One-hundred-and-twenty-one National Guard personnel are working full-time assisting Virgin Islands residents in their fight against COVID 19. The men and women who have gone from part-time duty to full-time are helping with screenings at airports and harbors. They are assisting at testing sites and vaccination areas. They have even established a backup acute care center at the Joint Force Headquarters, Estate Bethlehem Compound, St. Croix.
This time around, the Guardsmen won’t have the difficulty getting fully paid as the 433 Guardsmen who were activated during the 2017 hurricanes had, according to Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Kodjo Knox-Limbacker, who spoke to the Source Friday.
During hurricane recovery, many of the service members who were moved to full-time status were not correctly paid for their service. It was only early this month, more than four years later, that payments were corrected.
In December, the government provided supplemental funds to the Adjutant General to issue checks to over 300 service members totaling more than $1,093,000. The paychecks went out on Jan. 7.
The Guard personnel in the fight against the pandemic are not dependent on the territorial government. Their paychecks are coming directly from the federal government.
Knox-Limbacker said though this was working well, he wanted it to become more efficient so the Guardsmen would have direct deposits instead of paper checks.
Knox-Limbacker told the Source that when the Guard is activated at the request of the governor, their pay is not always federally funded. As an example, he cited the assistance the Guard gives law enforcement during festivals. The territory must pick up the tab for those services.
In the recovery period after the two Category 5 hurricanes in September 2017, the Guard provided 24-hour support. The support included commodity transportation, debris removal, establishing and managing points of distribution sites, and regulating traffic control points.
Knox-Limbacker said, “The present morale of the National Guard is higher with the payout of money owed from Hurricane Irma and Maria. Our service members continue to exceed the standards in the territory and nationally.”
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr., during a ceremony earlier this month at the Estate Bethlehem Compound, said, “Our men and women in the V.I. National Guard are always there in our time of need. They answered the call in those dark and uncertain days after hurricanes Irma and Maria and are still there today in our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. They are deserving of our gratitude and more than deserving of just compensation for their service. That they were not adequately compensated for their service in 2017 is deeply disappointing.”
The process of getting the correct payments to the individuals who served during the month after the hurricane was not easy.
“This was one of the most challenging projects,” said Nikita Ward, Administrative and Business manager for the Office of the Adjutant General. “We had to go through all the documentation for each person to see how much they were initially paid to determine the difference to calculate how much they were owed.”
Sen. Dwayne DeGraff sent out a press release recently saying that he is pleased the Guard members have received their long-overdue payments.
As a result of the situation, according to the release, DeGraff had sponsored Bill No. 33-0034, which resulted in Act No. 8278. The Act says officers and members of the National Guard are to receive pay comparable to those serving in the Armed Forces. It also ensures that the territorial active-duty members have insurance to cover any illness or injury sustained while on active duty not covered by other health insurance.
The backup acute care center at the Joint Force Headquarters has not yet been needed.