Secretary of Defense Robert Gates addressed the Military Child Education Coalition’s annual conference today, held in the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center’s enormous ballroom. Speaking to the fact that three out of five service members deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan war zone have families -- more than during any other conflict in U.S. history -- Gates acknowledged the challenges facing soldiers’ kids: “the grief and heartbreak when a loved one is killed,” “the grim reality of war” and the fact that the average military child attends some nine different schools between kindergarten and 12th grade.
“Because of the unique way [members of the military] serve this nation,” he said, “we have a responsibility to care for them.”
He highlighted recent initiatives that provide counseling to military children, as well as special support offered under the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, which has been adopted by 10 states (Texas is not among them).
“Our troops, volunteers all, are the heart and soul of this nation,” Gates concluded. Only, technically, they’re not all volunteers. Gates didn’t mention the some 12,000 service members whose voluntary tours have been involuntarily extended through the controversial “stop-loss” policy and whose children are contending with the consequences.
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Gates pledged last year to limit the use of stop-loss, but the Pentagon has instead increased it in order to maintain troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan. Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Ohio have introduced legislation that would compensate soldiers $1,500 per month for extended duty. No word on the bill from the administration, but it seems a fair acknowledgment for soldiers and their families who agreed to voluntary deployments and instead got forced extensions. --Megan Feldman