California Guard Exhibits Bureaucracy at its Worst

By Curtis Hendel

After the War on Terror began in late 2001 there wasn’t much talk of manpower shortages until after the Invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Suddenly we were at war in two countries and neither was looking to be over with soon.  As the insurgency in Iraq ramped up it was obvious that the National Guard was going to play a large role in this operation.

Guard units continued to be activated across the country, with many serving in support roles behind the lines.  Others, including those with Special Forces units attached, led the fight around the globe.  It became apparent to National Guard higher ups that retention could become an issue in the future.

During the years of 2006 and 2007 mass meetings were held in California, the state with one of the largest National Guard concentrations, to advise soldiers of a very nice retention bonus program that would apply to many of them.  The bonuses were up front money and thousands of National Guard Soldiers in California took the bait.  For their bonuses many were deployed to the war zones, some multiple times.  Of those many served in combat zones, risking their lives when they could have been back home living the easy life.

Now, a decade later, the Pentagon is reneging on many of the recruitment bonuses, demanding that solders pay back the money.  There are over 9,700 in California alone, the state that issued the most bonuses and is accused by the Pentagon of fraud.  In 2011, Army Master Sergeant Toni Jaffe plead guilty to filing false claims as the California Guard Incentive Manager.  Sgt Jaffe was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

The victims of this crime, more than the taxpayers, are those that took the bonuses and reenlisted.  Now these soldiers are being threatened with debt collection actions and are being charged interest, facing wage garnishment and other humiliating legal actions.  Many have had these sudden delinquencies put on their credit reports, ruining their chances for home loans and other credit.  Most of all, some of these Soldiers did return combat tours in the war zone and could easily have been killed in action.  They wrote that check to reup on the premise that Uncle Sam appreciated them enough to kick out a bonus.

Let’s face it, not all of the military is great.  When you pass up the operational aspects and get to the bureaucratic bean counters you find those that spend more time worrying about themselves than their troops.  The extra bonuses weren’t kicked out to be kind, they were kicked out to make quotas.  And half of the politicians in the grinder are only covering their own sixes also.

In the end, the bonus program happened nine and ten years ago, it is time to find the bureaucrats that messed this thing up and leave the soldiers alone.  They are the ones risking life and limb.  They have paid their dues in blood and sweat and deployments to nasty places.  And anyone that thinks that military pay is great should check into more facts also.  Bonuses from $10,000 to $20,000 are a powerful weapon when dealing with young people who are setting up their lives and both working civilian careers and military careers.

The only reason this is happening is because the current administration is cutting active duty military personnel in the worst possible places, mid range NCOs and Commissioned Officers, the heart of the leadership.  Morale in the military is suffering enough without the Pentagon going after common service members for something they though was a good bonus.

All of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines deserve much better treatment than this.  We owe them better.