by Scott Goldberg
When they came home from Iraq, 2,600 members of the Minnesota National Guard had been deployed longer than any other ground combat unit.
The tour lasted 22 months and had been extended as part of President Bush's surge.
1st Lt. Jon Anderson said he never expected to come home to this: A government refusing to pay education benefits he says he should have earned under the GI bill.
"It's pretty much a slap in the face," Anderson said. "I think it was a scheme to save money, personally. I think it was a leadership failure by the senior Washington leadership, once again failing the soldiers."
Anderson's orders, and the orders of 1,161 other Minnesota guard members, were written for 729 days.
Had they been written for 730 days, just one day more, the soldiers would receive those benefits to pay for school.
"Which would be allowing the soldiers an extra $500 to $800 a month," Anderson said.
That money would help him pay for his master's degree in public administration.
It would help Anderson's fellow platoon leader, John Hobot, pay for a degree in law enforcement.
"I would assume, and I would hope, that when I get back from a deployment of 22 months, my senior leadership in Washington, the leadership that extended us in the first place, would take care of us once we got home," Hobot said.
Both Hobot and Anderson believe the Pentagon deliberately wrote orders for 729 days instead of 730.
Now six of Minnesota's members of the House of Representatives have asked the Secretary of the Army to look into it.
So have Senators Amy Klobuchar and Norm Coleman.
Klobuchar said the GI money "shouldn't be tied up in red tape," and Coleman said it's "simply irresponsible to deny education benefits to those soldiers who just completed the longest tour of duty of any unit in Iraq."
Anderson said the soldiers he oversaw in his platoon expected that money to be here when they come home.
"I had 23 guys under my command," Anderson said. "I promised to take care of them. And I'm not going to end taking care of them when this deployment is over, and it's not over until this is solved."
The Army did not respond questions Tuesday afternoon.
Senators Klobuchar and Coleman released a joint statement saying the Army secretary, Pete Geren, is looking into this personally, and they say Geren asked a review board to expedite its review so the matter could be solved by next semester.
Minnesota National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Kevin Olson said the soldiers are "victims of a significant injustice."