If Kansas National Guard units are among those called to help patrol the Mexican border, they have the manpower for the job, but the Iraq War has taken its toll on the Guard's equipment.
"We could do it. We have the people, but nobody has called us up and said, 'Hey, this is what you're going to do," said Joy Moser, spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General's Department, which oversees the Kansas Guard.
Earlier Monday, however, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius questioned President Bush's expected evening announcement that he would call up thousands of National Guard troops to augment the U.S. Border Patrol's efforts.
"If you take that number of National Guard troops out of home commitments at a time where we're looking for tornadoes and hurricanes and other natural disasters, I really think that leaves states in a much more compromised situation," Sebelius said.
The Kansas Guard currently has slightly fewer than 1,000 troops deployed in Iraq and other locations around the world, Moser said. That is down from about 2,200 deployed last fall, she said. Subtracting current commitments, the Army and Air Guard in Kansas have a total of about 6,700 troops available for other assignments.
The Kansas Guard has had to leave some of its equipment behind in Iraq and is low on Humvees and big trucks. Some engineering equipment also was left, Moser said. Whether that would cause a problem for border duty would depend on the assignment.
"We have no clear picture," Moser said.
Sebelius also said she didn't know what the president's speech would mean for Kansas Guardsmen and that she had not been contacted by the White House.
Kansas Guard units do have soldiers who speak Spanish, but it wasn't clear Monday how many, Moser said. The state has had enough Spanish-speaking Guard personnel to handle past missions in South America, she said.
If Kansas Guardsmen are called on, they may have to go through additional training, said Lee Tafanelli, a state representative from Ozawkie who also is a lieutenant colonel and commander of the Guard's 891st Engineer Battalion. Tafanelli and his unit spent last year in Iraq.
Since the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guard units have sometimes been deployed for missions that were different from the ones they were initially trained to do.
"What happens is they will run through a training program on those skill sets you are going to have to need," Tafanelli said. "I don't think it would be all that difficult. I think it's more of a manpower issue."
Sending National Guard troops to the border will accomplish little, predicted Ray Rojas, who represents Migrant Worker Solidarity of Lawrence. A native of the Mexican border town of El Paso, Texas, Rojas said the military had been called on to assist the Border Patrol in the past.
"To me it just looks like the president is putting on a show," Rojas said. "There already is a lot of law enforcement down there."
Not all of the border is a vast desert. Many border towns, including El Paso, split their neighborhoods along the border, with residential subdivisions on both sides. A show of force won't go over well with people on either side of those neighborhoods, he said.
"There needs to be a more humane way for people to migrate here," Rojas said.