Canton Repository

March 3, 2007

Ohio Guard more ready than many other units

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON The Ohio National Guard is better prepared for domestic emergencies than some might assume from a recent assessment of the nation's reserve forces, state guard officials said this week.

But they noted that the state's guard lacks the ability to train on the modern equipment it would use if deployed to war zones overseas.

Two thousand or more troops in the Ohio Guard's 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, including more than 500 in units based in Austintown, Akron, Cleveland and Medina, could be deployed to Iraq early next year, adding to other Ohio guard members serving overseas, officials said last month.

GUARD REPORT

In a report released Thursday, an independent commission painted a bleak picture of the ability of guard units across the nation to take on missions, either overseas or in the United States.

The report from the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves said "the equipment readiness of the Army National Guard is unacceptable and has reduced the capability of the United States to respond to current and additional major contingencies, foreign and domestic."

Arnold L. Punaro, a retired Marine Corps general who chairs the commission, said 88 percent of guard units "are not ready due to equipment deficiencies."

OHIO LAWMAKERS REACT

Elected officials, including Gov. Ted Strickland and Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, have just begun to digest the report.

Regula said Friday the guard and reserve "must be afforded adequate resources and training in order to meet our national security objectives."

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, has not read the report but his main concern is whether the Ohio Guard troops who may be sent to Iraq are "equipped with the body armor, training and equipment necessary to protect their lives when they are over there," Ryan spokesman Brad Bauman said.

IS OHIO GUARD OK?

When it comes to domestic missions, the Ohio Guard is better equipped and prepared than many of its peers in other states, officials said.

"We feel, in Ohio, extraordinarily prepared for those missions," Ohio National Guard spokesman Mark Wayda said.

While many states have just 35 percent of the equipment they need, Ohio has 61 percent, he said. "That gives us a great deal of capability for the homeland security fight," according to Wayda.

But he added that the guard lacks the modern equipment it would use to fight overseas.

"The first time they see that kind of equipment is when they get to the mobilization station for that two months of training before going out," he said.

GUARD WANTS TO OFFER INPUT

In addition to stressing the need for more equipment for the guard, the commission report says the reserve needs a stronger voice in the nation's military councils.

But the commission opposes legislative proposals backed by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, Rep. Zack Space, D-Dover, Strickland and others that would give the chief of the National Guard, Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Ohio guard favors those proposals, which it believes would give the guard more input into high level decisions that affect it.

In a press conference this week, Punaro said the commission unanimously rejected the change, which he said would be a "huge step backwards" for efforts to make the different branches of the military service work together.

Instead, the commission recommends making the guard chief a senior adviser to Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff.

Reacting to the commission report, Brown said he still backs the legislation.

"Our goal remains the same ... to make sure that the National Guard has direct say in decisions affecting guardsmen and guardswomen and their families," he said.