By Fred W. Baker III, American Forces Press ServiceMay 25, 2007
WASHINGTON (American Forces Press Service, May 25, 2007) - Congress must either fund equipment for the National Guard or accept the risks of an under-equipped strategic reserve, the Guard's top officer said yesterday.
The Guard has only about half of the equipment it needs, Army National Guard Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, testified before the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security's subcommittee on management, investigations and oversight.
Flanked by three states' adjutants general, Lt. Gen. Blum told committee members that having the nation's only strategic reserve equipped at 50 percent sends a message "that could be miscalculated by our adversaries overseas."
"It's really now the job of the Congress to fund the equipment or accept the risk," Lt. Gen. Blum said.
The Defense Department has proposed spending $22 billion for National Guard equipment purchases over the next five years, Lt. Gen. Blum said.
Even so, that would equip the Guard to only 75 percent, its level before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Lt. Gen. Blum questioned whether that is enough.
"We are in a post-9/11 world, and I am not certain that those levels still apply," Lt. Gen. Blum said.
Air National Guard Maj. Gen. Roger P. Lempke, the adjutant general of Nebraska and president of the Adjutants General Association, told committee members that there needs to be better accounting at the Defense Department level for states' equipping needs.
Currently, equipping the Army and Air National Guard is managed by the respective services, and levels are based on units' wartime missions. This causes problems when states respond to multiple requirements -- state and federal -- forcing them to cross-level equipment, or take it from one unit to give to another. In addition, much Guard equipment deployed overseas has not returned.
Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Robert P. French, deputy adjutant general for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, said that leaves his state falling short. "What happens today because of the war effort ... leaves us with substitute equipment at home or no equipment at home," he said.
Lt. Gen. Blum conceded that the Guard does not need full equipping of its lethal systems, such as tanks and artillery systems. Units need only enough of those for training. But, he outlined an "essential 10" categories that list 342 dual-service items needed both to respond to U.S. disasters and to support units' wartime missions. The categories include maintenance, aviation, medical and power generation. States need more equipment such as trucks, helicopters and communications equipment, Lt. Gen. Blum said.
The Guard chief also was critical of the equipment most states have left at home, saying some of it is decades old and not fit for war, to sell or even to give away.
"Those 40-year-old trucks are here in the U.S. because they are not good enough to go to the war. But someone thinks they are good enough to be used to save American lives," Lt. Gen. Blum said. "I say they're not good enough."
When Guard members deploy overseas, they are fully equipped for their mission, Lt. Gen. Blum said. It should be same here, he told the committee. If America were to suffer a terrorist attack simultaneously with a natural disaster combined with supporting the war, the force could easily become overwhelmed, he said.
"We're doing every single mission that we can possibly be doing, and we're doing it simultaneously, and we're trying to do it with 50 percent of our equipment," Lt. Gen. Blum said.
"We need to make sure that the troops that are back here have everything they need," he said.