Whether our National Guard is currently equipped to live up to its motto of "Always Ready, Always There" is being drawn into serious question following the recent Greensburg, Kansas tornado. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius made headlines last week when she complained about the Guard's response to the Greensburg disaster, stating that the Guard was under-equipped and understaffed -- a move that angered the Administration -- but this wasn't the first time the readiness of the Guard has been called into question.
The Bush administration has known for some time now that by moving Guard resources out of the country in support of the effort in Iraq the Guard's ability to respond has been compromised.
The bitter exchange [between Gov. Sebelius and the Administration last week] represented a familiar debate to governors across the U.S., many of whom have long feared and predicted that a catastrophic event could find their National Guard units woefully hard-pressed to react to mass casualties or chaos after four years of war in Iraq.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire watched the events unfold in Kansas, remembering her own worries from 2006.
At the beginning of last summer's wildfire season, she was attending a meeting with other governors from the Northwest. She had a big problem, Gregoire told them. Parts of her state were a tinderbox because of drought. Key segments of Washington's National Guard had deployed to Iraq. And the units that were left--the ones that would be called up to respond in the event of fast-spreading fires--were facing such severe equipment shortages that they sometimes struggled even to adequately train for disasters, let alone respond to them.
"I soon discovered that virtually all of the other governors were in the same position," Gregoire recalled.
Not long after that meeting, all 50 U.S. governors--the commanders in chief of their states' National Guards--signed a letter to President Bush imploring him to immediately begin reoutfitting their depleted National Guards. But little changed, and the Guard now has only 56 percent of its required equipment, the lowest level in nearly six years, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The problem has been growing worse... despite complaints to the Administration.
"The problem with the National Guard is not being exaggerated or overstated," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a Virginia-based national security think tank. "It is very real, and it is a very big deal."
In late 2005, a GAO report found that almost every state's National Guard had just a fraction of the equipment it was supposed to have. Another GAO report issued just months ago took the criticism further. "The high use of the National Guard for federal overseas missions has reduced equipment available for its state-led domestic missions," it concluded. The top commander of the National Guard, Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, testified to Congress last month that the continuous use of its forces for overseas missions has "resulted in a decline of readiness for units here at home."
Missing equipment--much of which has been shipped to Iraq or destroyed there--is a large part of the problem. Certain states are worse off: Arizona has just 34 percent of its allotted equipment; New Jersey and Idaho 42 percent; and Louisiana, ground zero for the worst natural disaster in modern memory, remains at less than 50 percent.
The quoted article, written by Chicago Tribune national correspondent Kirsten Scharnberg, is an excellent roundup of the problems that have been previously documented, and then roundly ignored, by the Bush administration.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates responded to the Kansas shortfall last week by asking Congress for $22 billion, an amount he estimates is needed to raise the Army National Guard equipment levels up to the 76 percent level. The extent to which the administration has been raiding and depleting Guard resources, despite warnings from all 50 Governors that the shortfalls are severe and serious, is painfully apparent when it'll take that amount of money to bring the equipment level up to just 76 percent readiness.
Congress is reportedly considering efforts to limit President Bush's power over the Guard, and to require the Defense Department to step and assess just how prepared the country is for domestic emergencies. It's a move that deserves a few phone calls and letters in support.
Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!