I'm afraid that if I do comment, I'll throw up in disgust. All I will
say is that I'm not surprised at all.
Saturday, November 5, 2005
Guardsman re-enlists, Pentagon kills bonus
Officers from state try to restore $15,000 benefit
By SAM SKOLNIK
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
A Department of Defense decision to renege on war-time promises to pay bonuses to more than a dozen re-enlisting Washington National Guardsmen has sparked outrage from prominent elected officials and state National Guard officers working to rectify the situation.
According to a state Guard spokesman, Maj. Phil Osterli, at least 15 Washington National Guardsmen and women signed re-enlistment forms promising them a tax-free $15,000 bonus in return. Many of them were stationed in Iraq at the time, he said.
But Pentagon officials have said in published reports that the bonuses were canceled because they duplicated other programs and were prohibited.
Sgt. 1st Class Carl Latson is one of those in the Washington National Guard directly affected. The Spanaway man, a 13-year military veteran who said he has served both in Operation Desert Storm and in the current Iraq war, re-enlisted in January for another six-year term, which would have taken him close to retirement from the service.
Latson, 35, said Friday that the bonus was a big incentive to re-enlist. At the time it was offered, he was serving in Iraq as an enlisted aide for a general at the Balad Army base near Baghdad.
He signed a re-enlistment form Jan. 17, just after he took the oath from his commanding officer. "For a 6 year reenlistment/extension I will receive a total bonus of $15,000," reads the official Army National Guard form.
After serving two years active duty with the Navy and the last 11 years with the National Guard, Latson said, "I re-enlisted because the opportunity was there to finally get a bonus."
Latson, who served in Iraq most recently from March 2004 to March 2005, said he has been counting on the money to help buy a house and to support his 11-year-old daughter. He said he knows at least 10 other National Guardsmen in the same boat.
"It has made a significant impact on my life," said Latson. "For them to offer a bonus when we're at war, when we're risking our lives, and then to turn around and not pay it when we return is the wrong message to send to me, to any soldier. It's not fair."
The state Guard is fighting the Pentagon's sudden reversal on the issue. Osterli said the state Guard's recruiting and retention commander, Maj. John Sharrett, is in Washington, D.C., arguing to National Guard and Pentagon brass that the reversal is unwise and unfair.
"We're clearly concerned about this issue and want to make sure these soldiers get what they deserve," said Osterli.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is also lobbying Pentagon officials. She first learned that the bonus program had been scrapped this summer, according to The News Tribune of Tacoma. She has since written officials with the National Guard Bureau demanding an explanation.
Latson has retained a lawyer, Mark Clausen of Seattle. Clausen said that for now he's working "up the chain of command" of the locally based military to see if he can find relief for his client that way, before pursuing other legal remedies.
He began by sending a letter this week to Col. Michael McCaffree of the 81st Brigade Combat Team at Camp Murray in Tacoma, Latson's unit. The letter was copied to 14 other officers in Seattle and Tacoma.
A Pentagon spokesman declined comment Friday.
Latson said that regardless of whether he gets the money promised him, he's made one decision. He plans to quit the military long before retirement age.
"I'm to the point now where I want to get out," he said. "I'm just really disappointed."