Sens. Murkowski and Begich Gain Victory for Alaska Territorial Guard
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States Senate voted tonight to restore military retirement benefits to approximately 26 Alaska Territorial Guard (ATG) members whose service in the ATG was considered active duty service until the Defense Department reversed its position on the issue earlier this year, announced U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
The Senate agreed by unanimous consent to adopt the ATG amendment as part of a $679.8 billion defense authorization bill for Fiscal Year 2010, which begins Oct. 1. The bill passed the Senate 87 to 7.
The amendment, offered by Alaska Sen. Mark Begich and Murkowski, is similar to the bill that Murkowski and Begich introduced earlier this year when the Defense Department abruptly announced that it had changed its mind on the legality of counting Alaska Territorial Guard service during World War II as active duty service for military retirement.
In the wake of protests by Murkowski on the Senate floor this past January, the Secretary of the Army agreed to extend the benefits which were to have been discontinued at the end of January through April 2009. The Alaska Legislature subsequently passed legislation authorizing the benefits to be paid from state funds until February 2010.
The Begich-Murkowski amendment must still survive the deliberations of a House-Senate conference committee, but if it is remains in the defense authorization bill that goes to the President, the federal government could once again be paying retirement benefits to the surviving Alaska Territorial Guard members as early as October 1, 2009.
Murkowski has also asked the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to include the benefits restoration in the Senate version of the Defense Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2010 should the House of Representatives take the provision out in the authorization conference.
“With the passage of time, people forget that Alaska was invaded by Japanese forces while elements of the regular military were engaged elsewhere,” Murkowski said. “The Alaska Territorial Guard was our primary defense against further incursions into our Great Land. The members of the Alaska Territorial Guard agreed to put their lives on the line to defend Alaska. Their sacrifice and commitment to the defense of America was no less significant than that of our active duty forces. It is appropriate that our Nation honor their service by restoring their retirement benefits.”
No former member of the Alaska Territorial Guard earned his military retirement pay solely through service in the Territorial Guard. Many remained in the military after their Territorial Guard service ended and earned the right to retirement pay as a result of their subsequent service. The Begich-Murkowski amendment clarifies that they are entitled to receive higher retirement payments on account of their Territorial Guard service.
The defense authorization bill also authorized a number of military construction projects in Alaska. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Military Construction Subcommittee, Sen. Murkowski has already secured funding for the projects in the Fiscal Year 2010 Military Construction appropriations bill. The bill cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this month.
Following are the Alaska military construction projects authorized by tonight’s action:
Clear AFS Power Plant Facility -- $24.3million
Eielson AFB Arctic Utilidors Phase II -- $9.9 million
Eielson AFB Taxiway Lighting -- $3.45 million
Elmendorf AFB Red Flag Alaska add/alter Operations Center -- $3.1 million
Elmendorf AFB F–22 Weapons Load Training Facility -- $12.6 million
Elmendorf AFB Aeromedical Services/Mental Health Clinic -- $25 million
Fort Richardson Airborne Sustainment Training Complex -- $6.1
Fort Richardson Training AIDS Center -- $2 million
Fort Richardson Warrior in Transition Complex -- $43 million
Fort Richardson Combat Pistol Range -- $4.9 million
Fort Richardson Health Clinic -- $3.5 million
Fort Wainwright Railhead Complex -- $26 million
Fort Wainwright Aviation Unit Operations Complex -- $19 million
Fort Wainwright Aviation Task Force Complex, Phase 1 -- $125 million
Fort Wainwright Warrior in Transition Complex -- $28 million
The defense authorization bill also included several other amendments which Murkowski co-sponsored, including:
- An amendment by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, to make it easier for military members stationed abroad to vote in U.S. elections;
- An amendment by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL, to allow widows of deceased service members to simultaneously receive Survivors Benefit Plan compensation from the Defense Department and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation from the VA.