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Courtney among lawmakers pressuring Trump administration to extend National Guard mobilizations

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney is among a bipartisan group of more than 70 lawmakers calling on the Pentagon to extend the mobilization of National Guard troops, who have been crucial to states’ responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

In late March, the Trump administration authorized the deployment of the National Guard under a federal mission known as Title 32. Under this status, the federal government funds the Guardsmen's pay and benefits but they are under the control of the governors.

More than 40,000 National Guardsmen have been mobilized. The number of Connecticut National Guardsmen currently mobilized is 794, but was nearly 900 earlier in the pandemic.

The Trump administration is planning to end these mobilizations on June 24, just one day shy of the 90-day threshold to qualify for early retirement and education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI bill, Politico reported this week.

“While we hope this is a coincidence, not policy, we request an explanation of the choice of expiration date,” the lawmakers wrote in a May 20 letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. “To battle this unprecedented crisis, we asked our neighbors in uniform to serve our nation in its time of need, and we hope the department has not — and will not — nickel-and-dime its soldiers and airmen.”

Capt. David Pytlik, spokesman for the Connecticut National Guard, said extending the mobilization past June 24 “would help us rapidly get into action to respond to any subsequent outbreaks.”

In Connecticut, the National Guard, in coordination with the state Department of Public Health, has aided in the inspection of nursing homes, distributed personal protective equipment and testing kits, set up mobile field hospitals across the state to prepare for a surge of coronavirus patients, conducted mobile COVID-19 testing, namely for those with little or no access to transportation, and advised the Mohegan Tribe with its plan to reopen Mohegan Sun.

“The National Guard has been Connecticut’s Swiss Army knife,” said Courtney, D-2nd District. “It’s clear there’s more work to be done after June 24.”

Congress has yet to receive an explanation from the Trump administration for the “hard stop” on June 24, Courtney said Friday morning. 

Politico reported that, in response to pressure from the lawmakers, the Trump administration is considering extending the mobilization through July.

But if that doesn’t happen, Courtney said the annual defense policy bill, which the U.S. House Armed Services Committee is expected to take up next month, could be a way to send a “strong signal” to the Trump administration about Congress’ intention.

Courtney said this approach has worked in the past. When the Trump administration tried to restrict post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits for family dependents of service members with more than 16 years of service, Courtney authored an amendment to the fiscal year 2020 defense policy bill to prevent the administration for doing so, which was successful.

j.bergman@theday.com

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