The Stripped-Down Guard

From Holden:

Come hurricane season we are seriously fucked.


Non-deployed Guard units have just 5 percent of the lightweight rifles and 14 percent of the machine guns they are authorized to have.

Units nationwide have just 8 percent of the flatbed semi-trailers they are authorized to have and 10 percent of the Humvees.

And despite the fact the Guard likely would be the first force to respond to a terrorist attack, which many experts fear could involve the use of chemical or biological weapons, its units have only 14 percent of their authorized chemical decontamination equipment and virtually none of the chemical agent monitoring equipment they are supposed to have.

“How in the world can we help ourselves or our fellow governors in a natural disaster when we have none of the equipment to do it?” Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire asked.


Overall, the Guard has only 34 percent of the equipment it is supposed to have, according to Guard officials and the GAO numbers. Congress has approved about $23 billion for the Guard over the next six years, most of which will go to replace equipment. But many of the governors, as well as Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard bureau, have said it will take at least double that amount to effectively re-outfit the badly cannibalized force.


The tug between the two increasingly conflicting duties of the Guard – fighting in Iraq and protecting the home front – was on display in the aftermath of Katrina. Instead of being able to draw on the equipment stores of the units in the affected region, the Guard scrambled to get equipment brought to Louisiana and Mississippi from the farthest reaches of the United States. At one point, there was talk of flying troops and equipment from Hawaii.

“We have yet to have an incident where there is a need for equipment that we can’t provide,” said Maj. Frank Holder, special projects officer for logistics with the National Guard. But Holder acknowledged that the search for equipment increasingly “ranges further and further afield.”


All told, about 88,000 pieces of National Guard equipment – everything from tanks to Humvees, radios to rifles – have been left in Iraq. Not only has the equipment, worth an estimated $3 billion, been left for newly arriving troops, but much of it will never be returned to the United States because it has been worn out, destroyed in bombings or turned over to fledgling Iraqi units.


In New York and New Jersey, where fears of another catastrophic terrorism attack may be the greatest and most plausible, equipment shortages are acute. As of late last year, New Jersey’s Guard left about 1,000 Humvees in Iraq and dispatched 16 of the state’s 20 helicopters there. New York, which is authorized to have 900 Humvees, had just 266, and it had only 264 of its authorized 1,000 night-vision goggles.

The 81st Brigade, based in Washington state, left $33 million worth of equipment in Iraq last year, including radios that would be needed in the event of a major emergency.

And inventory tallies for Illinois are far worse even than the national average.

According to statistics released by the office of Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Illinois units have 4 percent of the medium-size trucks and 8 percent of the heavy trucks needed for full readiness. The GAO report pointed out that at least three Illinois Guard units were unable to conduct training or meet proficiency levels because of lack of equipment.

“The (Bush) administration refuses to acknowledge the real cost of this war – the real costs in terms of deaths and dollars and equipment,” Durbin said.