Lawmakers consider creating State Guard

? Lawmakers are considering whether to set up a volunteer State Guard that could be called to active duty during emergencies.

State Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, said the measure would result in “being prepared for an emergency at all times with a ready and able defense force.”

But while State Guard representatives from several states extolled the virtues of militias to lawmakers this week, the Kansas National Guard said it can manage without one.

“The Kansas National Guard has sufficient manpower to meet the state’s foreseeable needs for defense and disaster relief,” said Col. Bruce Woolpert, legal adviser to Tod Bunting, adjutant general of the Kansas National Guard and the state’s director of Homeland Security.

Still, the issue may be in play when lawmakers convene the legislative session in January.

Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, and vice chairman of the House-Senate Kansas Security Committee, said possibly a scaled-down version of Pyle’s proposal could gain approval.

“Some of the aspects of that were very positive,” Emler said, noting the recent rash of natural disasters in the state, such as the May tornado that leveled Greensburg in southwest Kansas.

“Having a civilian corps out there who could be deployed to a Greensburg or a flood area would be good,” he said.

Pyle’s proposal would establish a Kansas State Guard, consisting of Kansans at least 18 years of age who volunteer for duty.

Members would serve without compensation unless they are called to active duty by the governor. Active duty compensation would be set by state rules and regulations.

Paul LaValle, a colonel in the Texas State Guard, said the State Guard in Texas has served in numerous capacities, from crowd control to flooding rescue operations. In 2005, Texas State Guard personnel were deployed to Louisiana to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

LaValle argued that the need of a State Guard has increased with the deployment of National Guard troops overseas.

“If you allow the citizens of Kansas the opportunity to serve their state, you will be greatly impressed with the high caliber of the individuals that want to do something meaningful for their neighbors and their country,” LaValle said.

But Woolpert, with the Kansas National Guard, said the cost of establishing a State Guard is excessive and not practical.

The start-up cost would be $3.5 million to cover training in law enforcement practices and procedures, food, arms and equipment, physical exams for volunteers, vehicle fuel and other expenses, according to the state budget office. And that doesn’t include the cost of providing heavy equipment, such as dozers, graders, dump trucks and generators.

And while the Kansas National Guard has been stretched during deployments for U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials say they have still been able to respond to natural disasters in Kansas.

The Kansas National Guard’s largest federal commitment was in October when about 30 percent of the 7,700 Kansas National Guardsmen and women were in federal service, Woolpert said.

“While these numbers are significant, they have not prevented the Kansas National Guard from responding adequately to Kansas emergencies,” he said.