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Overseas deployments hinder National Guard hurricane presence

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Re: Overseas deployments hinder National Guard hurricane presence

Aug 29, 7:52 PM EDT

National Guard: Enough GIs for Storm Duty

By PETE YOST
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Some 6,000 National Guard personnel in Louisiana and Mississippi who would be available to help deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are in Iraq, highlighting the changing role of America's part-time soldiers.

"The juxtaposition of the mission to Iraq and the response to Katrina really demonstrates the new and changing character of the National Guard," Daniel Goure, a military analyst at the private Lexington Institute, said Monday.

The war has forced the Guard into becoming an operational force, a far cry from its historic role as a strategic reserve primarily available to governors for disasters and other duties in their home states.

At 1.2 million soldiers, the active duty military is simply too small to carry the load by itself when there is a large sustained deployment like Iraq. Nationally, 78,000 of the 437,000 members of the Guard force are serving overseas.

As part of the transformation during the war effort, the National Guard has promised governors that at least 50 percent of soldiers and airmen will be available for stateside duty at all times. In most cases, the rate is well above 50 percent.

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said the Gulf states have adequate National Guard units to handle the hurricane needs, with at least 60 percent of the Guard available in each state.

In Louisiana, which took the brunt of Katrina, some 3,000 members of the 256th Combat Brigade are in Iraq, while 3,500 members of the Guard were deployed to help hurricane victims and another 3,000 were on standby.

In neighboring Mississippi, the Guard had 853 troops on hurricane duty - a small slice of the more than 7,000 Guard troops in the state's ground and air components. Some 3,000 National Guard troops from Mississippi are in Iraq, another 300 in Afghanistan.

The states in the hurricane's path have relatively large Guard forces. But some states with smaller Guard forces and a high percentage of soldiers in Iraq have expressed concern that they may be stretched too thin.

For example, about 1,800 of Idaho's 4,400 Guard troops are serving overseas, a somewhat worrisome figure for officials facing a high risk of forest fires in the middle of a drought - fires that Guardsmen would help fight by providing logistical support to front-line firefighters.

Mark Allen, spokesman at the national headquarters for the National Guard, said officials are confident the Guard can serve its dual roles.

"We've always done both. It's just on a bigger scale today," he said.
 

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