The women and men of Washington’s National Guard assist communities across the state during wildfires, floods and other natural disasters as well as deploying to meet threats overseas.

But our state is struggling to recruit and retain Guard members leaving our state at risk in times of crisis.

On Friday, a bill sponsored by Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens), himself a Lieutenant Colonel in the National Guard, received unanimous support in the House and now awaits the Governor’s signature.

“A well-trained, well-educated Guard with high morale is critical in times of crisis,” Hobbs said. “We are losing potential Guard members to other states and private businesses that are offering recruits more. This bill instantly makes us more competitive and on-par with what other states are offering.”

Senate Bill 5197 creates the Washington National Guard Postsecondary Grant Program to provide Guard members with additional college tuition assistance. It also expands the class of Guard members who are eligible to receive awards to pursue higher education and career development, and it increases award amounts.

Eligible students can receive an award for the cost of tuition and fees, plus up to $500 for books and materials. It also credits Guard members for time already served, instead of requiring them to complete additional service after using the award.

“This is a great bill for the National Guard, but also a great policy to strengthen our state’s workforce,” Hobbs said. “The success of both of these entities is critical to the success of our state.”

The 81st Striker Brigade Combat Team, our state’s largest National Guard unit, will start a year-long deployment to Poland as part of our NATO mission in Eastern Europe.

“When this unit returns stateside, I’m pleased that they’ll have much better benefits to higher education,” Hobbs said.