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Davis Signs Bills Adding Benefits for Guardsmen


Gov. Gray Davis signed three bills Saturday that increase benefits to Californians serving in the National Guard.

Davis signed the bills in Long Beach after a speech to the National Guard Assn. of the United States in which he praised the force as the nation's "firewall between fear and freedom."

About 3,000 people attended the 124th annual meeting of the lobbying group representing 50,000 Air and Army National Guard officers, said Kristin Patterson Jones, a spokeswoman for the group.

Two of the bills will provide expanded health coverage and low-cost mortgage financing for active-duty guardsmen, and the third will alleviate a shortage of trained drivers by permitting enlistees 16 to 18 years old to operate military vehicles, National Guard officials said.

The role of the National Guard expanded greatly after last year's terrorist attacks; 5,000 California members activated since then have served in support roles during fighting in Afghanistan and provided security at more than 30 airports around the United States. National Guard members also patrolled border checkpoints, bridges and power and water plants, officials said.

Those deployments created hardships for many members and their families, said Col. Bill Hatch.

"For many mobilized soldiers, leaving a civilian job means a sizable pay cut," he said. "We need these kinds of programs to help take care of them while they're doing their duty for their country."

Davis, who previously signed legislation directing the state to make up the difference between members' full-time pay and their active-duty salaries, said the new bills were a continuation of his commitment to support the National Guard. "They've responded to every call effectively and responsively," Davis said.

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