October 25, 2007

The California National Guard could have prevented fire damage…

…if only they hadn’t been diverted to Iraq.

That’s what California Lt Gov John Garamendi, Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Chris Dodd would have you believe.

Let’s put this into perspective. Since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, thousands of California Army National Guardsmen and have served on deployments in support of those efforts. Right now, 2000 troops out of a total of 20,000 authorized in the California National Guard are serving overseas. It is these 2000 Guardsmen that Garamendi and Boxer want returned from Iraq. If California cannot manage its Guard requirements with 90 percent of its forces on hand, the state leadership needs some management training.

Here’s a reality check. Governor Schwarzenegger pulled 800 National Guardsmen from the Mexican border for duty in support of the current wildfire crisis. By today, many of them have redeployed to the border because they were no longer needed. Just what are the 2000 in Iraq going to do?

A real problem is that California has not recruited enough personnel to fill its Guard units. It is not the war - enlistments and retention began to decline 20 years ago, and more noticeably 10 years ago. That is before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Most of the personnel in the California guard either enlisted or stayed in after the beginning of the conflicts.

The reason California is behind other states in enlistment and retention? California is the only state in the country that does not provide college tuition assistance for its guardsmen. Maybe Garamendi should focus on treating California’s veterans properly and spending less time showing his face on television. Statements like, “What we really need are those firefighters, we need the equipment. We need frankly -- we need our troops back from Iraq….” only highlight his irrelevance. Stick to representing the governor at mall openings.

Then we have that other bright light chiming in – Chris Dodd: “You saw it in Kansas not long ago, you’ve seen it in other jurisdictions here, where because we’ve got men and women in Iraq in the National Guard, we don’t have them back in these states doing the kind of jobs they can do when these tragedies occur. As you know, Governor Schwarzenegger has had to ask other states for help because so many of California's National Guard, who provide critical support to the citizens while you are fighting the fires, were deployed to Iraq. In a Dodd Administration, never again will our houses be on fire because our troops are taking fire in Iraq….”

Let me repeat that Dodd-ism again – “…never again will our houses be on fire because our troops are taking fire in Iraq….” I didn’t realize that the presence of National Guard troops deterred houses from catching on fire. Is it any wonder that no one takes this guy seriously? A Dodd Administration? A frightening thought.

Bottom line: The deployment of 2000 California National Guardsman to Iraq has no impact on this crisis. Garamendi, Boxer and Dodd are merely playing political games - and not very well - when they should be assisting the victims of the fires.