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Guard under siege.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Stressed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the National Guard is overused, inadequately equipped and unprepared to respond to domestic emergencies ranging from a natural disaster to a terrorist attack.

A new report by the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves found that nearly 90 percent of Army National Guard units and 45 percent of Air National Guard units not currently deployed overseas have severe equipment shortages. Extended deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan have compounded those shortages and are hurting recruiting. As a result, the Guard is at its lowest readiness level ever, putting Americans at unprecedented risk from Oregon to Florida.

With 830 Oregon troops serving in Afghanistan and up to 250 on alert for possible deployment to Iraq, the report buttresses the concerns of state officials who have questioned whether Oregon's Guard units have sufficient troops or equipment to adequately respond to domestic emergencies such as a forest fire, earthquake or tsunami.

The bipartisan commission, established by Congress in 2005 and made up of senior military and civilian officials, says Guard units are routinely required to leave behind their gear in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, many units have become inadequately equipped for either domestic missions or fighting wars. The Guard has estimated that it will cost $38 billion to restore domestic units to readiness.

Meanwhile, continued and extended deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan are also taking a toll on recruiting and retention, the report says. The Guard is having increasing difficulty recruiting the cops, teachers, accountants, homemakers, students and others who traditionally have filled the ranks of what was once a part-time, citizen reserve force but under the Bush administration has become a working arm of the active military. Fewer former active-duty military personnel are joining the reserves. In 1997, they made up 61 percent of the ranks; a decade later that percentage has dropped to 38 percent.

Congress should pay careful attention to the report's recommendations. They include identifying the missions that Guard units are expected to perform at home and ensuring that they get the equipment they need to carry out those missions. The commission recommends establishing a bipartisan council of governors that would meet annually to make certain the Guard maintains an adequate level of readiness.

Another recommendation would grant governors more power to handle domestic emergencies, including allowing them to command federal troops that respond to emergencies in their states, as well as Guard troops. Such a change could help prevent the confusion that occurred after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.

Lawmakers should also make certain that the Defense Department gives the Guard the money it needs to rebuild and maintain readiness. Reserves currently make up more than a third of the U.S. military, yet they receive only 3 percent of the equipment funding and 8 percent of the Defense Department budget.

The deepening stress on the National Guard will take hard political work to resolve. But that work is necessary to make certain the Guard is fully equipped, trained and ready to protect Americans both at home and abroad.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Shortages hinder ability to respond at home
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 6, 2007
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