Springfield Journal Register

November 04, 2005

Senators say Guard needs more equipment

By DORI MEINERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Barack Obama joined a bipartisan group of 40 other senators Thursday to urge President Bush to address the equipment shortages faced by the Army National Guard in next year's budget.

The Illinois National Guard equipment inventory falls below the national average in most categories looked at in a recent study by the General Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

"This is a serious problem," said Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat. "It impacts the ability of these units to respond as they should in a crisis. It affects their ability to conduct training exercises. It affects the morale of the units. Replacing this equipment has been slow, and the replacement items are often not adequate in terms of quality or quantity. We must not allow this to continue."

The GAO report showed that, on average, non-
deployed National Guard units have just 34 percent of the essential war-fighting equipment they need to be at full readiness after subtracting equipment left in Iraq or undergoing maintenance. The shortage could leave them vulnerable in a domestic emergency as state officials dealing with Hurricane Katrina discovered.

Testifying at House committee hearing last month, Lt. Gen. David Melcher, deputy chief of staff for the Army, agreed with the GAO report's conclusions. He said $21 billion in spending is planned from 2006 to 2011 to equip and modernize the Army National Guard.

Illinois National Guard units fare even worse than the national average, Durbin said. For example, the GAO study showed that Illinois Guard units are

assigned 4 percent of the medium trucks needed to maintain full wartime readiness, 8 percent of the heavy trucks, 47 percent of night vision devices and 63 percent of radios.

Durbin said the situation may be even worse because some of the Illinois units' assigned equipment has been left behind in Iraq.

"The greatly diminished percentage of equipment on hand in our Guard units carries with it the risk of not only denying these units the equipment needed to conduct good training for their combat mission, but also leaves them with fewer tools to support state responses to natural disasters," the senators' letter stated.