Where Was the National Guard?

Last week, we watched New Orleans sink into chaos. Fortunately, many of the hungry, thirsty and exhausted residents have been tended and evacuated over the weekend--after up to five days with no food and little to no water.

Response to the disaster was sluggish, pundits and citizens from both sides of the political spectrum agree. One of the most asked questions: Where was the National Guard?

"We are watching this devastation unfold on our televisions for days, and you have to ask: Where is the federal government?" commented Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). "The National Guard's first priority must always be to protect people at home."

Reported numbers of Guardsmen being sent to the crisis areas last week ranged from 7,200 to 21,000--all on the same day. Fact is that Louisiana and Mississippi both have been lacking soldiers. USA Today stated that "more than 5,900 Guard soldiers from the two states, about a third of the total, are deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq."

About 40% of all troops in Iraq are National Guard and Reserves. According to Turnto10.com, an NBC affiliate, 58,000 members of the National Guard are in Iraq, while 300,000 are still on U.S. soil, ready to be deployed to national emergencies.

Dave McGinnis, a military analyst specializing in National Guard personnel issues, was not as optimistic: He says the troops that are here are the wrong kind of soldiers. "It's combat soldiers, which is the type of units you need in this kind of situation," he said, pointing out that combat units have the kind of structure, vehicles and equipment needed to deal with a natural disaster like Katrina.

Another problem: Due to likely deployment in war zones, the National Guard is facing severe recruiting problems. In 2005, it fell 20% short of its recruiting goals--in Louisiana that percentage has shot up to 47.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, thinks that the mounting pressure of fighting two wars and dealing with emergencies at home could permanently incapacitate the National Guard.

Her prediction: "Just as levees break, the force is going to break."

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Posted 09-06-2005 5:16 PM by Doug Casey