By now it should be news to no one that four years of war in Iraq have left our men and women in uniform overstretched and underequipped. But, a recent report says that 88 percent of National Guard units are now "not ready" to respond to unforeseen foreign and domestic crises.
According to the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves report, units are also training with old or outdated equipment if they have anything to train with at all.
President Bush's plan to escalate the war in Iraq with 22,000 more combat troops, and over 8,000 support troops including 14,000 National Guardsmen, places an even greater strain on the already overstretched National Guard and jeopardizes its ability to respond to a disaster here in Missouri. At a time when the troops are already seeing their tours in Iraq extended and their time at home between deployments sharply reduced, which is in violation of both standing Pentagon policies, Missouri can't afford to send even more men and women abroad.
In addition, the escalation is already deepening the scarcity of equipment for troops that remain here in the states. After the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, it is difficult to understand why the President would propose a military strategy that would further strain our ability to respond to a national crisis.
Without the required equipment, the National Guard will have a lot more trouble responding to natural disasters like the tornados that recently destroyed communities in the southeastern United
States. If something like that or, God forbid, a terrorist attack or nuclear disaster were to happen here in Missouri, our own National Guardsmen would not have the full capacity to respond.
A number of generals and governors who testified before the commission noted that, in the event of a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, many states would have to rely on neighboring states' National Guard units to provide the necessary tools to help. We have already committed 9,276 National Guardsmen and Reservists to the President's war in Iraq; we can't afford to lose more.
Here in Missouri it has been reported that our National Guard needs additional equipment and training. The Missouri National Guard only has 28 percent of the medium trucks required by military standards. It was also
reported that Missouri only has 37 percent of the night-vision devices required.
National Guardsmen and Reservists are not receiving the training and equipment they need to execute their missions. The National Guard estimates that units have an average of half of their authorized stock equipment, a problem compounded by the fact that many units have to give their replacements whatever equipment they still have when they complete their tours in Iraq. This creates an even larger shortage of equipment with which to train or respond to a terrorist attack or natural disaster here in the United States. And the cycle of equipment shortages continues.
Funding for the National Guard troops has not kept up with what the administration has asked them to do, and the lack of proper equipment and
training have added to already poor morale and low recruiting and retention rates. The 830,000 reservists make up more than one-third of the total military, but they actually receive only 3 percent of the equipment funding.
According to the National Guard, $38 billion would be required for Guard units to be fully prepared for domestic crises and protection in battle. There is only $21 billion budgeted for Guard equipment, which is a $17 billion shortfall.
Our troops deserve to have our full support, including honest commitments to them about deployment length and time home between tours, and a guarantee that our brave men and woman in uniform have the necessary equipment to fulfill their mission.
The proper course in Iraq is not escalation and more bloodshed, it is redeployment and withdrawal. If this war in Iraq cannot be fought without straining Missouri's Guardsmen and Reservists, putting the state at risk, then perhaps it's time to tell Bush to bring the troops home.
That's how we can support the troops and keep America safe.
Kansas City, Missouri
Lansdale served one year in Balad, Iraq. As a reserve soldier he was a firefighter and an EMT. His deployment to the Middle East was in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He currently serves with the 418th Civil Affairs, studies at Blue River College, and works at a government ammunition facility near Kansas City.