Dear Secretary Gates:
We're writing about the plan to eliminate the designation of the Balkans and Kosovo as Combat Zones as April 1. We have significant concerns about how this mid-rotation designation change will affect the Army National Guard soldiers - including approximately 500 Massachusetts soldiers - who are serving in this region. Recent reports of continued violence make this issue especially pressing.
The loss of Imminent Danger Pay as a result of the designation will have a serious effect on the National Guard members' families. Currently, these service members are receiving an additional $225 a month in Imminent Danger Pay and have budgeted in accord with this allowance. These families are already under considerable financial strain because of the deployments, and the loss of the pay will impose an even more significant burden.
The change in designation also means that these National Guard members will lose their combat zone tax exclusion for their active duty pay; their re-enlistment bonus; their leave pay; and other entitlements. Making these changes in the middle of their deployment will make matters worse for members of the National Guard and their families at home. When our soldiers began this deployment they assumed that their pay and benefits would be commensurate with their sacrifice. Reducing their benefits when their commitment remains the same is very likely to undermine their morale as well.
We understand that your Office is conducting a review to determine whether or not the Balkans and Kosovo continue to justify Combat Zone designation. We ask that no change of designation be made during the current rotation. Thank you for considering our request.
With respect and appreciation,