FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 8, 2007
Kagen Leads Group of House Colleagues In Letter To Sec. Gates: Maintain Combat Certification For Soldiers Serving In Kosovo
(Washington, D.C.) U.S. Congressman Steve Kagen is fighting efforts by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to strip U.S. forces serving in Kosovo of their combat status.
A Department of Defense proposal to reclassify the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo as a “non-combat” mission would result in soldiers losing combat pay as well as the federal payroll tax exemption afforded to soldiers serving in combat zones.
This proposal would cost individual soldiers thousands of dollars, resulting in undue financial hardships for them and their families. Kagen joined fellow Congressman Tim Walz to lead an effort in the U.S. House to oppose the DOD proposal.
Walz and Kagen sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates urging him to drop the proposal. “With a strong show of opposition from Members of Congress the Pentagon will drop this idea – and we are organizing that opposition,” Kagen said.
The DOD proposal would affect more than 1,500 U.S. soldiers currently serving in Kosovo, in addition to over 92 Wisconsin National Guardsmen deployed to Kosovo to assist in peacekeeping operations.
The DOD proposal would consider Kosovo a non-combat mission despite the fact that troops face “rising tensions in the Balkans over Kosovo’s ongoing bid for independence and frequent U.S. missions that involve dangerous interdictions of smuggling rings, raids on armed extremist groups and encounters with improvised bombs,” the Washington Post reported recently.
“The men and women of the Wisconsin National Guard answered a call to leave their civilian jobs for active duty service. This meant a pay cut for many of these soldiers. Reclassification of their mission will lead to an even deeper pay cut and impose severe financial hardships on many of our National Guard soldiers and their families. This decision will be devastating for troop morale,” said Kagen.
“Kosovo is still a very dangerous place, and it’s revealing that the State Department’s assessment is quite different than that of the Department of Defense. Foreign service officers earn hazardous duty pay when they are assigned to Kosovo. In addition to the terrible ethnic unrest there, the country is rife with land mines and other unexploded munitions,” said Congressman Walz. “Ensuring that this mission remains classified as a combat mission is about more than an extra $225 in monthly pay for our soldiers – it is about doing right by those who risk their lives in defense of our country.”
The Washington Post reports that “top military officers in Europe have officially disagreed [with the proposal to remove combat status,] but they have been told the change could come as early as April 1.”
If the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo is reclassified, Wisconsin National Guard soldiers would face the following loss in combat benefits:
- $225 monthly combat pay
- Exemption from federal payroll taxes
- Free R&R flights home during their official leave periods
- Ability to apply for subsidized loans
- A possible loss of hazardous duty location pay
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