With equipment in Iraq, TNG not prepared for natural disaster at home

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen said in an interview yesterday that the Tennessee National Guard is not prepared for a natural disaster because much of their equipment is in Iraq:

Gov. Phil Bredesen said he is "very concerned" that the Tennessee National Guard doesn't have enough equipment to mobilize during an emergency because troops have left hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment in Iraq for other units.

"It's trucks and humvees and bulldozers, all this stuff you need to keep an army going. It's all in Iraq right now," the governor said during an editorial board meeting at the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Monday.

He said it would take 10 years to replace the equipment, valued by state military officials at $250 million.

Bredesen said that Tennessee is particularly hard hit because "the state has a large number of engineering units with the kind of equipment needed in Iraq."

The Tennessee National Guard commander said that if there were a natural disaster such as an earthquake near the New Madrid fault near Memphis, "we'd have had to hitchhike to get there."

The equipment shortages are also affecting the TNG's ability to tran and prepare:

Sgt. 1 st Class Ken Manis, who went to Iraq with the 278th and now is part of an Alcoa, Tenn.-based military police unit, said the shortage affects the unit's ability to train and be ready for state or national emergencies.

"I'm in a new unit, and we have no equipment - no radios, no Hummers, no weapons, no nothing," he said. "If you don't have the equipment, it's kind of hard to prepare."

According to the article, Governor Bredesen spoke to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld about the situation back in the spring. Rumsfeld said he'd "look in to it."

A spokesman at National Guard Headquarters said they are "looking out for the taxpayers", because it's easier and less expensive to leave equipment in Iraq instead of having replacement units bring their own. He also said they have only 30 to 40 percent of their equipment on hand stateside, but are prepared to move equipment from all over the U.S. if a disaster strikes.

National Guard deployments and equipment shortages were a factor in the Katrina response, according to a GAO report to Congress last year:

U.S. National Guard units are under-equipped and increasingly unready to help in domestic disaster relief because essential gear is left behind after service in Iraq and Afghanistan, a congressional report said Oct. 20.

Heavy demands on the Guard since Sept. 11, 2001, have caused "declining readiness, weakening the Army National Guard's preparedness for future missions," according to the Government Accountability Office. The Pentagon's strategy for the Guard is "unsustainable and needs to be reassessed," it said.

Guard officials believe the response by Guard units to Hurricane Katrina last month "was more complicated because significant quantities of critical equipment, such as satellite communications equipment, radios, trucks, helicopters and night vision goggles, were deployed to Iraq."

Guardsmen and other relief workers complained that they did not have the equipment to communicate properly for days after Katrina swept ashore, destroying phone and radio links.


The report said the Army National Guard estimated its units had left - for follow-on troops in Iraq and elsewhere overseas - more than 64,000 items valued at more than $1.2 billion.

The report said the Guard could not account for more than half of those items and had no plans to replace them as Pentagon policy required.

That left non-deployed Guard units with only about one-third of the equipment they needed for overseas missions, "which hampers their ability to plan for future missions and conduct domestic operations," the report said.

Unfortunately, we can't fight hurricanes and natural disasters "over there" so we don't have to fight them "over here." At any rate, the federal government is responsible for providing equipment to state National Guard units. Congress is still debating with the Pentagon and the White House to get the needed funding for replacement equipment as promised. The defense bill passed last week provides $81 billion for new weapons systems, including $76 billion in R&D.