Daniel Slone for USMilitary.com
I’m no fan of politics, but let’s face it: pretty much any group that has any sort of special interest has someone in Washington pleading their case in the halls of the Capitol on a daily basis (well, except for all those recesses Congress seems to constantly take). Military service members both current and past have interests, too, and in these days of budget cuts I consider it foolhardy to blithely assume anything is sacred.
In the decade after 9/11, with one and then two wars being fought in Southwest Asia, Congress was tripping over itself in its haste to add benefits for service members. Enhancements to combat and other special pays, improved education benefits in the form of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, better leave benefits, earlier retirement pay for reserve component members who deploy, and a string of other goodies flowed out of Congress over the years.
Today the war in Iraq is over and the end is clearly in sight for the one in Afghanistan. The ongoing fight there gets minimal press coverage, and Senate Democrats have already written the cost savings from ending the war into their current budget plan. Suddenly it has become clear that voters want attention paid to the national budget and the series of yawning deficits we have run. Thinking to use the threat of the unthinkable to force action, Congress painted itself into a corner at the beginning of 2013 by avoiding the fiscal cliff but simultaneously creating sequestration. The time to act and prevent mandatory across-the-board spending cuts came and went, and now here we are.
It was in this environment that I recently attended the annual Louisiana National Guard Enlisted Association (LANGEA) banquet and conference. Ironically enough, it was during the Joint Senior Enlisted Workshop that preceded the conference that the senior enlisted advisor for the Louisiana Army National Guard read from his BlackBerry the news that Army tuition assistance had just been axed. While the various veterans’ organizations (the VFW and American Legion foremost among them) and the military professional organizations (AUSA, the Association of the United States Army, is the largest of the Army groups) spend considerable time and effort protecting veterans’ and service members’ benefits, there are others hard at work as well.
The parent organization of LANGEA is the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States (EANGUS). It represents both the Army National Guard and Air National Guard forces throughout the country. EANGUS was first organized in 1970 in South Dakota by a group of senior noncommissioned officers and subsequently incorporated in Mississippi in 1972. (Interestingly, Mississippi today has by far the largest proportion of its National Guard force active in EANGUS of any state—roughly 85% of its Guardsmen are members.) EANGUS is now headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, so that Capitol Hill is close at hand. It is also a member of the Military Coalition, a united front composed of 35 military and veterans’ organizations that taken together represent nearly six million members.
EANGUS focuses on Army National Guard issues particularly, of course, and was part of the multi-year effort to make the Chief of the National Guard Bureau a full member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, something that was resisted by every service chief in Congressional hearings the year the bill was passed. One of its major accomplishments is Tricare Reserve Select (TRS), which is available to all drilling Guard and Reserve members. I can personally vouch for the value of this benefit; in April 2012 I was laid off, and I purchased TRS for my family as I transitioned into a new job. I assumed at the time it would be a stopgap, but as it turned out the benefits and cost of TRS were so superior to the health insurance my new company offered that I kept it.
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