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Talking Points: Strained Resources

Governors rely on the National Guard to respond to natural disasters or terrorist attacks. But the Guard doesn't have the necessary manpower or equipment.

On Friday, a deadly tornado hit the small town of Greensburg, KS, killing at least 10 people and obliterating 95 percent of the town. The National Weather Service classified the tornado as an F-5, the highest categorization. But with approximately 60 percent of its equipment sent to Iraq, the Kansas National Guard’s response to this disaster will be impaired. “I don’t think there is any question if you are missing trucks, Humvees and helicopters that the response is going to be slower,” Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) said. “The real victims here will be the residents of Greensburg.” Unfortunately, the situation is Kansas is not unique. Although scientists expect global warming to intensify natural disasters, the National Guard is increasingly overstretched and, like other U.S. troops, stuck in the middle of a vicious civil war in Iraq. North Carolina Gov. Michael Easley (D) notes, “We the governors rely on the Guard to respond to natural disasters, a pandemic or terrorist attack. … Currently, we don’t have the manpower or the equipment to perform that dual role” of responding to state and federal needs.

  • States like Kansas are missing critical pieces of their National Guard infrastructure. The Kansas National Guard is missing approximately 50 percent of its trucks and 24 percent of its helicopters due to the war in Iraq. “Not having the National Guard equipment, which used to be positioned in various parts of the state, to bring in immediately is really going to handicap this effort to rebuild,” said Sebelius. These shortages should not come as a surprise to the Bush administration. The governor has “written the Pentagon twice and spoke about the issue at great length with Bush in January 2006 when they rode together from Topeka to a lecture in Manhattan.” “He assured me that he had additional equipment in his budget a year ago. What the Defense Department said then and continues to say is that states will get about 90 percent of what they had,” Sebelius said. “Meanwhile, it doesn’t get any better. I’m at a loss.” Sebelius said she will bring up the issue again with the president when he visits Kansas on Wednesday.
  • Here at home, states are struggling to find the resources to respond to natural disasters. “Kansas is not an isolated situation. Every state is significantly below level for equipment across the National Guard,” National Guard Association president Brig. Gen. Stephen Koper said. Ohio is the best-equipped state in the nation, with just 65 percent of its equipment available; the national average is 40 percent. According to a recent Congressional Commission report, “88 percent of National Guard units have less than half of the equipment required to perform missions at home.” A January Government Accountability Office analysis also found that the Pentagon “does not adequately track National Guard equipment needs for domestic missions” and as a consequence “state National Guards may be hampered in their ability to plan for responding to large-scale domestic events.” Last month, National Guard head Lt. Gen. Steven Blum told the Senate Appropriations Committee, “You name it, we are short of — this is meat-and-potatoes basic items. I’m talking about ‘dozers, graders, loaders, backhoes, dump trucks.” With hurricane season approaching, Florida, too, is having difficulty figuring out how it will be able to adequately respond to disasters with just 25 percent of its equipment. Before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, it had double that amount.
  • Extended tours in Iraq are straining the human resources of the National Guard. Next year, President Bush plans to send another 12,000 National Guard forces to Iraq and Afghanistan as part of his escalation plan. The National Guard and Reserve troops, like the rest of the U.S. military in Iraq, is increasingly overstretched. “I am further behind or in an even more dire situation than the active Army, but we both have the same symptoms, I just have a higher fever,” Blum said. Additionally, National Guard troops face difficulties when they return from their extended deployments abroad. The “annual number of reservists and National Guard members who say they have been reassigned, lost benefits or been fired from civilian jobs after returning from duty has increased by about 30 percent since 2002.” The solution to the strain is not to simply remove National Guard troops from the war, but to set a timeline and redeploy all U.S. troops out of Iraq — a proposal that the majority of Congress and Americans support, but which Bush recently vetoed. In that war funding bill rejected by the president, Congress had also requested $2 billion for a new “Strategic Reserve Readiness Fund of which $1 billion is for Army National Guard equipment shortfalls.” The Center for American Progress has a plan to strategically redeploy U.S. troops out of Iraq, and Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb recently testified before Congress about a strategy to rebuild and expand U.S. ground forces in a way that will ensure the National Guard has the resources necessary to react to natural disasters.