WASHINGTON — With most of its best equipment in Iraq, the National Guard has only about one-third of the helicopters, trucks, radios and other supplies it needs for homeland security, the Guard’s top commander said Thursday.
Gen. Steven Blum said Guard members had to convey messages in person, by helicopter and boat, so units could communicate with each other after Hurricane Katrina. The Guard’s older radios do not work with the more sophisticated active duty equipment, he said.
“I’m dealing with radios of the type that were used the last time you were wearing battle fatigues,” Blum told the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense.
“We have to be ready to do homeland defense. We can solve the problem. The urgency did not exist. It does now,” said Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau.
Blum said it will take as much as $7 billion to buy what the Army and Air National Guard need to respond to natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other crises.
In a detailed budget outline, Blum identified $1.3 billion in immediate requirements. His priorities, he said, include trucks, tractors, radios and satellite phones.
Hurricanes’ damage to National Guard: $560 million
Pressed for more details, Blum told lawmakers that initial assessments show it will cost more than $560 million to repair the National Guard facilities and equipment destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Committee members urged Blum to tell them exactly how much he needs now so that additions can be made to the spending plan for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said the military has the resources to fight the war in Iraq and respond to domestic disasters. He has pointed out that the National Guard had as many as 300,000 troops ready and able to deploy to the Gulf Coast if needed.
Blum said the Guard made it a priority to send the best equipment to those units serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, he said, there is no noticeable difference between the active duty units and the Guard and Reserve units in those countries.
Soldiers sent overseas ‘superbly equipped’
“No soldier or airman is being sent overseas that is not superbly equipped to the maximum extent the nation can provide,” said Blum. But, he said, that has left domestic Guard units with secondhand supplies.
Also appearing before the committee, the assistant defense secretary for homeland defense said the military moved supplies and units into the Gulf Coast area four or five days before getting a formal request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Paul McHale said that Defense Department officials, including Rumsfeld, often verbally approved orders days before the needed paperwork was received.
In some cases, McHale said, Pentagon officials were asking FEMA to make certain requests. All together, he said, the Pentagon received 93 requests for assistance from FEMA, and all were approved.
FEMA and other federal agencies have been criticized for responding too slowly to the massive flooding that swamped New Orleans.
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