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Murkowski Appeals to President Obama to Support Restoring Retirement Benefits to Alaska Territorial Guard Members

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on Oct. 1, called on President Obama to "show some heart and do the right thing" regarding the proposed restoration of military retirement benefits to some two dozen Alaska Territorial Guard members whose World War II service in the ATG was considered active duty service until the Defense Department reversed its position on the matter earlier this year.

"I say to President Obama, personally support us in our quest to obtain justice for a few elderly Alaska Natives who once served our Nation with patriotism, with pride, and with distinction," Murkowski said in a Senate floor speech.

The Obama administration announced last week that it objected to language in the pending Fiscal Year 2010 Senate Defense Appropriations bill that would reinstate retirement benefits to members of the ATG for their service during World War II. The language was included by Murkowski and U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.

The administration said that allowing the ATG's WWII service to count as "active duty," thus qualifying them for retirement benefits, "would establish a precedent of treating service performed by a state employee as active duty for purposes of the computation of retired pay."

But Murkowski said the precedent argument "defies logic and history," and cited the Fiscal Year 2001 Defense Appropriations Act in which Congress recognized service in the ATG as active duty service. That bill required the Secretary of Defense to issue discharge certificates to each member of the ATG if it was determined that the nature and duration of the service warranted it.

"I must emphasize that no Alaska Territorial Guardsman claimed a military pension solely because of his service in the Territorial Guard," Murkowski said. "The Alaska Territorial Guard was created in 1942 and disbanded in 1947. Many members of the Tundra Army, as some called it, continued to serve in the Alaska National Guard and other units of the military. That service, combined with service in the Territorial Guard, forms the basis for the claim."

Murkowski said it was "deeply disappointing" that 62 years after the ATG was disbanded, the value of their service to the nation and to America's success in WWII has been called into question.

"Nine years have passed since the Congress determined that service in the Alaska Territorial Guard during World War II was federal service," Murkowski said. "Nine years have passed since the Secretary of Defense ordered that those brave members of the Tundra Army who remain alive are entitled to discharge certificates from the United States Army. Nine years since they were granted full federal veterans' benefits. I would suggest that it is nine years too late for the Defense Department to reopen the question of whether service in the Alaska Territorial Guard was federal service. The Congress has answered this question with finality."

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