Pentagon Fails to Suppor Our Troops

From Holden:

This is unbefuckingleiveable! The Pentagon is laying-off 70 Florida National Guardsmen currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan in a cost-cutting measure (made necessary by Chimpy’s endless wars) that will end a successful drug interdiction/port security project. If the Guardsmen had been working for a private employer their firing would be illegal. But since they are working for the federal government, anything goes.

Amid the chaos of war, Sgt. Roberto Orozco and about 35 other members of the Florida National Guard sent to Iraq relied on what they knew for certain: their military training, the love of their families and their government jobs back home.

Then one day in the combat zone, the men got a letter. When they returned home, the letter read, their jobs as full-time members of the Guard assigned to a federal drug interdiction program would be gone.

“We got shafted,” said Orozco, 43, a Miami father of three. “We come home from war, and this is what we get.”

[snip]

Indeed, had the soldiers worked for a civilian firm, and not for the federal government, they might have been covered by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which protects reservists from discrimination and job loss when called to active duty.

With years of service, most of the soldiers assigned to Operation Guardian made $38,000 to $48,000 a year.Most are married, have children, and are in their 30s or 40s.

Lt. Col. Kevin Steverson, head of the Florida National Guard’s counter-drug program, said he understands the soldiers’ anger. “The timing for these soldiers and airmen was not good,” Steverson said in an e-mail. “I sympathize with their frustrations.”

The letters, dated Jan. 12, 2004, informed the guardsmen that their jobs “are not militarily unique and are therefore better performed by other agencies.”

The letter then referred them to several job placement Web sites before concluding, “You are constantly in our thoughts; rest assured that every decision we make is with our Counterdrug deployed soldiers and airmen in mind.”

[snip]

“It worried the hell out of me over there, going home and not having a job,” said Sgt. Fermin Jimenez, 43, a Miami Lakes father of two who in 15 years with Operation Guardian worked at Port Everglades and the Miami airport. He was in Baghdad with the 124th Infantry Regiment when his letter arrived.

Sgt. Rolando Abreu was in Tikrit, Iraq, serving as a supply clerk with the 743rd Maintenance Company, based in Fort Lauderdale, when he heard.

“Getting that news, like, wow,” said Abreu, 33, a Hialeah resident whose name is misspelled on the letter addressed to him.

“It was a shock, but I said, `Let me worry about that when I get there.’ My first concern was getting out of Iraq.”

Operation Guardian began in 1989, a $40 million federal program which for the first time used full-time National Guard members in several states to combat large-scale drug trafficking.

With $3.4 million, the biggest single share of the budget, the Florida National Guard assigned 100 soldiers to work with U.S. Customs agents searching cargo and mail at airports and seaports in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

In only its second month of operation, guardsmen at Miami International Airport turned up 385 pounds of cocaine on flights from Guatemala and Panama.

[snip]

But as military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan intensified, the U.S. Department of Defense looked for ways to trim the budget at home. A $2.5 million budget cutback in 2002 led to the layoffs of 70 Guard members. Finally, in September, the Pentagon announced that drug fighting was better left to other federal, state and local agencies, and Operation Guardian was shut down.