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Thank you to Sen. Daschle and Sen. Nelson for joining me today as we honor all of our Guard and Reserve troops who are sacrificing for us overseas, and we honor their spouses and children who are sacrificing so much for all of us here at home. Today we are asking more and more of our troops and their families, but we are providing them with less and less support. We're here today to change that.

Over the past few months, I've met with many members of our Guard and Reserve and their families. They told me about the challenges they are facing during these long deployments overseas, and I promised to help. I've been proud to work with my colleagues who here today and as well as a number of others to develop plans to help our local soldiers and their families.

As we all know too well, our Guard and Reserve are seeing their tours extended and that's placing even greater burdens on their families. The latest figures from the Pentagon show that more than 165,000 Guard and Reservists are currently serving on active-duty. Nearly 4,000 members of the Washington State National Guard have been activated in the past 15 months, including 3,200 members of the Guard's 81st Armor Brigade now serving in Iraq. Our soldiers told me they're worried about how their families will manage while they're overseas.

Many are concerned that they will have to go overseas before they can help their spouse find affordable child care. With the amendment I will be offering to the DoD Bill, we will have an opportunity to ensure that non-working spouses suddenly finding themselves in need of a job to help pay the bills won’t incur prohibitive child care costs.

Many families are concerned about the loss of income between their spouse's civilian salary and their active-duty salary. The amendment we will offer will ensure we have pay equity for federal employees called to duty and it will provide tax credits to employers to encourage their support of activated Guard and Reserves.

Many told me they are concerned they will have to begin repaying student loans while their loved one was serving in Iraq. And I have heard from Guard members who are worried because they had to leave college to go to Iraq for a year. Our amendment will make sure they can return to school without penalty and that their student loans are deferred during an extended deployment.

Many of our soldiers are deeply concerned that their children will have to go to a new doctor who accepts TRICARE, and that type of change – when one parent is overseas – can be scary for a young child. And while we're working to provide access to TRICARE for all members of the Guard and Reserves and their families, we all know TRICARE only works if you live in a community that has TRICARE available. Guard and Reservists who are mobilized for extended periods need the option to maintain private health care plans, and I've been proud to support Sen. Daschle in his efforts to make sure our soldiers and their families have health care.

Soldiers also expressed their concerns about the inability of their spouses to take time away from their job to put together a single parent household and prepare for their transition. That's why we must extend the Family and Medical Leave Act to military families during extended deployments. We also need to extend and update the GI Bill benefits for Guard and Reserves to keep better pace with the rising cost of education.

Finally, we must reduce the age for Guard and Reservists to receive retirement pay. I'm very concerned that today we are burning up our Guard and Reserve units by placing a serious strain on their families and finances. These brave men and women need the same kind of support that our regular services have when they are called away from their families and their jobs for extended deployments.

Making these commitments will show our Guard and Reserve soldiers that they can serve our country overseas – even on long deployments – and know that their families will be financially secure and able to get childcare and healthcare. We should do no less. Let's seize this opportunity to do everything we can to lessen the burden on Americans who are already sacrificing so much for our security.