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Soldiers deserve state pay scale

FEMA should cover the difference for troops sent to the Gulf Coast

If President Bush meant it when he said the federal government would do whatever it takes to clean up after Hurricane Katrina, he could start by covering the full paychecks of the Oregon National Guard troops who left their homes and families to help out.

By full paychecks, we mean the active-duty reimbursement the soldiers were promised when they deployed.

The Oregon Military Department told the troops they would be paid at the same rate they would get for fighting forest fires in the Pacific Northwest. Instead, the Pentagon decreed that the troops would get the federal duty rate.

For the lowest ranking soldiers, that's the difference between &

36;170 per day and &

36;41 per day. Oregon law set the active-duty rate in the mid-1990s to bring Guard soldiers into line with what wildland firefighters were earning. The law requires that soldiers get the same active-duty rate when they are deployed for a natural disaster.

Needless to say, the soldiers and their families were not pleased to learn their paychecks for the two-week deployment would be as much as &

36;1,500 short.

Oregon is making good on its promise, but at a cost of &

36;2.5 million the state Military Department doesn't have. That's 15 percent of the department's two-year budget.

— State military officials say they will send a bill to the state of Louisiana, which requested Oregon's help, and Louisiana will forward the tab to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA should pay the bill.

Oregon sent 2,000 soldiers with equipment and supplies to the Gulf Coast. The troops performed admirably under difficult conditions.

National Guard soldiers expect to be called up when natural disaster strikes. It's part of the job.

But they also expect to be paid for their trouble, and paid fairly.

Many of the soldiers deployed to the gulf had recently returned from Iraq. The hurricane aftermath wasn't a combat situation, but it wasn't exactly a walk in the park either.

Guard soldiers often make a financial sacrifice to serve, earning less in uniform than they do in their civilian careers. But to expect them to travel far from home after a disaster the size of Katrina for &

36;41 a day is insulting.