The Pentagon has committed to paying bonuses to 2,500 Minnesota National Guard soldiers who are still owed them after a long deployment to Iraq several years ago.
Military officials told members of Minnesota's congressional delegation Monday that the Pentagon has closed a loophole that hung up payments of about $10 million in the bonuses to soldiers in Minnesota's "Red Bull" 34 Infantry Brigade. Those soldiers began a 22-month deployment in 2005 that kept them in Iraq for 16 months, the longest deployment of any infantry unit since World War II.
"We're glad this is done, but I certainly hope there's no one pounding their chest over it," said U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a Democrat from Minnesota who was one of several members of Congress to get involved in the issue. "It should have been done a long time ago."
The Pentagon acted Friday to close the loophole, which came about because the military didn't announce bonuses for extra-long deployments until January 2007. That left it unclear whether the bonuses were intended to be retroactive.
Though the military now says it is, several members of Congress from Minnesota said they're still waiting to hear when the checks will actually be cut.
"Today's news is an indicator that the bureaucracy is moving, but the congressman looks forward to getting a definitive answer ... on when the Red Bulls are finally going to receive their long overdue bonus pay," said Troy Young, spokesman for U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn. Young said Kline hoped to get the answer Wednesday from Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Walz said he expected the checks would go out "within the month."
In all, about 22,000 National Guard members nationwide may be eligible for the bonus pay, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. That will mean about $59 million in bonuses to guard members, with the $10 million chunk to Minnesota's Red Bulls the largest.
Capt. John Hobot, a spokesman for the Minnesota National Guard, said guard officials and members are pleased at the turn of events but are eager to hear exactly how and when the soldiers receive the benefit.
Klobuchar, who also worked on the issue, said it should be "as soon as possible."
"A lot of these soldiers have been waiting and waiting," Klobuchar said. "But this is a sign of good will."
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