Bill restoring Guard members’ leave will impact Crazy Troop, Red BullsThe Pentagon will restore military personnel leave time that was stripped from nearly 50,000 soldiers in October, including a number of local Crazy Troop soldiers.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
The Pentagon will restore military personnel leave time that was stripped from nearly 50,000 soldiers in October, including a number of local Crazy Troop soldiers.
President Barack Obama Friday signed into law a bill co-sponsored by the entire Minnesota congressional delegation that will return up to 27 days of paid leave to some of the state’s National Guard members who have served in Kuwait, helping to wind down the United States involvement in Iraq. In some cases, soldiers will get pay instead of days off.
Last October, at the start of fiscal year 2012, the Defense Department reduced the amount of post deployment mandatory respite allowance, or PDMRA, from a maximum of four days per month served to one or two. The PDMRA leave program was created to lessen the impact of deployment on military families, awarding soldiers more mandatory time at home for multiple deployments in a set time window. About 800 Minnesota soldiers would have lost up to 27 days of leave.
Many National Guard members from the local Crazy Troop will be affected by the change.
Sgt. 1st Class Troy Smith, Cloquet’s readiness NCO, explained that the restoration of the leave will be accomplished in one of two ways.
“For soldiers like myself that are on still on orders, we should get our leave restored in the computer system” explained Smith. “Once the changes are implemented, [the computer] will tell me to go on leave for those days to be with my family. Other soldiers, including Cloquet’s Staff Sgt. Tim Schlenvogt, will get a lump sum of pay for the days they are owed because they are no longer actively on orders.”
The passage of the bill is bittersweet for Schlenvogt, a recent college graduate who didn’t come home to a job and who was originally counting on the time and money to help with plans for his upcoming wedding.
Smith explained that if the bill had passed sooner, [Schlenvogt] would have still been on active orders, and those three more weeks would have taken his active service time into June. He would have qualified for a housing allowance of nearly $1,100 and $300 subsistence allowance [to help pay for food and other necessities].
“Now his restored days will be awarded to him in a lump sum payment and that payment will be taxed like a bonus when he gets it,” Smith said.
The “when” is a question because, as with any other law passed by Congress, there is a lag between the signing of the bill and the actual implementation of whatever was signed into law.
Minnesota Adjutant General Rick Nash said with Obama’s signature, benefits will flow as promised.
Two Minnesotans guided the effort in Congress, Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline and Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. They said soldiers were promised the paid time off, but the October rule change that came during their time overseas was not fair.
Smith gave a lot of credit to Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack.
“The Cloquet, Pine City and Duluth units worked closely with his office and with Chip directly from the beginning,” Smith said, stressing that the Cloquet unit has an amazing relationship with Cravaack, who he said worked with Kline to get the issue resolved. “The October policy change reduced all PDMRA beginning that day – it should have read ‘effective beginning with all deployments after October 1.’ They changed the rules in the middle of the game.”
“Promises made should be promises kept, and I am committed to ensuring the government keeps faith with our troops,” said Kline, a 25-year Marine veteran.
Schlenvogt said he was upset when he learned of the change last October.
“Not exactly furious, more like ‘oh, we’re getting screwed again,’” he said. “The tension is relieved a lot now that we know we’re getting some back. But I wish they would phase back in the days, especially for soldiers with jobs and families. It would be nice for them to have that time with their family, especially considering the time that we were gone. You miss a big chunk of life.”
In a House hearing, Kline told Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about the hardship the new rule would cause, and later met with him again on the subject.
The bill received overwhelming congressional support.
“It’s not really about the money,” Schlenvogt said. “It’s about time with family. People talk about the effect of deployment on military families…”
“For me, that three weeks is time with my 2-year-old that I certainly could have made great use of,” Smith interjected.
Don Davis contributed to this story. Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Pine Journal.