BOSTON – Senator John Kerry, Senator Edward Kennedy, and Congressman Stephen F. Lynch, along with the rest of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation today urged the Secretary of Defense to reconsider the plan eliminate the designation of the Balkans and Kosovo as Combat Zones.

As a result of the designation change, guard members will lose their Imminent Danger Pay and various other economic entitlements, putting an unnecessary financial burden on their families back home.    

"Adding undue financial burdens on our soldiers’ economic benefits in the middle of their deployment is wrong. When these brave men and women signed on for their service, they were told one thing – and now they’re being told another,” said Senator Kerry. "The government that sends our troops into harm’s way must do better by our brave men and women in uniform. Our troops make the ultimate commitment and we must not fail them. I promise to continue to work with my colleagues in Washington to help prevent these wrong headed changes from taking place.”

"The entire Massachusetts Congressional delegation has spoken out against this sudden change in designation of the Balkans as a combat zone while so many of our soldiers are deployed there. The change in designation would impose severe financial hardship on the 500 Army National Guard soldiers from Massachusetts serving there. It’s an unfair burden that will mean real hardship for our soldiers,” said Senator Kennedy.

Congressman Stephen F. Lynch, member of the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Relations, said, "At a time when we are asking more of our National Guardsmen and women than ever before, we should be focusing on how we can alleviate the burden on these brave men and women and their families, not add to it.  The Administration should be ashamed of this move, which would hurt those who have sacrificed the most, and they should immediately reverse it."

The text of the letter is as follows:

The Honorable Robert M. Gates

Secretary of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301-1000

Dear Secretary Gates:

            We’re writing about the plan to eliminate the designation of the Balkans and Kosovo as Combat Zones as April 1. We have significant concerns about how this mid-rotation designation change will affect the Army National Guard soldiers – including approximately 500 Massachusetts soldiers – who are serving in this region. Recent reports of continued violence make this issue especially pressing.

            The loss of Imminent Danger Pay as a result of the designation will have a serious effect on the National Guard members’ families. Currently, these service members are receiving an additional $225 a month in Imminent Danger Pay and have budgeted in accord with this allowance. These families are already under considerable financial strain because of the deployments, and the loss of the pay will impose an even more significant burden.

            The change in designation also means that these National Guard members will lose their combat zone tax exclusion for their active duty pay; their re-enlistment bonus; their leave pay; and other entitlements. Making these changes in the middle of their deployment will make matters worse for members of the National Guard and their families at home. When our soldiers began this deployment they assumed that their pay and benefits would be commensurate with their sacrifice. Reducing their benefits when their commitment remains the same is very likely to undermine their morale as well.

            We understand that your Office is conducting a review to determine whether or not the Balkans and Kosovo continue to justify Combat Zone designation. We ask that no change of designation be made during the current rotation. Thank you for considering our request.

                                                With respect and appreciation,

                                                John Kerry

                                                Edward Kennedy

                                                Edward Markey

                                                John Olver

                                                Richard Neal

                                                Jim McGovern