CNN: 'Day short' troops now 'fighting the Army they served'
The 2600 members of a Minnesota National Guard unit that returned from Iraq in July after serving there longer than any other ground combat unit were shocked to be told that their total time overseas of 729 days was one day short of the number needed to be eligible for expanded educational benefits under the GI Bill. Many of the soldiers wondered if this was done deliberately and they and Minnesota's senators asked the Secretary of the Army to look into it.
1st Lieut. John Hobot, a spokesman for the unit, told CNN on Monday that he believes it was simply a bureaucratic mixup, saying, "There's people that got off the same plane from Iraq ... and their orders read 730 days, whereas 1162 soldiers' orders say 729. These guys did the same exact tour." Hobot just wants the Army to fix the orders so that the soldiers, some of whom are already back in school, can receive the additional $500 to $800 a month.
The Army has announced that it is trying to get to the bottom of the matter and may ask for a legislative clarification to the criteria for GI Bill benefits. Hobot agreed that a change in the law might prevent the problem from recurring in the future but said it won't help his troops now. "We've been back 90 days as of tomorrow and it hasn't gotten fixed. And they keep telling us that they're fixing it."
CNN then asked Lieut. Col. Darryl Darden at the Pentagon what was taking so long. Darden praised Hobot for looking out for his men and said, "We know there has been an injustice and we have put together a process ... to seek redress for this bureaucratic mixup. ... We believe that by January 8 they should be able to receive their benefits."
When asked again why the soldiers couldn't receive the money now, when they need it for their college expenses, and why the orders can't be fixed without each case being reviewed individually, Darden insisted, "You've got some of the greatest minds up here working the issue. ... The best course of action is for each one of these soldiers to go through this board."
The following video is from ABC's Good Morning America, broadcast on October 10, 2007.