State Legislature could add more education benefits for the Washington National Guardsmen

Col. Gent Welsh, commander of the Washington Air National Guard, flanked by Command Sgt. Maj. (Ret) Bob Sweeney, Master Sgt. Naz Brockman, headquarters, Washington Air National Guard and Mr. Steve DuPont, Central Washington University testify in front of the House Appropriations committee on January 30, 2020 at the State Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (U.S. National Guard photo by Joseph Siemandel)
January 31, 2020

When the economy is strong, organizations, to include the Washington National Guard, have to compete for top talent.

“We are struggling to keep qualified members in our ranks, when our neighbors in Oregon and Idaho both offer state tuition assistance programs,” said Col. Gent Welsh, commander of the Washington Air National Guard. “When we ask our young men and women to serve an extra weekend, it is really tough to convince them to stay with us.”

Welsh testified before the state’s House Appropriations committee, which is considering House Bill 1201. The proposed legislation would create a permanent tuition assistance program for members of the Washington National Guard. Welsh pointed out that 36 other states offer Guardsmen this benefit, as well as private-sector companies – often to part time employees.

“We believe this is as close to a silver bullet as we have been able to find to retain and recruit qualified airmen and soldiers, while keeping them in our state,” said Welsh.

Currently the Washington National Guard administers a conditional scholarship program, which requires Guardsmen to pay out of pocket for tuition and then receive a refund afterward. If passed, HB 1201 would create the Washington National Guard Postsecondary Grant Program and would be administered by the Washington Student Achievement Council. Guardsmen that are active members in good standing, are attending or plan to attend a state university or college, and have completed and submitted an application for student aid would be eligible to receive a grant to help pay for their education. The award will be based on a student by student basis.

“We need to revamp this program and invest in our Guard,” said Command Sgt. Maj. (Ret) Bob Sweeney, director of the National Guard Association of Washington. “We see 1201 as an investment in their education, civilian job training and our state’s future.”