By Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill, National Guard BureauAugust 28, 2007
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (National Guard Bureau, Aug. 28, 2007) - Domestic equipment shortages remain the barrier to even greater excellence from a transformed National Guard, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said here Aug. 25.
"We know what we do. We know why we do it. We know what we need," Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum told National Guard officers and others attending the National Guard Association of the United States' (NGAUS) 129th General Conference. "Imagine what we could do if we had what we needed to do it."
An annual NGAUS almanac of Army and Air Guard equipment published simultaneously with the conference highlights shortages of radios, trucks, helicopters and other materiel, including:
- Almost 70,000 SINCGARS radios. SINCGARS, an acronym for Single Channel Ground to Air Radio System, is used by deployed Guard units and the regular Army. The missing SINCGARS meant "some Guard units couldn't talk with their active-component counterparts on the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina," NGAUS reported.
- About 3,300 heavy, expanded-mobility tactical trucks (HEMTTs) used domestically and abroad, 30,000 medium tactical vehicles and 19,000 Humvees.
- 28 CH-47 Chinook helicopters and 119 UH-60 Black Hawks.
Other shortages include night vision devices and weapons, Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, the director of the Army National Guard, has said. Equipment shortfalls are "a product of many decades of under-resourcing the Guard and thinking that it was a strategic reserve, not an operational force," Lt. Gen. Vaughn has said.
For the second year running, domestic equipment levels were the lone dark cloud over Lt. Gen. Blum's "State of the Guard" address.
"You are truly amazing," he told conference attendees. "If you are ever given the equipment, the resources and the authority - a seat at the table - nothing will stop the National Guard."
The 460,000 Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen of the National Guard are a team pulling together in one direction at a time when the nation needs it most, Lt. Gen. Blum said.
"This is a very important time for the National Guard, maybe more important than any other time since before we were a nation," he said. "The Guard's probably needed more today than at any other time maybe since Lexington and Concord. It is more vitally involved in everything that we're doing to make our homeland safe and free here at home and abroad.
"We have almost 70,000 Citizen-Soldiers in harm's way while we're down here enjoying this conference in Puerto Rico. They're serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Sinai, the Balkans, the Horn of Africa and 40 other countries doing amazing things. They're serving on the Southwest border, and the day that I left to come here, 30 of your governors had their Guard called out. And the country was not in crisis, it was normal. That's what we do every day. It's value-added to the communities, the state and the nation and it also reduces the strain on the (full-time) forces. We've been doing it since 1636, and we'll do it as long as there is a United States of America."
Almost 300,000 National Guard Soldiers have been deployed in support of the war on terrorism, yet both the Youth ChalleNGe program that gives at-risk youth a second chance and the State Partnership Program that strengthens international relationships have expanded, Lt. Gen. Blum said.
"The National Guard is committed to defending the homeland as our number one priority, and if we have one job to do that we must get right the first time, it's the defense of our American citizens right here at home," he said. The National Guard stands ready to tackle threats from Mother Nature or domestic or foreign terrorists, he said.
Lt. Gen. Blum highlighted the no-notice transformation of the National Guard since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, such as the addition of weapons of mass destruction - civil support teams; chemical, biological, nuclear and high-yield explosive enhanced response force packages; computer emergency response teams; critical infrastructure protection-mission assurance assessment detachments; reaction forces; joint operations facilities and other capabilities.
"The National Guard is no longer a strategic reserve that would be used only in the late innings of major wars," he said. "What we're talking about is an operational force that is used every single day."
That transformation happened because the nation's adjutants general committed to it at their annual conference in Ohio in May 2003, Lt. Gen. Blum said.
"It was the work of the adjutants general and the hard work of the Army and Air Guard that did that, America's greatest joint team," he said. "You have defied gravity; you have defied the conventional wisdom, and you are providing your sons, daughters, grandchildren, neighbors and friends a way to respond if we're attacked in the United States, and right now the National Guard has made a serious effort to guard the nation. I salute you."
The conference host, NGAUS, includes nearly 45,000 current and former officers. The nation's oldest veterans or military service organization was created in 1878 to provide unified Guard representation in Washington with the goal of obtaining better equipment and training by petitioning Congress for more resources, the same mission it has today.
"In the four years that Lt. Gen. Blum has served as our chief, he has raised the stature of the National Guard in the Pentagon to new heights," said Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, NGAUS chairman. "He has walked the walk, he has talked the talk in ways that make us all extremely proud to be a Citizen-Soldier."