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National Guard troops sue U.S. over pay

Four members of the Massachusetts National Guard filed a $73 million class-action lawsuit Wednesday against the U.S. military  in a dispute over compensation for on-the-job expenses like food, fuel, lodging and other costs.
/ Source: Reuters

Four members of the Massachusetts National Guard filed a $73 million class-action lawsuit Wednesday against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other military officials in a dispute over on-the-job expenses since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The lawsuit, which also names Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, appears to be the first of its kind in the U.S. Army National Guard, which has faced heavy demands since Sept. 11, 2001, lawyers involved in the case said.

The four men from Massachusetts and New Hampshire filed the suit in U.S. District Court on behalf of soldiers in about 300 jobs in the Massachusetts National Guard owed money for meals, car fuel, lodging and daily allowances, their lawyers said.

“The National Guard refused to reimburse millions of dollars to soldiers called for active duty following the 2001 terror attacks,” John Shek, counsel for the plaintiffs, said at a news conference.

“We have found that the closer we look at this the worse the situation gets.”

Officials at the National Guard were not immediately available to comment.

System for expenses
Thousands of soldiers in the Guard, a part-time force whose 440,000 members live civilian lives while doing periodic military training, were mobilized after the Sept. 11 attacks to protect airports, borders and other possible targets. Tens of thousands also have been deployed to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At the heart of the suit is the system of paying expenses to Guard troops who say they traveled hundreds of miles and paid for their own food, car fuel and lodging to perform their duties.

Shek said while National Guard soldiers across the country were paid under federal orders known as “Title 10” that included daily allowances, hundreds of troops in Massachusetts were given different orders known as “Title 32” that excluded daily allowances but required the same work.

Dual roles at issue
The controversy cuts to the core of the Guard’s dual federal and state roles. For state missions, the governor can call on the Guard during emergencies such as storms, fires, earthquakes or civil disturbances. The president also can call on them for federal missions.

Capt. Louis Tortorella, 51, estimated he was owed $14,600 a year for the two years he worked before he retired in October 2003. He said there were about 1,000 to 1,500 Guard soldiers who worked in Massachusetts owed similar expenses.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Tortorella was called up to protect the Quabbin Reservoir, which supplies water to about 2.5 million people in metropolitan Boston and is about a five-hour drive each day from his home in New Hampshire.

In their complaint, the soldiers said their requests for compensation were repeatedly denied.

“It was always either shoved to the side or they turned their backs on us,” said Sgt. Wayne Gutierrez, 39, who estimates he was owed at least $17,500 a year for his 2-1/2 years in the Army National Guard in Massachusetts.