For months, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and other governors have warned that their state National Guards are ill-prepared for the next local disaster, be it a tornado, a flash flood or a terrorist’s threat, because of large deployments of their soldiers and equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Then, last Friday night, a deadly tornado all but cleared the small town of Greensburg off the Kansas map. With 80 square blocks of the small farming town destroyed, Ms. Sebelius said her fears had come true: The emergency response was too slow, she said, and there was only one reason.
“As you travel around Greensburg, you’ll see that city and county trucks have been destroyed,” Ms. Sebelius, a Democrat, said Monday. “The National Guard is one of our first responders. They don’t have the equipment they need to come in, and it just makes it that much slower.”
For nearly two days after the storm, there was an unmistakable emptiness in Greensburg, a lack of heavy machinery and an army of responders. By Sunday afternoon, more than a day and a half after the tornado, only about half of the Guard troops who would ultimately respond were in place.
Ms. Sebelius’s comments about the slow response prompted a debate with the White House on Tuesday, which initially said the fault rested with her. Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, said the governor should have followed procedure by finding gaps after the storm hit and asking the federal government to fill them — but did not.
“If you don’t request it, you’re not going to get it,” Mr. Snow told reporters on Tuesday morning.
As State Senator Donald Betts Jr., Democrat of Wichita, put it: “We should have had National Guard troops there right after the tornado hit, securing the place, pulling up debris, to make sure that if there was still life, people could have been saved. The response time was too slow, and it’s becoming a trend. We saw this after Katrina, and it’s like history repeating itself.”
In Kansas, the National Guard is operating with 40 percent to 50 percent of its vehicles and heavy machinery, local Guard officials said. Ordinarily, the Guard would have about 660 Humvees and more than 30 large trucks to traverse difficult terrain and transport heavy equipment. When the tornado struck, the Guard had about 350 Humvees and 15 large trucks, said Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, the state’s adjutant general. The Guard would also usually have 170 medium-scale tactical vehicles used to transport people and supplies — but now it has fewer than 30, he said. On the other hand, General Bunting said, it had more cargo trucks than it needed.
The issue is not confined to Kansas.
Two recent reports have raised questions about Guard preparedness. An independent military assessment council, the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, released a report in March that stated: “In particular, the equipment readiness of the Army National Guard is unacceptable and has reduced the capability of the United States to respond to current and additional major contingencies, foreign and domestic.”
Another report, released in January by the Government Accountability Office, concluded that the continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan had “significantly decreased” the amount of equipment available for National Guard units not deployed overseas, while the same units faced an increasing number of threats at home.
Late Tuesday, in a statement, Ms. Sebelius repeated her message:
“I have said for nearly two years, and will continue to say, that we have a looming crisis on our hands when it comes to National Guard equipment in Iraq and our needs here at home.”
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Nowhere to Hide
This is a New York Times article, not an Op-Ed piece:
Posted by Rmj at 1:45 AM