Compensate Guard members

Walking through Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport these days is an experience. Most things haven’t changed; Chili’s restaurant, newsstands, Wilson’s Leather, fast food places, apprehensive travelers and long lines are all still there.

But so are M-16 assault rifles, slung over the shoulders of camouflage-clad members of the Minnesota National Guard. Gov. Jesse Ventura called up the guard members last month, as did almost every other governor, at the urging of President George W. Bush. But because Bush didn’t issue the order himself, many of these soldiers could be financially devastated if something isn’t done soon.

The law currently requires guard members’ compensation while on active duty to be comparable to their civilian pay only if the president activates them. Since their respective governors activated them, the soldiers are out of luck. And many might soon be out of time. Though they put their lives on hold for this mission, the rest of the world cannot afford to do the same, meaning guard members’ mortgages, rent payments, credit card or loan debts and civil or divorce litigation are continuing. Under the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act of 1940, these things would be taken care of, had the President issued the order calling them to service.

Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn, introduced legislation last month that would amend the act to include military personnel called up by their governors at the urging of the president. The Senate and House should pass this act immediately and give some relief to those who have volunteered their service. According to the Star Tribune, Wellstone’s bill would make eviction of Guard members from rental or mortgaged property illegal, prohibit lenders from charging more than six percent on existing loans and postpone civil action against the soldiers until they are taken off active duty.

But since Wellstone introduced the bill on Nov. 13, it has been in the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Considering the speed with which Congress authorized the $20 billion airline bailout package – a move that didn’t prevent the carriers from laying off more than 100,000 people – there is no reason this bill shouldn’t quickly make it through both houses. It is much cheaper and will have a greater effect on those at whom it is targeted.

Wellstone’s bill is a recruiting tool. It will not provide undue compensation to anyone, nor will it misspend money. The bill is a simple amendment to a law in dire need of amending.

The guard members at our airports have volunteered their time to safeguard what many now feel is a dangerous place. And some have done so at considerable personal sacrifice. Making sure they have a home they can return to is the least we can do.