June 6, 2007 – ANCHORAGE, Alaska — About half of all National Guard equipment is being used in the Middle East, and the Guard’s senior uniformed officer said Tuesday that could hurt the organization’s overall readiness at home.
National Guard units have 53 percent of the equipment they need to handle state emergencies, said Lt. General H. Steven Blum. It falls to 49 percent once Guard equipment needed for war — such as weapons — is factored in, he said.
“Our problem right now is that our equipment is at an all-time low,” he said at a news conference after addressing 54 National Guard commanders from every state and territory attending the annual Adjutants General Association meeting here.
“We have the most skilled, trained and full forces we’ve ever had, but our equipment is not where it needs to be,” he said.
The lack of equipment was highlighted last month after a tornado leveled the town of Greensburg, Kan., leading Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to say the recovery process could take longer because so much of that state’s National Guard equipment had been sent for the war effort in Iraq.
Since then, other governors have also expressed doubts their state units would be able to adequately handle disasters because so many troops and equipment have been deployed. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also complained that his state’s National Guard equipment remained in Iraq after those troops returned home.
Blum said the equipment problem is the result of long-term strategy of assuming risk by underequipping — and underfunding — the Guard.
“Now that the Guard is no longer merely a strategic reserve but an operational force overseas and here at home, that strategy is being seriously re-examined,” he said. “I think at the highest levels of government, there is support for getting us this equipment.”
The equipment issue is the easiest problem to solve, Blum said. It is now just a matter of funding it.
He said Guard units nationwide need new trucks, Humvees and modern aircraft, not only to replace what has been sent to Iraq or Afghanistan but also to replace outdated equipment.
Current funding projections will get the National Guard 75 percent of what it needs by 2013, he said. Blum estimated it would take an additional $40 billion over the next five to six years to get the overall force to 100 percent.
Current plans call for the old equipment to be removed from service by 2009.
Blum also said Guard deployment numbers are back down to an acceptable level. The most deployed Guard force ever was Idaho, Blum said, which peaked several years ago with 82 percent of its force deployed. He said the numbers are now where they need to be and that he is not seeking a further reduction in the frequency with which Guard units are deployed.
Connecticut and Guam now have the highest percentage of deployed Guard troops, with 24 percent. New Mexico’s Guard has the least, with none currently deployed, according to Guard statistics. The national average for the percentage of deployed troops is 11 percent, according to Guard officials.
Blum, who was appointed by President Bush, serves as chief of the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va. He advises Army and Air Force officials on issues dealing with the National Guard. Blum served as chief of staff of U.S. Northern Command before his current role.