Tampa, Fla. With repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan leaving state National Guards without nearly half of their required equipment, some governors are loudly questioning whether they will be able to handle the next hurricane, wildfire or terrorist attack at home.
"We are not going to be able to continue to rely on the National Guard as a full-time operational force" overseas if the Guardsmen are to do their job at home, North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley said.
Easley said his state has about half the equipment it needs and probably could respond adequately to a hurricane, but "a pandemic or something like that may be a different question."
The widespread problem of permanently losing National Guard equipment to the war was pushed to the forefront this week when Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius complained that shortages of equipment and well-trained personnel slowed Guard response to tornadoes that ravaged her state.
"A lot of equipment has gone to Iraq and the equipment doesn't come back when the troops come back," California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Thursday.
The California National Guard is missing 700 Humvees and more than 1,100 high-water vehicles - nearly half the number it's supposed to have, according to documents reviewed by The AP. The Guard also has just 1,301 M4 machine guns, or less than a third of its required stockpile.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe acknowledged that his state, with much of its National Guard equipment in Iraq, could have similar problems as Kansas if disaster struck.
Beebe said that much of the Arkansas Guard's engineering unit is deployed in Iraq, and that the state's Blackhawk helicopters also are overseas.
"It would be nice if the federal government would provide (soldiers in Iraq) with sufficient materials so that the states would still have sufficient materials for their people in case of a crisis," Beebe said,
National Guard troops take heavy equipment to Iraq where it is specially outfitted for combat and then left behind. Some states reported the equipment was eventually replaced or returned, but severely worn. Many are still waiting.
White House and Pentagon officials have said that equipment-sharing agreements among the states would ensure there would be adequate hardware available to handle any disaster. Such sharing is common - 48 states belong to an emergency assistance compact, an agreement to help each other in emergencies.
The Pentagon acknowledged this week that Army National Guard units had only 56 percent of their required equipment, the lowest levels since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Bush administration is asking Congress for $22 billion for the Army National Guard over the next five years, which would take equipment levels up to 76 percent.