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Monday, September 28, 2009

Obama defies Palin to cut off benefits for Alaska service members

In January of this year, after learning that the president was going to cut off retirement pay to a select group of individuals who had been members of the alaska Territorial Guard, then governor Sarah Palin sent a letter to the president:

Dear Mr. President:

It was with great concern that I learned of the recent decision by the Department of Defense to rescind the program that currently provides retirement payments to veterans of Alaska's Territorial Guard (ATG). This unfortunate decision was made without any notice to those affected and will cost a group of elderly Alaska veterans a significant portion of their retirement income at a time when the cost of living, particularly in rural Alaska, is substantially higher than in the rest of the United States.

In 2004, Congress fully vetted this issue and decided that service in the ATG was the same as military service. This is the right and proper way to honor these brave individuals who answered the call of duty during times of great national peril.

Prior to World War II, Alaska's territorial Governor was authorized by Congress to organize a two-branch military response organization - the organized National Guard, and the ATG, which would mobilize to help defend Alaskans in the event of an invasion. An estimated 6,600 men and women, mostly Alaska Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts, responded to that calL Instead of hunting, trapping and fishing, they patrolled rural Alaska and served as the eyes and ears of the Army for more than five years without pay and benefits.

It took our nation almost 60 years to have these defenders of our territory honored for their time in the ATG, and for their service to be counted the same as federal military service. While most died waiting for their recognition, some have survived to receive their honorable discharge from the United States Army.

Now they are being told, again, that their ATG service is not worthy of federal recognition, and that is not right.

These people are our heroes.

The stellar service of these mostly rural, mostly Native, soldiers is to Alaska today what the service of the militia at Lexington and Concord was to New England.

I urge you to remember all that these valiant members of the ATG sacrificed while defending this country and ask that you reconsider this decision and immediately reinstate the retirement benefits that Congress already recognized in 2004 and that these heroes have certainly earned.

Thank you for considering my views.

Sarah Palin

Senators Murkowski and Begich helped to define service for active duty, and as a stop gap measure, the Territorial Guard vets would continue to receive their retirement payments from an emergency fund until congressional legislation could define their service and help them to continue to receive benefits.

I can't help but wonder if our fine president has a vendetta against our state, and Sarah Palin, when he does some of the things he does. Now comes this article from the Anchorage Daily News:

Senators fight for Guardsmen's war pension

PROTECTED SHORES: 26 members of Territorial Guard could lose funds.

WASHINGTON -- In a strongly worded message to Congress outlining presidential priorities for a military spending bill, the Obama administration said Friday it disapproved of including money for pensions for 26 elderly members of the World War II-era Alaska Territorial Guard.

The White House move drew swift rebuke from the state's two senators, Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Mark Begich, who had together sponsored the pension fix.

The legislation honors 26 elderly Alaskans who are the few remaining survivors of a military unit that served the country with valor, Murkowski said, calling the administration's direction "deeply disappointing, bordering on insensitive."

A Senate military spending bill up for a vote in the Senate allows the former Guard members to count their service as part of active military duty, and it reinstates the pension payments.

State lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year to fill the pay gap until Congress made a permanent fix, but the White House said Friday it didn't think it was "appropriate to establish a precedent of treating service performed by a state employee as active duty for purposes of the computation of retired pay."

"We are talking about 26 brave, elderly Alaska Natives who served honorably for this country during World War II," Begich said in a statement. "I, frankly, find it puzzling how the administration could object to giving these men the recognition they deserve. The federal government deserted these men at the end of the war, and I hope the Congress and my colleagues in the Senate won't let that happen again."

Murkowski doesn't appreciate the apparent minimization of Alaska's Guardsmen during the war.

"The administration's justification, which is that the legislation will set the precedent of treating service as a state employee as federal service, defies logic and history," Murkowski said in a statement. "Sixty-two years after the Territorial Guard was disbanded, the Obama administration minimizes the contribution of this gallant unit to America's success in World War II by calling its service 'state service.' "

The Guardsmen are among those assigned to protect Alaska from the Japanese during World War II. The Army decided this year it would no longer count service in the Guard when it calculates the military's 20-year minimum for retirement pay -- although it still counts for military benefits. As a result, those eligible for pensions saw them decreased in January.

An estimated 300 members are still living from the original 6,600-member unit formed in 1942 to protect Alaska, then a territory, from attack. The 26 men have enough other military service to reach the 20-year minimum for retirement pay but would see it decreased if their Territorial Guard service doesn't count.

The Senate is set to vote next week on the defense spending bill. The Obama administration objected to a number of items in the legislation other than the territorial pensions. They include the decision by the Senate to provide money for what the White House described as "10 unrequested C-17 airlift aircraft" and the decision to cut $900 million in funding for the war in Afghanistan.

Alaskool.com defined this group very well: The Alaska Territorial Guard was formed to allow the United States the means to identify further potential incursions of the Japanese in Alaska along the vast coastline of the territory. There was some initial controversy in recruiting and arming Alaska Natives as at the time there was legal and social segregation by race across Alaska. The participation of Alaska Natives in the military during World War II, in spite of these bitter circumstances, speaks well of the patriotism and hopefulness of that generation of Alaska Natives.

The cutting off of benefits for these men is totally uncalled for and unnecessary. These 26 men and the men who served with them are heroes. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, many measures were taken to protect the United States mainland. The Aleutian Islands of Attu and Adak were battlegrounds and American servicemen were brought to Alaska to help defend it. The Alaskan Highway (Alcan) was built mainly for purposes of bringing men and materials to Alaska to help defend it. Alaska's Territorial Guard was a big part of this effort. Alaskan Native men were very prepared for the climate and it's challenges and proved invaluable to the cause. It is unconscionable that the Obama Adminstration is thinking of denying these men what little financial security they have left after their brave service.

Please follow these links and check out the video to learn more about this brave group of men who deserve better than what they are receiving from our current administration.

The Alaska Territorial Guard on Wikipedia

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