November 15, 2003
Guard says it told Army of copters
Bartonville-based unit filed a report 18 straight months
By DORI MEINERT
of Copley News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. - For 18 consecutive months before a combined Illinois-Iowa National Guard helicopter unit was deployed to Iraq, the Guard unit reported to the U.S. Army that most of the unit's helicopters lacked basic missile defense systems.
Yet the Army sent the Chinook helicopters to Iraq and used them in missions despite the missing protective equipment.
Since at least October 2001, the Bartonville, Ill.-based Guard unit had reported that 10 of its 14 helicopters lacked basic missile defense systems, according to a spokeswoman for the Illinois National Guard.
"We clearly reported it and showed the unit's deficiencies," said Lt. Col. Alicia Tate-Nadeau of the Illinois National Guard. "The information was there for them to view."
She was responding to the suggestion made by Army officials earlier this week that the Guard unit had misrepresented itself as ready for deployment to Iraq, setting off a last-minute scramble by the Army to find missile defense systems for the helicopters just before they were shipped out from Corpus Christi, Texas. Several of the newly acquired systems, however, arrived damaged.
Six of the unit's 14 helicopters flew for three months lacking the basic anti-missile protection system, Army officials told Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in a private briefing Monday. One of the helicopters was shot down Nov. 2, killing 16 soldiers including 1st Lt. Brian D. Slavenas of Genoa, Ill. That unit had the basic missile defense system, but not the more advanced system that regular Army and some Guard Chinook helicopters have.
Durbin had requested the briefing after receiving several e-mails from Guard members in Iraq contending they didn't have the same equipment that regular Army helicopters had received. Durbin said that Army Col. William Crosby suggested that the state National Guard might not have had the money to equip its helicopters with the ALQ-156, a basic missile protection package.
But Guard officials contended that funding was not the issue. The missile defense systems are among a category of equipment that must be purchased directly by the Army, said Tate-Nadeau.
"Not only was the unit's hands tied ... (but) the Illinois National Guard as an organization, our hands were tied in that we could not use any discretionary dollars that we had to buy that piece of equipment," she said. "It's not like we said, "I can buy 300 backpacks or one of these."
The monthly unit status reports, first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, are filed with the state National Guard. Then, they are sent to the National Guard Bureau in Washington and to the Army.
The unit files another monthly report on the status of each aircraft that also reflected the missing missile defense systems, she said.
"The Army has a monthly snapshot of the readiness of all its deployable units," confirmed Maj. Gary Tallman, an Army spokesman. But the contents of those reports are classified, and can't be discussed, he said.
However, he said the readiness reports are being looked at as part of the investigation into the Chinook that was shot down. No further explanations were available from Tallman and other Army and National Guard Bureau officials here regarding the discrepancy.
"There is clearly a dispute about the information that was given from the Guard to the Army before mobilization," Durbin said Friday. "I cannot understand how that unit can be activated with only three of 14 helicopters properly equipped."
The Army had said that only three systems were working when the helicopters arrived in Texas.
Durbin said he plans to ask both the Army and the National Guard to provide documentation of their efforts in order to determine how the unit arrived in Iraq without proper protections and to prevent it from happening again.
"This goes beyond bureaucratic foul-up," Durbin said. "If we continue to activate Guard and Reserve units, we have to do a much better job to determine whether they are ready for combat."
Despite what appears to be a blame game occurring, Tate-Nadeau said the Illinois National Guard and the U.S. Army aren't adversaries over the issue.
"The Illinois National Guard feels we are part of the big Army," she said.
However, with even more Illinois National Guard troops now being called up, state Guard officials are concerned that the controversy could alarm Guard members.
"As a command, that's the one thing we don't want to do. Our soldiers have to know that we will do everything within their means to provide them with the equipment and the training they need to perform a wartime mission," she said.
"We want to make sure they understand that we have and we will always do everything we can to provide them with the appropriate equipment and training," she said.