When Texas Gov. Rick Perry sent National Guard soldiers to the Mexico border to much fanfare earlier this summer, he couldn't say how long they'd be there. It turns out he also couldn't pay them: At least 50 soldiers haven't seen a paycheck and are getting sustenance and vehicle fuel from a local food bank.
Via KGBT News, the sudden call-up took those weekend warriors away from their day jobs and deposited them in the Rio Grande valley, but the service hasn't covered their losses yet:
"We were contacted that 50 troops that are in the Valley don't have any money for food and gas and they need our assistance," said Food Bank RGV Executive Director Terri Drefke.
They've turned to the Food Bank RGV for help since they won't get paid until September 5th and have been in the Valley since August 11th...
Texas State Rep, Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville) said he is appalled.
"It's embarrassing that our troops have to stand in a food pantry line," Rep. Oliveira said. "This is the fault of the state."
Oliveira is willing to use some of his own money to pay for meals for the National Guard deployed to Cameron County, but says all the blame falls on the lack of planning.
"This should not have happened and there will be consequences," Rep. Oliveira said.
Perry—who's busy being indicted for criminal abuse of power—and the National Guard didn't respond to reporter queries earlier this week, but the pay lag could be related to the governor's refusal to fund the mobilization he ordered, and his insistence that the federal government cover it. (In the meantime, Perry was supposedly attempting to finance the deployment "by diverting $38 million in public safety funds earmarked for emergency radio infrastructure," the L.A. Times has reported.)
The underfed Rio Grande-deployed Guard troops don't "have authority to question or detain anyone," a spokeswoman has said, and their state commander has characterized the mission as "amplifying the visible presence on the ground and along the river."
If Rick Perry just needed unpaid bodies to stand around on the border, he could have called for humanitarian volunteers. Or just recruited some immigrants, even. But then, he wouldn't have anybody to salute:
Update: Rich Parsons, a communications rep for Rick Perry, emailed to verify that—as reported above—the soldiers should see their first checks on September 5 and then get paid biweekly after that. "[B]ased on information provided by the Texas National Guard, two soldiers sought and received assistance through the Family Assistance Coordinator," he wrote, adding that his office and the Texas National Guard had "no indication that any Guardsmen received any assistance from the Rio Grande Valley Food Bank."
I asked Parsons if he could explain why soldiers deployed in early August had to wait until Sep. 5 for their first checks, instead of immediately being paid on the usual biweekly schedule for active service. I also asked when and how the deployed troops were informed of this modified pay schedule. He referred those questions to the Texas National Guard. I'll update if I get a response.
Update 2: Lt. Colonel Joanne MacGregor, Texas National Guard's spokeswoman, said the hiccup was a result of needing to align activated soldiers' pay schedules "with the State's pay schedule. Depending upon when a Soldier came on orders for this mission, they may experience a two or three week period prior to their initial pay day."
She said soldiers "were provided a copy of the pay policy for Operation Strong Safety" after they reported to base for in-processing, but did not indicate any special measures taken on the service's or administration's part to forestall financial difficulties this might cause for soldiers leaving their civilian jobs in the call-up.
When I again asked Parsons, Gov. Perry's spokesman, whether the governor's office had known why there was a pay lag, he did not respond.
[Photo credit: AP Images]