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Virgin Islands Deployed about 700 Guardsmen in Support of the War National Guard Pay Not Seen as Problem Here



by Don Buchanan
St. Thomas Source

March 22, 2005 - Fifty-one Virgin Islanders are presently serving in Iraq and 18 in Afghanistan, according to Eddy Charles, adjutant general of the V.I. National Guard.

He expects them to be back home in October.

Most of the troops left in December, spending time stateside for training before being deployed overseas.

A recent editorial in the New York Times questioned whether soldiers in the National Guard, such as the V.I. soldiers, were paid as fairly as full-time servicemen. The Times urged Congress to pass a bill forcing the federal government to pay National Guardsmen, who are called away from their government jobs, the disparity between what they earn in the National Guard with what they were earning while working for the federal government.

Charles doesn't see this as a major concern. He said Thursday, "We are soldiers. We joined to serve. We did not expect to take our civilian salaries over there with us." He said for the government to make up the disparity in pay would be a burden on the taxpayer. The Time's editorial estimates the cost of the bill with 60,000 federal workers now called to service at $2 billion.

However, Charles added that some action by the federal government would "enhance recruiting efforts" which he said were becoming a challenge. "Recruiting is a challenge for all the services right now, but the V.I. National Guard will reach its goals," he said.

Many private companies make up the difference between what a National Guardsman makes in the National Guard and what he or she had been making in civilian life.

Charles commented, "Some businesses are just too small, they can't afford to do it."

The bill before Congress would also offer tax break to companies that pay the difference between the activated soldiers' military pay and the salaries they drew in civilian life.

When the members of the 652nd Engineer Detachment left the Virgin Islands last December, many thought the deployment would be for 18 months.

The engineer's unit's job is to construct houses and help with the rebuilding in the war-torn counties.

The 652nd was the fourth V.I. National Guard unit to be deployed since the U.S. invasion of the Middle East began. The 661st MP unit was deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Both the 631st Engineer Detachment and the 620th Water Purification unit have been to Afghanistan.

The Virgin Islands has about 700 National Guard personnel, more than 47 percent –– a higher than average percentage –– have been deployed to the "theater."

Charles said there is no disparity in pay between services. He said, "A sergeant is a sergeant no matter what service he is in, and gets paid like it."

http://www.onepaper.com/stthomasvi/?v=d&i=&s=News:Local&p=1105682800