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November Commander's Corner

Portrait of U.S. Air Force Col. Scott Bridgers, commander of the 169th Maintenance Group at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., Oct. 28, 2016. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Megan Floyd)

Portrait of U.S. Air Force Col. Scott Bridgers, commander of the 169th Maintenance Group at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., Oct. 28, 2016. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Megan Floyd)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. -- It's that time of year again where the push is on to encourage folks to join Professional Military Organizations.  PMO's 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.  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, and the Company Grade Officer's Council.  The Top 3 Council organized the Foxtrot Warrior run last month and raised several thousand dollars for airmen in need.  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 gets 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 in the State Legislature or in Congress.  Enlisted membership is only $16 per year, you can join by going to ngasc.org or coordinating with you Unit Association Representative.  Some of the past successes include a SC 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.  It adds $5 per month for each year of service over 20, up to a maximum of $100 at 30 years of service.  The SC College Assistance Program (CAP) provides eligible members $4,500 per semester up to $18,000 total and the General Assembly just approved $4.5 million dollars for the program this year.  Additionally, the National Guard Scholarship Foundation provided $70,000 last 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.  South Carolina House Bill H 3147 was signed by the Governor on June 7, 2016.  The bill provides for a South Carolina income tax deduction for military retirement benefits in an amount of up to 30,000 dollars each year for those who are at least 65 years old and up to 17,500 dollars each year for younger taxpayers. A surviving spouse receiving military retirement income is eligible for the deductions. The deductions are gradually phased in under a five year schedule so that maximum deductions for military retirement benefits are provided by 2020.

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 Bills 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.  NGAUS is pushing for amending the language in the new Post 9/11 G.I. Bill to eliminate the service obligation after an election to transfer the benefit to a dependent.

The NGASC and national organizations also lobbied for Tricare Reserve Select, which provides individuals with Tricare for approximately $50 per month and families for around $200 per month.  In addition, members can receive Tricare at no cost beginning 180 days prior to qualifying contingency deployments and up to 180 days after terminating those orders.  Tricare Retired Reserve is available for retired members.  The DOD continues its attempt to raise enrollment fees, copays, and other cost but many of these were eliminated due to military organization lobbying efforts.  Early Retirement Credit for qualifying duty was another successful lobbying effort which can add thousands of dollars to members retiring before age 60.  We have several people on ADOS or MPA orders at McEntire that will qualify them for early retirement, something many people often overlook.      

The NGASC, NGAUS, and EANGUS are also committed to fighting for resources and upgrades to existing equipment.  Although we are hoping to acquire F-35s at McEntire, we are in desperate need of upgrading our F-16 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 AESA (Advanced Electronically Scanned Array) RADAR and an electronic warfare system, was the Air Force's program to meet this need but it was defunded due to other priorities even though the USAF expects the F-16 to fly until 2035.  Through lobbying efforts of the NGASC, NGAUS, and others some F-16s will receive AESA radars from Northrop Grumman within the next few years. The exact number is still being negotiated but we expect all Block 50/52s will eventually be upgraded.         

The following are a few standing resolutions the NGAUS supports that you may find very beneficial if passed into law:

· Suspend the 30-day limitation on Reservists performing AT days to provide commanders flexibility in supporting training and operational support missions
· Allow dual status technicians to keep enlistment, reenlistment or affiliation bonuses
· Allow military service performed under USC Title 32 to be treated equally with that performed under USC Title 10 for the purpose of obtaining credit for that service under the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS)
· Provide pre-mobilization health care, reduced age for retirement, education assistance protections, and voluntary separation recoupment protection for mobilizations and activations under Title 10 Sections 12301d and 12304a/b, i.e. think TSP and having to volunteer to get benefits
· Eliminate the requirement for the aggregate 90 days of service to fall within a single fiscal year in order to qualify for reducing the age of retirement receipt
· Authorize guardsmen activated by the Governor for a State Active Duty mission, where they are protecting citizens and their property, to accumulate federal retirement credit
· Change current retirement law to allow age 50 minimum retirement age provision for AGR, dual status technicians, and drill status guardsmen
· Allow members of the Guard and Reserve who have reached 20 years of service to pay into the Survivors Benefit plan before they reach age 60  
·  Allow Technicians to enroll into TRICARE Reserve Select
· Make TRICARE benefits available to members who retire from the National Guard or are honorably discharged persons before reaching age 60
· Modify the National Guard Technician retirement programs to match federal programs offered to Air Traffic Controllers, fire fighters, law enforcement officers, Capitol Police, Supreme Court Police, and nuclear Material Couriers
· Eligibility for Technician retirement with 20 years civil service/any age to immediately draw civil service retirement (instead of 20 years and age 50) and immediate eligibility for the FERS annuity supplement (instead of 25/50, discontinued service)

Membership in PMOs is vital to leveraging successful advocacy and to improving the lives of its members.  Leadership can't endorse nor can we direct individuals to join PMOs, but we can certainly show the benefits and encourage membership.  Whether you are a regular Air Force or Guard member, I encourage you to join a PMO and get involved.  You can't always rely on someone else to look out for your or our nation's best interest.