Massachusetts Recognized for Guard, Reserve Support

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2006 - The home of the Minutemen will now be known for another piece of military heritage: exceptional support of its Guardsmen and reservists.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was selected as one of 15 recipients of the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. The award recognizes public and private employers for going above and beyond what's required by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. The National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve manages the award.

Army Brig. Gen. Oliver Mason, Massachusetts' adjutant general, said the commonwealth has a longstanding tradition of support for its Guard and reserves.

"I think we lead the nation when it comes to this sort of support of the military in the state," Mason said. "Our state has been very, very patriotic when it comes to our servicemembers, and it's just very heartwarming to see it."

In a recently televised address, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said he was pleased with the recognition from ESGR. "I express appreciation on behalf of all who work in the commonwealth for the recognition that the federal government, through the association of Employer Support for the Guard and Reserves, have provided to us," he said.

He also confirmed Mason's belief that Massachusetts is at the top of its game when it comes to supporting its military.

"I do hear from our secretary of veterans affairs that we are the most generous state in America when it comes to recognizing our veterans," he said. "That's the way we want it to be, (and) we're going to keep working to make sure we always have that title."

Romney, his lieutenant governor and state legislators attend send-off and welcome home ceremonies, which means a lot to troops, Mason said. But the Welcome Home Bill signed by the governor on Nov. 11, 2005, is the icing on the cake and what prompted Mason to nominate the commonwealth for the ESGR award, he said.

"During this current global war on terror, when we've got units that are deploying and coming home, what we've found is that (Massachusetts legislators) are always there for us," he said.

The Welcome Home Bill provides several benefits for Guardsmen and reservists, according to a news release issued by Romney's office.

The commonwealth already offered free tuition for Guardsmen and reservists attending state colleges and universities. The new state law takes that benefit a step further, waiving all fees associated with obtaining an education. The state, not the schools, will pick up the tab, the release said.

The bill also provides for an increase in the state-provided death benefit to families of Guardsmen and reservists, from $5,000 to $100,000. Mason also noted that, because of the bill, the state now covers half of the monthly Servicemember Group Life Insurance premiums paid by reserve-component personnel.

Other benefits the bill created include a check-off box on state tax forms to make a donation to a nonprofit organization called Friends of the Guard and Reserve, an increase in per diem for those called to state active duty, an increased benefit for Gold Star parents, and a new benefit for Gold Star spouses.

Additionally, Massachusetts servicemembers serving on active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, are entitled to a $1,000 bonus, Mason said. Those serving at least six months on active duty in other locations will receive a $500 bonus.
"These young men and women across all the branches of the service -- active and reserve in Massachusetts -- they are today's patriots, and they're doing a wonderful job for all of us," Mason said. "It makes us all very proud."

Romney echoed that sentiment in his TV address, adding that the commonwealth feels a certain obligation to these patriots.

"I really feel that there's not too much we can't do for those who serve in the Guard and reserve and those who serve us in active duty as members of our commonwealth," he said.

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