>Unfortunately, it has taken a deadly tornado in Kansas to rekindle interest in the depletion of National Guard equipment in the occupation of Iraq; and, with fire season upcoming in Nevada the situation isn’t looking optimal for the Nevada National Guard either. Not that the Governor’s office sees it that way, saying of the 3500 Guard members only 350 are currently deployed, and that the Guard has “retained or replaced most of its equipment used in the war and is not lacking resources.” [KRNV]
Phrases like “retained or replaced most” and “is not lacking resources” seem to require more explication. First, the issue is not about the numbers of Guard members deployed — it’s about the equipment used up, blown up, deteriorated, and otherwise “elsewhere.” Deployment statistics aren’t a helpful guide to analyzing the equipment issues, and could be perceived as a form of red herring argument. Secondly, the assertion that the equipment has been retained or replaced infers that the equipment level was adequate in the first place, and further, that the equipment was what might be needed during a domestic emergency.
We don’t know what’s where, and haven’t from the beginning. The GAO Report issued in October 2005 stated that since 2003 the Army National Guard had left more than 64,000 items valued at more than $1.2 billion dollars overseas to support continuing operations, but that the Army lacked a “full accounting” of the equipment and has not prepared plans to replace it as required under DOD policy.” DOD Directive 1225.6 published on April 7, 2005 required a replacement plan for reserve component equipment transferred to the Army for more than 90 days. However, the Army didn’t track the Guard equipment, or prepare replacement plans because the practice was supposed to be a short term operation. [GAO 05]
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s prediction that the occupation of Iraq would take “six days, six weeks, I doubt six months” was evidently incorporated into the thinking about National Guard equipment replacement practices.
When the Army Materiel Command did start tracking equipment left behind it only counted high demand items like armored Humvees and other “items designated to remain in theater for the duration of the conflict.” [GAO 05] In short, the AMC was only tracking about 45% of the Guard equipment, and was not including such things as cargo trucks, rough terrain fork lifts, and palletized load trucks — which the AMC admitted it did not intend to track. [GAO 05]
Note that the cargo trucks, rough terrain forklifts, and palletized load trucks are just the sort of equipment that might be useful in the aftermath of tornadoes, hurricanes, and other domestic emergencies. These, in fact, are just the sort of items Kansas Governor Sebelius was talking about in the wake of the Greensburg disaster. The GAO had recommended the development of a replacement plan two years before the tornado leveled the small Kansas community.
One of the most highly publicized portions of the October 2005 GAO Report came at the end of the accountability section: “Until the Army develops plans to replace the equipment it has left in Iraq, if it is not returned, including identifying timetables and funding sources, the National Guard will continue to face critical equipment shortages which reduce readiness for future missions.” [GAO 05] Given that the Army was tracking only 45% of the equipment in the first place, one could wonder how it could come to determine how much to replace, and to whom, with any precision. While the GAO was compiling the information for its report and conducting its audit, Katrina had already thundered ashore.
A Pentagon panel said a major delaying factor in the recovery was that the bulk of the Louisiana and Mississippi Guard was deployed in Iraq. [HouChron] Their equipment, including high water vehicles went with them. In an interview with WGNO news on August 1, Lt. Col. Pete Schneider of the Louisiana National Guard thought the state had enough equipment to get by, and if Louisiana were to get hit by a major hurricane the neighboring states of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida “have all agreed to help.” [MM] Problem was — Mississippi and Alabama were having their own problems in Katrina’s wake.
Amid the flotsam in Katrina’s wake were Administration promises of investigations of emergency responses the Administration vehemently denied were delayed in any way. [MM] The Henthorne Report, which didn’t get much play in American papers, did manage to reach the pages of the Independent in Great Britain. “The one thing this disaster has demonstrated [is] the lack of coordinated, in-depth planning and training on all levels of Government, for any/all types of emergency contingencies. 9/11 was an exception because the geographical area was small and contained, but these two hurricanes have clearly demonstrated a national response weakness … Failure to plan, and train properly has plagued US efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and now that failure has come home to roost in the United States.” [IndUK] A person could reasonably assume that had not the Pentagon been leaking like the levees of New Orleans, this conclusion would not have been seen outside the Bush Administration Defense Department? During the next year these issues were beginning to worry U.S. governors.
All 50 U.S. governors signed a letter in 2006 to President George W. Bush “imploring him to immediately begin reoutfitting their depleted National Guards.” [CT] In March 2006 then Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn said he believed that the Bush Administration “must rethink the role and needs of the National Guard.” [Nevada Appeal] Guinn said, “When they take troops over they take our equipment,” he said. “When the troops come home, the equipment doesn’t.” He thanked the administration for its $20 billion commitment to replace that gear with modern equipment but said both the new equipment and training should be tailored to a different mission. “We want to be able to say the equipment and training we have relates to homeland security,” Guinn said. He said the Nevada guard didn’t need 200 artillerymen after Sept. 11, 2001. It needed more military police to patrol airports and other vulnerable locations. He said they don’t need new attack helicopters: “We want helicopters to help us with forest fires.” “We’re trying to get them to come and look at how we should operate – for homeland security.” He said he hopes the administration and Pentagon will hear those arguments.” [Nevada Appeal] That was 2006, and the GAO burst any delusions that the Administration and the Pentagon had directly addressed the situation about which the governors were complaining.
The governors were correct to be concerned, rather than directly addressing the problems of depleted stocks of equipment, and how “neighborhood” compacts were to solve the issue, the GAO Reported in January 2007 that “such planning has not been completed primarily because there is not formal mechanism for facilitating planning for the Guard’s role in large scale events.” (Like a combination of tornadoes in Kansas and flooding in Missouri?) The finding “…until the bureau’s charter and its civil support regulation are revised to define its role in facilitating state planning for multistate events, such planning for the National Guard’s role in these events may remain incomplete, and the National Guard may not be prepared to respond as efficiently and effectively as possible.” [GAO 07]
And, about the equipment? Worse yet, the report stated that, “DOD does not routinely measure or report to Congress the equipment readiness of nondeployed National Guard forces for domestic mission. …While DOD has recognized the need for greater visibility over the Guard’s domestic capabilities, its process and measures for assessing the Guard’s domestic readiness have not yet been fully defined. Until DOD reaches agreement on a specific approach for measuring readiness for domestic missions and requirements are defined, it will remain unclear whether the Guard is equipped to respond effectively to the consequences of a large scale terrorist attack or natural disaster.” [GAO 07]
At this point it might be appropriate to ask of Capt. April Conway, Nevada National Guard, how the conclusion, “…”We’re not 100 percent, but if something happened, the Nevada National Guard is well-equipped to help deal with the problem,” …”the vast majority of what we’ve taken with us to the desert has been returned or replaced,” [LVRJ] is to be interpreted. The 2007 GAO Report critiques the readiness measures as not providing, “..a rigorous assessment of the extent to which the National Guard’s nondeployed units have the equipment they need to respond to the full range of their domestic missions. While the DOD has begun to collect data on the readiness of nondeployed National Guard units using proxy measures and subjective assessments of military commanders, this effort is not fully mature and faces limitations.” [GAO 07] The DOD took issue with the GAO’s recommendation that the Army should report to Congress about specific plans and funding strategies for resourcing nondeployed Guard units, saying that this is all in the DOD budget Congress receives already. This is a tenuous argument. If the information is already being compiled for the budget, the concurrent resolutions, authorizations, appropriations, reconciliations, and supplementals — why not simply package that segment for the edification of the members of Congress. If the information, as suggested by two GAO reports, is in fragmented, undefined and uncategorized, and untracked condition, then it’s reasonably obvious why the DOD isn’t enthusiastic about producing the report.
According to one estimate the National Guard now has only 56% of its required equipment, the lowest level in nearly 6 years, and a Pentagon request for $22 billion for the Army National Guard for the next five years would only increase Guard equipment levels to 76%. [CT] How, then, even if we accept that our Guard units are fully equipped, do we conclude that those of our neighbors are as well?
Until the Department of Defense acts on the recommendations of the GAO reports on the tracking and auditing of nondeployed Guard unit equipment, and on the tracking and auditing of deployed unit equipment, and on the planning for the use of whatever equipment might be where-ever — then perhaps we will just have to take Captain Conway’s word for it that Nevada’s National Guard units have all the equipment they need for the tasks they might be assigned. In short, we may have to rely on what the GAO called the “proxy measures and subjective assessments.”