are not tied to the military. And that these people don't have really deep pockets.

And now they want to get paid.

A group of four members of the Massachusetts National Guard are suing for expenses incurred when they, and hundreds other members of the National Guard,. were activated and assigned to security posts throughout the Commonwealth. In some cases the Guardsmen were assigned to security posts at military bases without available food or sleeping facilities. The four are also seeking to have the suit afforded class-action status that would include reimbursement for all troops in the Commonwealth's Guard units that are in the same situation.

According to an AP report ( "Guardsmen sue for Sept. 11 duty expenses" ):
The soldiers, who are from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, say they traveled hundreds of miles to security postings - such as Quabbin Reservoir, the Boston areaÂ’s primary water supply - and used their own money for gas, food and lodging, expecting to be paid back.

But the soldiers say in their complaint that their requests for compensation were repeatedly denied until they were told by their commanding officers that they could be taken off their missions ifthey didn'tnÂ’t stop asking for reimbursement. The response, they said, had a "chilling effect."

"Plaintiffs concluded they could not seek the ... reimbursement compensation they felt they were owed, without extreme and negative repercussions on their military careers," the complaint reads.

The suit says federal law provides military personnel with meals and travel allowance while away from home on active duty. But Massachusetts guardsmen received orders that read: "Government quarters not available; ... government meals are not available; ... per diem: not authorized."
The Boston globe is also covering what is a very local story ( "Soldiers sue for reimbursement - Guardsmen seek pay for post-9/11 duty" ):
If the soldiers in all approximately 300 positions at issue were fully reimbursed for every day since Sept. 11, 2001, they would be owed an estimated $73 million, the lawyers said.

The four plaintiffs said they were never given reasons why their reimbursements -- a maximum of $158 a day for food and lodging, plus travel expenses -- were denied.

Sergeant Wayne R. Gutierrez of New Bedford, one of the soldiers suing for reimbursements, said his family struggled under the financial burden of paying for travel expenses and meals while he was serving at Camp Edwards in Bourne. His Guard duty cost him about $18,000 over three years, he said.

''I had to not pay one bill to pay for another," said Gutierrez, who is married and has two children.

Major Winfield Danielson, a spokesman for the Massachusetts National Guard, said his office was reviewing the lawsuit and could not discuss it.

But he said the rules for reimbursements for soldiers are complex and depend on several factors, including what type of duty the soldiers are on, how long they are serving, and whether the government provides lodging where soldiers are working.

He said he couldn't discuss how those factors applied to the four soldiers suing because he did not know their status.

But John Shek of Boston, the soldiers' attorney, said he knew of no other state where similar Guard orders denying the reimbursements for post-Sept. 11 security were issued.
....
Retired Captain Louis P. Tortorella of Brookline, N.H., another of the Massachusetts Guard soldiers who filed the lawsuit, said he spent about $14,600 of his own money on expenses necessary to carry out his 21-month assignment to Camp Edwards between 2001 and 2003.

He said the trip from his home to Cape Cod was 250 miles roundtrip and took 3 1/2 hours, a drive he made daily because he was refused reimbursement for lodging.

During part of his service, he was assigned to security at the Quabbin Reservoir, Boston's main drinking water source, overseeing about 45 soldiers.

There was no place to sleep at the reservoir, and so he and other soldiers drove home after their shifts
....
First Lieutenant Veronica Saffo, a spokeswoman for the Vermont National Guard, said orders calling up National Guard soldiers typically lay out whether lodging and meals are provided by the government, as they are for soldiers who serve one weekend a month, she said.

''If there's not lodging available, you need to find accommodation somewhere and you should be reimbursed for that," said Saffo
These men put their personal and economic lives on hold in order to serve their country.

We have to do right by them, and part of that is to not ruin them financially.

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