Seeing Red for the Holidays
At holiday time, it’s traditional for many of us to see red: Santa’s clothing, poinsettia plants, and—my personal favorite—Target red. This holiday season, however, we should all be seeing red of a different sort—as in Mars red, angry red, rising-blood-pressure-induced red. I am speaking of the Minnesota National Guard First Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division, otherwise known as the Red Bulls.
Santa, I know you hear many unbelievable stories, but you’ve never heard a story like this. The Red Bulls have served in Iraq about 30 days longer than any other unit. Half of the First Brigade Combat Team heroes—about 1,162 soldiers—have been informed that despite their extended tour of duty, they are not eligible for enhanced educational benefits. To qualify for these benefits under Chapter 30 of the Montgomery GI Bill, active duty orders must indicate a minimum number of 730 days of active duty. Someone who cannot now be identified, but who I am going to call the Grinch, wrote orders for these soldiers of 729 days, one day short of the Chapter 30 requirement. Consequently, these soldiers will receive hundreds of dollars less per month in educational benefits.
All the usual suspects—senators, congressmen, Pentagon officials, the Army, officials from the office of the Secretary of Defense, and many others—agree that this situation is a classic example of SNAFU (you can ask one of your elves what the acronym stands for).
We have tried to maintain our military engagement on the cheap, and shorting the Red Bulls’ education benefits is just the most recent example. The deplorable conditions that we have allowed to exist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and at veterans hospitals in general, and the hundreds of thousands of homeless veterans who are denied continued medical benefits, are other examples of trying to wage war on the cheap. These policies have made the cost of war appear less expensive than it is.
So we are writing to you, Santa, because there is nowhere else to turn. The usual politicians of all parties have made the usual promises to solve the problem for the Red Bulls. Legislation has been co-authored by Senators Amy Klobuchar and Norm Coleman. Congress has gotten into the act—particularly Congressman Tim Walz, a former Command Sergeant Major with the Army National Guard. The Department of Defense has dispatched an expert to work on this problem and there have even been several Congressional hearings. But the Army Board of Corrections denied a single filing on behalf of all 1,162 heroes, and is requiring them to apply individually.
I’m writing to you, Santa—and perhaps I’ll send a copy to the Tooth Fairy—because this is the best chance that those who have followed orders and defended our country will be treated fairly. While you’re at it, do something about those veterans hospitals, too.
Someday, perhaps the holiday season can be celebrated by all Americans, secure in the knowledge that we have treated all those who protect us fairly and in the spirit of the holidays.
Vance K. Opperman