Equipment ruined or still needed
Equipment used by the Florida National Guard isn't coming home with troops.
By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
Published March 2, 2007
Deployments overseas by Florida National Guard units have drained the guard's equipment stockpile, from humvees to night vision goggles, to a third of pre-9/11 levels because gear often stays in Iraq or Afghanistan when troops return home.
But Florida Guard officials said the shortages, while significant, pose no critical threat to their ability to respond to a domestic disaster such as a hurricane - yet.
In one case, a Guard truck company out of Marianna, on Florida's Panhandle, deployed with 71 heavy trucks. The unit returned with none.
"It's a huge drop-off overall," said Maj. Gen. Doug Burnett, who heads the Florida National Guard. "Do we need to do something about it? Yes. Is it getting low? Yes. Is it critical? Not quite yet. We're still good to go."
That message came as the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, established by Congress in 2005, reported in Washington Thursday that 88 percent of National Guard and Reserves units in the United States are rated "not ready" to deploy due to billions of dollars in equipment shortfalls.
"The Department of Defense is not adequately equipping the National Guard for its domestic missions," the commission's 151-page report said, noting that this jeopardized the Guard's ability to train and respond to disasters in the United States.
"This is unacceptable," said panel chairman Arnold Punaro, a retired Marine Corps general. "These are not problems that have just cropped up in the last two years or five years. These are issues that have been pretty much ignored and glossed over for decades."
In Florida, Burnett said it may take as long as five years for the Guard to restock its equipment stores, and certainly not before the finish of the war in Iraq.
Before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Florida National Guard units had 74 percent of their authorized equipment. Burnett estimates the current level at the mid-20 percent range. In some equipment categories, the figure is higher, though detailed information, including the value of equipment lost, was unavailable late Thursday.
Burnett cautioned that political leaders need to realize that the state's Guard units can ill afford to lose more equipment.
"We'd push back strongly on that," he said of any request for more equipment. "We're a hurricane-prone state. ... I don't think they'd ask for it because they know we need every truck. They're not stupid."
What equipment Florida may lack can easily be borrowed from other states, Burnett said. Florida has borrowed some items in the last two years during hurricane operations, he said.
"There's not a day I couldn't get 300 heavy trucks from Alabama or Georgia for a hurricane response," Burnett said.
Why isn't equipment coming home?
The problem is twofold. First, Burnett said, equipment such as heavy trucks undergo grueling usage overseas, sometimes being driven 18 hours a day. Bringing them home would be a waste of money because they're essentially ruined, he said.
In the case of other equipment, upgrades render items more useful in a war zone than back in Florida, Burnett said. For example, a Florida Guard humvee armored for a combat zone in Iraq will stay there.
It's unclear when, if ever, some of the equipment may be returned, though presumably some might be shipped back once operations overseas cease.
Nationally, Army National Guard units have, on average, 50 percent of their stock of dual-use equipment, which are items that can be used both domestically and overseas, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report. The Guard estimates it would cost $38-billion nationally to restore army and air units to full readiness.
Equipment shortages may be compounded with the current troop surge in Iraq, with four Guard combat brigades expected to be called up by early next year.
Currently, just over 900 Florida National Guard personnel are stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Information from the Associated Press and Washington Post was used in this report. William R. Levesque can be reached at email@example.com or 813 226-3436.
[Last modified March 1, 2007, 23:11:28]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]