Diego Union Tribune
March 1, 2007
National Guard on verge of collapse
By Steve Liewer
simultaneous burdens of warfare and homeland defense have battered
the National Guard and Reserves, leaving them thinly staffed,
underequipped and on the verge of collapse, a blue-ribbon panel
with strong ties to San Diego concluded Thursday in a report to
“They are at
their lowest level of readiness in decades. They'll continue to be
less and less ready,” said Arnold Punaro, chairman of the
Commission on the National Guard and Reserves and an executive for
Scientific Applications International Corp., a San Diego defense
situation starts with a major overhaul of federal agencies that
manage these forces, the panel concluded after holding public
hearings nationwide for a year. The commissioners, including three
from San Diego, also recommended several measures to give reserve
forces more clout and representation in Washington, D.C.
their 23 proposed changes are already part of widely supported
legislation moving through Congress. Others would only need
approval by the executive branch.
impression (of the findings) is very optimistic, very pleased,”
said Stephen M. Koper during a news conference in Washington,
D.C., to release the report. He is a retired Air Force brigadier
general and president of the National Guard Association of the
assertions, the commissioners accused the U.S. Defense Department
of long neglecting the National Guard. They criticized it for
chronically underfunding the contingent while overusing it for
combat service since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Punaro said the Pentagon has given short shrift to the Guard's
civil-defense and emergency-response roles.
governors nationwide oversee the Guard units in their respective
states. But once those units are federalized – as hundreds have
been for combat duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere – the
governors lose control over them.
governors can't fill gaps in their Guard ranks by automatically
borrowing from reserve forces, which are controlled by the
Pentagon. They also can't poach Guard troops from other states.
This lack of
options hurt the military response following Hurricane Katrina in
2005, when a large segment of the Louisiana National Guard was
serving in Iraq and replacement forces couldn't be mobilized
quickly to provide disaster relief.
On the war
front, meager funding has forced nearly every Guard and Reserve
unit to borrow service members and equipment from other units in
order to meet the Pentagon's troop demands.
has been especially hard-hit by this process. Punaro cited a
170-member transportation company from Lancaster that went to Iraq
with only seven of its original soldiers.
the state frequently deploy with only 40 percent 60 percent of
their initial members, said Col. Kerry Diminyatz, the California
National Guard's assistant operations officer.
California Guard members have been called up since 2001 and about
3,000 are on active duty now, according to Pentagon figures.
those soldiers have come from San Diego County, which is home to
Guard and Reserve units based at armories in Kearny Mesa, National
City and Escondido, said 2nd Lt. Scott Ghiringhelli, a spokesman
for the Guard's headquarters in Sacramento.
include the 40th Infantry Division, the 670th Military Police
Company and the 96th Military Police Battalion, all of which have
deployed to Iraq.
A year ago,
Congress created the blue-ribbon panel and asked it to devise
reforms for the National Guard and Reserve system. A congressional
panel asked the commission to hold hearings coast to coast and
render its findings by this spring, resulting in Thursday's
should establish a bipartisan council to advise federal officials
on matters involving the National Guard and Reserves.
National Guard Bureau's commander should be equal in rank to
members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, giving him more clout in the
departments of Defense and Homeland Security should set up
programs to train National Guard troops on emergency-response and
Senior-level Guard and Reserve officers should have more chances
to serve in joint-service commands and become high-ranking
Service writer Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report