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Guardsmen on a rescue and relief mission

Despite a heavy deployment of National Guardsmen to Iraq and Afghanistan, more than enough troops are on hand to help counter the effects of Hurricane Katrina said a National Guard spokesman.
Members of the National Guard hand out ready-to-eat meals to some of the thousands of displaced residents from Hurricane Katrina at the Superdom Sunday.Eric Gay / AP
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Florida National Guard special forces were leaving Tuesday to perform search and rescue missions in Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  They are a part of the nearly 124,000 Guardsmen across 17 states available to help out Katrina’s victims, officials of the National Guard said Tuesday.

The Florida Guard special forces “have such extensive experience with hurricanes in our state that they have been called to go help in other states,” said Staff Sgt. Stephen Hudson, of the Florida Guard public affairs office.  “They do some search and rescue; going in and clearing buildings and making sure there’s nobody trapped.” 

Mississippi has 1,945 Guardsmen on active duty to provide debris removal, security and “citizen support,” which amounts to water and food distribution, officials said.  Another 1,000 Guardsmen, many who had been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, are on duty in Alabama. 

Despite a heavy deployment of National Guardsmen to Iraq and Afghanistan, more than enough troops are on hand to assist with safety, security and relief efforts in areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina, a spokesman for the Guard said.

More than 5,000 National Guard troops across four states have already been activated; 3,500 of those in Louisiana alone, Lt. Col. Mike Milord said Monday as the hurricane was lashing parts of Louisiana and Mississippi. “The troops are available, they’re responding as we speak.”

Concern had arisen in recent months that because of the heavy deployment of National Guard troops into Iraq and Afghanistan, units would be too depleted to adequately respond to domestic emergencies.

State  governors "hold me accountable to make sure they have the right kind of units and the right kinds of capabilities that are able to respond if the governors call them out to forest fires or hurricanes or critical infrastructure protection or enhanced security measures,” Army Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of National Guard Bureau, told the American Forces Press Service last month. At least 50 percent of any one state’s total Guard enlistment will remain in the United States at all times, he said.  Most states have at least 75 percent of their Guard forces at home, Blum said.

Louisiana has 3,500 active National Guard troops, that represents about half of the total that Louisiana could call up if requested, Milord said.  About 35 percent, or 3,000 Louisiana National Guard troops, “are supporting deployed operations” in Iraq, he said.

About 200 National Guardsmen were inside the New Orleans Superdome during the height of the storm providing security and distributing food and water. Thousands of storm refugees had taken shelter in the 77,000 seat football stadium, home of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.

In addition the Guard had engineers inside the dome keeping a close watch on the structural integrity of the facility, which sprung a leak when hurricane-force winds ripped several panels off the stadium's roof.

Louisiana Guardsmen assisted state police with the evacuation of New Orleans and have helped establish 122 shelters across the state, according to the Army public affairs office.

In 1992, the National Guard deployed 7,000 troops to help with Hurricane Andrew, which devastated large swaths of southern Florida.  That disaster even swamped the Guard’s resources and eventually some 22,000 federal troops were called in to assist.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley sent National Guard troops to Mobile and Baldwin counties.  More than 1,000 Alabama Guardsmen are now pulling duty helping with sandbagging and other disaster response operations, according to Guard officials.  

Alabama has about 9,000 Guardsmen available for disaster relief operations and are also prepared to assist neighboring states if asked, Guard officials said. 

Traditionally, the National Guard operates in state active duty status when responding to civil emergencies.  When operating in that mode the Guard is given a special waiver from the Posse Comitatus Act--which usually prohibits the military from becoming involved in civilian affairs—and therefore has the ability to back up law enforcement agencies to help enforce laws.