Maybe we’ll get lucky and the next hurricane will hit Iraq. Because that’s where all of our National Guard equipmentis.
The National Guard cannot respond efficiently to homeland security and domestic emergencies if it continues to lack the appropriate equipment, military personnel told a congressional committee Thursday.
Witnesses at a House Committee on Homeland Security subcommittee hearing agreed that the National Guard’s equipment shortages, which total about 50 percent, result in slower emergency response times and the inability to adequately respond to disasters of extended duration or widespread impact.
“No matter what your political beliefs about the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, certain facts are undeniable,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the committee chairman. “The conflicts abroad have left our citizen-soldiers at home without enough working equipment and stretched far too thin.”
Maj. Gen. Roger P. Lempke, president of the Adjutants General Association, surveyed several adjutants general before the hearing and said that most reported having sufficient equipment to deal with single disasters common to their states.
But, he said, they “fear insufficient quantities to deal with multiple disasters in their states or having to send equipment to support a regional disaster such as Katrina.”
Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, echoed Lempke’s sentiments. Although the National Guard can handle emergencies one at a time, he said, having to respond simultaneously to a local disaster and a national emergency would severely deplete the reserve armed forces.
“We wouldn’t even be operating at 50 percent,” said Blum. “This nation can afford to make sure we have the tools we need.”
National Guard readiness has been most compromised by its involvement in the nation’s war against terror. With large numbers of military personnel deployed overseas, state and local governments have had to cope without significant National Guard aid.
The loss of National Guard equipment to fighting terrorism abroad has created two issues, Lempke said.
First, he said, the most valued equipment for emergency response has been the least likely to return from overseas, namely Humvees, trucks, communication equipment and helicopters.
“Secondly,” Lempke said, “equipment shortages have become uniform and widespread.”
The Army National Guard in Nebraska should have 324 5-ton trucks to equip all the transportation units for wartime missions, yet it has only 147, Lempke noted.
Even Pennsylvania’s Army National Guard, one of the nation’s largest National Guard forces, has roughly 50 percent of its authorized number of truck tractors and flatbed trailers, 32 percent of its night-vision equipment and 48 percent of the authorized number of fuel tankers, French said.
“I’m concerned we’re stretched to the breaking point with equipment and manpower,” Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., said.