May 8, 2007

National Guard not in Kansas anymore?

This article appeared on

The governor of Kansas claims that recovery efforts in the tornado-devastated town of Greensburg are being hampered by shortages of Kansas National Guard equipment – Humvees, front loaders, trucks – currently deployed to Iraq and not in her state.

Okay, let’s get the politics out of this up front. I am not sure how much her party affiliation – she is a Democrat – plays into her remarks. It does make a nice sound bite and checks the “attack the administration” block.

That said, she has a point.

When the governor complains that much of the Kansas National Guard’s equipment is in Iraq, including 15 of its 19 Blackhawk helicopters, she is describing a symptom of a larger problem that goes far beyond Kansas, and far beyond the present situation. The problem is lack of serviceable equipment and it is not limited to the National Guard and reserves. On average these units have only 40 percent of their authorized “TO&E” – table of organization and equipment – and it is not in the best of shape. The Guard is supposed to get $21 billion for new equipment over the next five years – basically a band-aid fix. Our regular forces fare only a bit better.

War's toll on military equipment

The five-plus year “global war on terror” has taken its toll on military equipment, especially on the vehicles assigned to the ground forces. The problem is most acute in Iraq, where constant improvised explosive device attacks, combined with a harsh operating environment, have degraded the normally robust Humvees. Modifications to the Humvees to make them fighting vehicles (something they were not designed to be) have added weight and changed the driving characteristics dramatically, and shortened their service life. Many, if not most, need to be replaced. Units rotating back to the States often leave most of their Humvees in Iraq.

Whether you agree or disagree with the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, the fact is that American troops are deployed in a combat zone. Combat operations are tough on equipment, and equipment is expensive. It must be replaced at a much higher rate than during peacetime training rotations. For whatever reason, we have not done that. The administration is reluctant to request the actual funds that are required to keep our forces equipped at the optimum level. Yes, the figure would be shocking, but would you deny an American soldier or Marine the very best hardware, and enough of it? Of course not.

Adequate reserves

As I have noted in the past, our armed forces are too small to protect the worldwide national interests of a superpower. One half of one percent of our population in uniform is not enough if we are to fight essentially two wars, maintain forces in other potential hot spots, support relief efforts, provide forces for United Nations commitments, and still have adequate reserves to respond to emergencies at home.

I chose the words “adequate reserves” carefully. In the final analysis, the National Guard is a reserve component of the United States Army – about half of the Army’s combat units are in the National Guard. While the governor is correct that twenty percent of the Kansas Army National Guard is deployed to Iraq, its primary mission is to provide forces for the United States Army. It is the federal government that funds the National Guard, not the governor.

What is a governor to do when his or her state’s Guardsmen are deployed on federal service? The governor of each state is authorized to organize, train and equip a State Defense Force, not subject to federal service, to be used specifically when the National Guard is away. Kansas has such a force; I assume the governor has mobilized them.

When all is said and done, the United States needs a larger Army. Until we reestablish an adequate force level to meet the requirements levied on our active duty armed forces, we will continue to call up the National Guard and reserves.