We all saw the beefed-up security as our oft-maligned “weekend warriors” (damn but I hated that phrase) stepped forth after September 11, 2001, and provided a comforting BDU-clad presence at airports and other facilities.
Now, some of those troops want a little payback for their time on the clock.
A group of National Guard soldiers who were ordered to protect possible targets after the Sept. 11 attacks sued the state and federal governments Wednesday, seeking tens of millions of dollars in living expenses they say were never reimbursed.
The soldiers, who are from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, say they traveled hundreds of miles to security postings — such as Quabbin Reservoir, the Boston area’s primary water supply — and used their own money for gas, food and lodging, expecting to be paid back.
But the soldiers say in their complaint that their requests for compensation were repeatedly denied until they were told by their commanding officers that they could be taken off their missions if they didn’t stop asking for reimbursement. The response, they said, had a “chilling effect.”
“Plaintiffs concluded they could not seek the … reimbursement compensation they felt they were owed, without extreme and negative repercussions on their military careers,” the complaint reads.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court by four soldiers, but it seeks to include hundreds of other guardsmen as a class action. It names the U.S. Department of Defense and the Massachusetts National Guard and seeks a total of $73 million in unpaid expenses.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Defense Department referred calls to the Justice Department, where spokesman Charles Miller declined to comment until after the agency reviews the lawsuit.
The Massachusetts National Guard was investigating the allegations and had no immediate comment, said spokesman Major Winfield Danielson.
I initially scoffed at this news, assuming that tales of individual woe were self-inflicted and that alternative but less preferable transportation, lodging and foodage were available but declined. I often took financial losses on drill weekends by choosing a hotel over a cot at the armory just for the sake of creature comforts and booze, so I had little sympathy for the soldiers involved … until I stumbled across the following in the story, the third article I’d read on the matter while trying to find details.
The plaintiffs say that if the soldiers had been reimbursed properly, the state would have paid out tens of thousands of dollars per day in expenses, based on a minimum of $126 per day for every soldier in the roughly 320 Guard jobs involved in the mission.
The plaintiffs multiplied that daily cost by the 1,570 days of the post-Sept. 11 mission to get the $73 million estimate, said John Shek, their attorney.
The suit says federal law provides military personnel with meals and travel allowance while away from home on active duty. But Massachusetts guardsmen received orders that read: “Government quarters not available; … government meals are not available; … per diem: not authorized.”
Shek said he knew of no other state where similar orders were given.
If true, there’s a whole lot of explaining or paying needed.