National Guard April 2011 : Page 86

Added Perks Shuttlestock (4) Guardsmen are eligible for more benefits and special discounts than many realize. Fortunately, details are only a few clicks away By Andrew Waldman ATIONAL GUARD SER-VICE is full of hardships, sacrifices and risk. They’re part of the job, especially when the nation is at war. But there are also many benefits, which is why so many soldiers and airmen stay around so long. Some are difficult to quantify. It’s hard to put a price on camaraderie or the pride of serving your state and na-tion, and sometimes your fellow man. Other benefits are more tangible, like tuition assistance or health insur-ance at a fraction of the cost private companies charge. Such perks and savings are part of the compensation for enduring the tough times. But there are plenty of other benefits available to anyone carrying a military identification card, often today referred to as a common access card. Many are not so obvious and can save a Guardsman hundreds of dollars or provide special opportuni-ties for travel nearly impossible in the civilian world. Want to relax on the beach in N Hawaii? Fly cross country for free? Reduce your grocery bill? Get a home mortgage with a low or no down pay-ment? All of these are possible for the tra-ditional drilling National Guardsman. Often, there are no scheduled briefings provided about the perks and benefits available to Guardsmen. But there are many savvy soldiers and airmen who trade information about the many opportunities and discounts available. Capt. Robert AuBuchon, a Virginia Army Guardsman, says he’s used a lot of the available travel benefits and discounts. He’s flown on military space-avail-able flights, known as space-A, and stayed in military lodging facilities across the nation in places like Flori-da, Hawaii and on the Texas coast. One notable trip, he says, landed him at a military campground at Eglin Air Force Base, which is near Pensacola, Fla. He and his family took 86 | Na tional Guard

Added Perks

Andrew Waldman

Guardsmen are eligible for more benefits and special discounts than many realize. Fortunately, details are only a few clicks away<br /> <br /> NATIONAL GUARD SERVICE is full of hardships, sacrifices and risk. They're part of the job, especially when the nation is at war. But there are also many benefits, which is why so many soldiers and airmen stay around so long.<br /> <br /> Some are difficult to quantify. It's hard to put a price on camaraderie or the pride of serving your state and nation, and sometimes your fellow man.<br /> <br /> Other benefits are more tangible, like tuition assistance or health insurance at a fraction of the cost private companies charge. Such perks and savings are part of the compensation for enduring the tough times.<br /> <br /> But there are plenty of other benefits available to anyone carrying a military identification card, often today referred to as a common access card. Many are not so obvious and can save a Guardsman hundreds of dollars or provide special opportunities for travel nearly impossible in the civilian world.<br /> <br /> Want to relax on the beach in Hawaii? Fly cross country for free? Reduce your grocery bill? Get a home mortgage with a low or no down payment?<br /> <br /> All of these are possible for the traditional drilling National Guardsman.<br /> <br /> Often, there are no scheduled briefings provided about the perks and benefits available to Guardsmen. But there are many savvy soldiers and airmen who trade information about the many opportunities and discounts available.<br /> <br /> Capt. Robert AuBuchon, a Virginia Army Guardsman, says he's used a lot of the available travel benefits and discounts.<br /> <br /> He's flown on military space-available flights, known as space-A, and stayed in military lodging facilities across the nation in places like Florida, Hawaii and on the Texas coast.<br /> <br /> One notable trip, he says, landed him at a military campground at Eglin Air Force Base, which is near Pensacola, Fla. He and his family took advantage of a private beach open only to military members.<br /> <br /> "When you go to the beach and there are only 30 people on it, that's an advantage," he says.<br /> <br /> Almost every U.S. military installation throughout the world has some sort of lodging facility open to traveling service members. And most are significantly cheaper than other accommodations in that area.<br /> <br /> Some of the most well-known military lodging facilities are the Armed Forces Recreation Centers. The five AFRC resort hotels are Shades of Green on Disney World near Orlando, Fla.; Cape Henry Inn and Beach Club in Virginia Beach, Va.; Hale Koa Hotel on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii; Edelweiss in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the German Alps; and Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul, South Korea.<br /> <br /> All are famous for their level of service and hospitality. Room rates are on a sliding scale based on rank, but $118 a night for a standard room at the Hale Koa for a lieutenant colonel is better than anything comparable on Waikiki.<br /> <br /> But there are many more military lodging facilities available. They range in size from full-blown hotels to private cabins.<br /> <br /> A comprehensive list of Army lodging facilities and more AFRC information is available at www.armymwr. com, while a searchable database of Air Force and Navy lodging can be found at www.dodlodging.net. And many helpful hints can be found at www.militaryliving.com.<br /> <br /> For the uninitiated, "hopping" a space-A flight means climbing aboard a military plane that has empty seats and may be headed to a destination distant or near. The idea is simply to get from one place to another.<br /> <br /> Military flights, of course, bounce around the globe, from Dover, Del., to Turkey to Okinawa, but Guardsmen are allowed to fly only within the United States because they have less priority than their active-component brethren.<br /> <br /> Space-A travel is available for traditional Guardsmen and Guard retirees in Category VI, which is the lowest priority allowed by regulation. Category VI travelers aren't allowed to travel outside of the United States and its territories.<br /> <br /> The exclusion of Guard members from a higher category is an issue important to NGAUS. Last month, Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, introduced a bill that would bring Guard and Reserve space-A benefits in line with those received by the active components. The bill, known as S.542, is supported by NGAUS.<br /> <br /> Some of those stateside locations available to Guard travelers are exotic and some simply are not. If a Guard member wants to get from his or her home state to a vacation spot, it might take a couple "hops" to make it there.<br /> <br /> Flights can be redirected or canceled without notice, so a reasonable amount of time and a bundle of patience are required.<br /> <br /> Consider the adventure part of the fun and you'll be OK.<br /> <br /> There are plenty of rules to space-A travel, so get to know them beforehand. Most likely, the flight will be free, and it can be convenient if you know how to do it.<br /> <br /> AuBuchon has hopped on space-A several times. He suggests signing up online with a system that allows you to submit your registration to fly (box, page 89) exactly when your leave or vacation starts. That way, you'll be at the front of the line for available seats.<br /> <br /> Aside from flights and cheap lodging, there are many other military-related benefits, including some that come with a person's death.<br /> <br /> Some Guardsmen may qualify for burial in a national cemetery, a grave marker or a burial flag. And a Guardsman who dies while on active duty or during training is eligible for a death gratuity.<br /> <br /> If a retiree dies, the pension can be carried over in the form of the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit–an annuity that can be designated to support a family member.<br /> <br /> While that pension won't cover all expenses, and the Guard and Reserve retirement, it's a supplement to other retirement income.<br /> <br /> For Guardsmen who plan to retire after 20 or more years of service, there are TRICARE dental and health care plans available, as well as a pension. A retiree is also eligible for military burial rights.<br /> <br /> The retirement program and burial rights are both products of NGAUS lobbying.<br /> <br /> Another association victory is today's full commissary benefits. These military grocery stores are located in 47 states. Items are sold at cost plus 5 percent, which can translate into considerable savings.<br /> <br /> To better serve the Guard, Reserve and retiree population, the Defense Commissary Agency also on occasion establishes temporary commissaries in underserved areas. Last month, in conjunction with the West Virginia National Guard, the DeCA set up a commissary over two weekends at an armory in Keyser, W.Va.<br /> <br /> More commissary information is available at www.commissaries.com.<br /> <br /> Like the commissary, The Exchange– formerly known as the PX or BX–is a great way to buy high-priced items like video game systems or LCD televisions with no sales tax.<br /> <br /> Master Sgt. Patrick Simmons, operations NCO for enlisted strength at the National Guard Bureau, suggests purchasing big ticket items like televisions at The Exchange for the best savings.<br /> <br /> The private sector appreciates those who wear the country's uniform. Benefits are available from home improvement stores, private hotels, restaurants and more. Retail benefits are numerous.<br /> <br /> Many large retailers, hotels and restaurants offer special military benefits, and the best way to find out is to simply ask.<br /> <br /> Even some local businesses offer breaks to service members and veterans, especially in areas heavily populated with military personnel.<br /> <br /> Guardsmen looking to purchase a home might consider using the Department of Veterans Affairs Home Loan Program, which also is a product of NGAUS lobbying.<br /> <br /> Any former or serving Guardsman who has successfully completed six years of service can apply for the loans through a private lending institution. Twenty-five percent of the value of a home is guaranteed by the VA in these fixed-rate interest mortgages, making it possible for a veteran or service member to buy a home with little or no down payment.<br /> <br /> Various education benefits have been available to Guardsmen. Most prominent are the numerous tuition assistance programs offered by most states and territories, as well as the Montgomery GI Bill. These programs offer tuition assistance up to 100 percent in some states as well as a monthly stipend.<br /> <br /> More recently, the Post-9/11 GI Bill has given Guardsmen both tuition assistance and a generous living stipend to attend school.<br /> <br /> The eligibility was limited to those Guardsmen who had been deployed overseas, but NGAUS helped champion a congressional change to allow some Title 32 service to be included in eligibility for the education program.<br /> <br /> For more information on education benefits, visit www.education.ng.mil.<br /> <br /> There also are numerous state benefits, in addition to tuition assistance. Many are modest, like free license plates and complimentary access to state parks, but a few states, like Florida and Georgia, offer special pension programs. Consult your state headquarters for more information.<br /> <br /> Simmons says recruiters often mention these benefits when talking with a person considering the Guard. He says they are not usually a primary reason people join the Guard, but are an additional reason for signing the paperwork and taking the oath.<br /> <br /> Still, Simmons says surveys conducted by the National Guard Bureau indicate that benefits are important to Guardsmen.<br /> <br /> "The education benefit is the biggest thing that attracts young people," he says.<br /> <br /> AuBuchon, a company commander, says he encourages his troops to use the benefits.<br /> <br /> "When I talk to young soldiers, I tell them a couple things to do: use the commissary, use the PX, use your [education] benefits when you can," he says.<br /> <br /> And while access to these various benefits and discounts isn't the most important reason to be in the Guard, it does sweeten the deal for members like AuBuchon.<br /> <br /> "If you take grains of sand and put enough of them in a vase, it fills up," he says. "That's what all these benefits are."<br /> <br /> Andrew Waldman can be contacted at (202) 408-5892 or at andrew.waldman@ ngaus.org.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> Other Benefits<br /> <br /> Like active component service members, Guardsmen are eligible for a number of benefits. Here are short descriptions of a few:<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> Space-Available Flights<br /> <br /> Space-available travel is the practice of grabbing an empty seat on a military flight. There are many options for destinations throughout the world. Drill-status Guardsmen qualify as Category VI travelers and can fly anywhere in the United States, as well as Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa.<br /> <br /> To travel space-A, service members must first register in person or by fax or e-mail with the passenger terminal of the military airport of embarkation. After that, they must show up at a terminal to get a spot in line and wait for a seat to come open on a flight.<br /> <br /> The system is a little complicated, but there are many sources of information. To find out more, visit www.spacea.net.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> TRICARE Reserve Select<br /> <br /> TRICARE Reserve Select is a TRICARE-based health plan available to all drilling-status Guardsmen and Reservists. TRS offers low-cost plans for individuals and families. For a single soldier, the monthly cost is just $53.16. Monthly cost for a family is $197.76. TRS users choose their own doctors and don't have to worry about their plan only covering emergency care. www.tricare.mil<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> VA Home Loan<br /> <br /> Separated and current Guardsmen with six or more years of service can apply for a Department of Veterans Affairs-guaranteed home loan through various private lending companies. The VA loan has a fixed rate, and is guaranteed for up to 25 percent of the home's total value, which makes buying a home with no or a low down payment possible. www.benefits.va.gov/homeloans<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> The Exchange<br /> <br /> With their military ID, all Guardsmen have access to The Exchange [formerly the Army and Air Force Exchange Service PX or BX]. All shopping at The Exchange is tax free. An online store is also available. www.shopmyexchange.com<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> The Commissary<br /> <br /> Forty-seven states and territories have military commissaries, and all are now accessible to Guardsmen without limitations. Guardsmen who do not live near an actual store might have the opportunity to purchase food from a commissary Guard/Reserve On-Site Sales unit. Visit www.commissaries. com/guard_reserve_sales.cfm for a list of upcoming sales.<br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> Hotels, Airlines, Rental Car Discounts<br /> <br /> Many hotel chains, major airlines and rental car companies offer military discounts, but many do not publish them, so be sure to ask. Contact booking agents when you are scheduling travel to find out more about these discounts. The Federal Discount Lodging Directory offers a searchable directory of hotels that offer discounts to federal employees and service members. www.hotels.idt.net <br />

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