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Preparing for Guard members’ return

Published (1/14/2011)
By Sue Hegarty
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Brig. Gen. Joe Kelly, assistant adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, left, tells the House Veterans Services Division that all soldiers take two oaths when sworn into the Minnesota National Guard: one to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the other to uphold the state constitution. (Photo by Tom Olmscheid)Helping returning Minnesota National Guard and Reserve members adjust to their lives back home will be at the forefront of the House Veterans Services Division this session.

The 13 division members, many of whom are veterans, oversee proposed funding and legislation that would affect the 13,665 soldiers who serve in either the Air National Guard or the Army National Guard.

Brig. Gen. Joe Kelly, assistant adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard and deputy commissioner for the Department of Military Affairs, said Jan. 10 that personnel used to be called “weekend warriors,” but that distinction is no longer valid. More than 2,800 members are preparing to help with the proposed final withdrawal of armed forces in places such as Kuwait and Iraq, Kelly said. For some of these soldiers, it will be their fourth or fifth deployment.

When soldiers return, they need an “off ramp” such as the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program, which began as a Minnesota pilot program and expanded to the U.S. Department of Defense, Kelly said. But paying for increased services or continuing to exempt veterans from taxes and fees could prove difficult with the state facing a projected $6.2 billion budget deficit.

“It’s going to be tough,” said Division Chairman Bruce Anderson (R-Buffalo Township), who retired from the Guard last March.

In addition to $400 million in federal funds, the Guard receives $20 million from the state, which is used to pay personnel; operate 63 training centers, two air bases, two army training sites and 11 family readiness centers; and to help in domestic crises, such as natural disasters and helping find lost people.

No action was taken.

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