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September Commander's Corner

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Scott Bridgers
  • 169th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
Professional military organizations are integral to our military lifestyles. They are chartered for different reasons but most are committed to improving the lives of its members and community, attaining/maintaining benefits, and acquiring/upgrading equipment for our national defense. Membership in military organizations enhances careers and is essential to develop Airmen to be future leaders. There are many to choose from, both at the local and national level. A few that are improving life at McEntire are the Airman's Council, Swamp Fox 5/6 Council, Top 3 Council, Diamond Council, Chief's Council, Women's Group and the Company Grade Officer's Council. A few organizations you may want to consider at the state and national level are the National Guard Association of South Carolina (NGASC), National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS), Enlisted Association of the National Guard (EANGUS) and the Air Force Association (AFA).

Becoming a member of the NGASC also earns you membership into NGAUS or EANGUS, depending on rank. The NGASC is committed to serving the needs and interest of its members; however they and other organizations need membership for their voice to be heard by state legislature or the U.S. Congress. A few of the major benefits include a S.C. state pension at age 60, which provides $50 per month, assuming you have at least 20 years of service with 15 of the last 20 in the SCNG, and the last 10 in the SCNG. It adds $5 per month for each year of service over 20, up to a maximum of $100 at 30 years of service. This pension benefit was taken away but in 2006, the NGASC successfully lobbied the state legislature to reinstate it. The S.C. College Assistance Program (CAP), which provides eligible members $4,500 per year up to $18,000 total, is another success of the NGASC. In addition to CAP, the National Guard Scholarship Foundation provides roughly $40,000 per year in merit-based scholarship awards to members or dependents of members. No South Carolina income tax on National Guard pay or National Guard retirement pay. This adds a 3% to 7% savings based on tax bracket, which is worth hundreds of dollars annually.

The NGASC, along with other military organizations, successfully lobbied congress to include Title 32 duty in calculations for the Post 9/11 GI Bill, making most Guard members eligible for some or all of the GI Bill benefits. This is worth thousands of dollars, plus the transferability option is keeping some parents from raiding their retirement funds to pay for their child's tuition and living expenses. The NGASC and national organizations also lobbied for Tri-Care Reserve Select, which provides individuals with healthcare for approximately $50 per month and families for around $200 per month. In addition, members can receive this benefit at no cost beginning 180 days prior to qualifying contingency deployments and up to 180 days after terminating those orders. Tri-Care Retired Reserve is available for retired members.

The DoD recently tried to raise enrollment fees, copays and other costs, but many of these were eliminated due to military organization lobbying efforts. Early retirement credit for overseas deployments was another successful lobbying effort which can add thousands of dollars to members retiring before age 60. Funding for commissaries was under attack, which would have eliminated the savings members get by buying products at discounted prices. Lobbying efforts by military organizations prevented the cut to commissaries, thus saving the average family approximately $3,000 annually.

The NGASC, NGAUS and EANGUS have successfully lobbied for many benefits, but they are also committed to fighting for resources and upgrades to existing equipment. One of the most successful efforts was modernizing F-16 Block 30 aircraft, which gave them precision targeting capability and data link upgrades. This made Block 30 F-16s not only viable, but highly desirable in the Global War on Terrorism. Now we are in need of upgrading F-16 CM (block 40/42/50/52) aircraft in order to provide all-weather precision targeting capability and enable them to survive against 5th Generation threats. CAPES (Combat Avionics Programmed Extension Suite), which provides an Advanced Electronically Scanned Array RADAR and an electronic warfare system, was the Air Force's program to meet this need. However, it was defunded due to other priorities even though the USAF expects the F-16 CM to fly until 2035. Through the NGASC and NGAUS, we are pushing for funding to provide these updates. As budgets shrink, the need for a unified voice has never been more critical.

Membership is vital to leveraging successful lobbying efforts and to improving the lives of its members. Leadership can't endorse nor can we direct individuals to join professional military organizations, but we can certainly show the benefits and encourage membership.

Beginning in October, the NGASC will kick-off their annual membership drive. Whether you are a regular Air Force or Guard member, I encourage you to join a professional military organization and get involved. You can't always rely on someone else to look out for your or our nation's best interest.