<![CDATA[I was deeply struck by the images of people lined up outside the Superdome in New Orleans, hoping for shelter from Hurricane Katrina because they didn't have the ability to escape the region.
Where is the National Guard, which used to show up with trucks to get those in greatest need out of a disaster area?
Of course, the answer is "They are in Iraq, protecting us." The State Police are heading the evacuation, even though the state is already a Federal disaster area, which allows deployment of the National Guard. In the West, firefighting has been hampered by shortages of personnel once filled by the National Guard—it’s not a regional problem but a national one that we can see most clearly in a crisis. Unfortunately, this is a crisis that leaves hundreds of thousands of people—many of whom appear to have wanted to leave but can’t—in the path of a huge storm.
According to reports, the Guard is standing ready to help people after the storm, but many people who could have been evacuated with the appropriate resources are being left behind. This despite the fact that there is a mandatory evacuation going on.
The transformation of the Guard from homeland defense to offensive force for the first time since World War II has depleted the resources people have been able to depend on at home during a disaster. Currently almost half the Army National Guard is deployed and re-enlistment is down overall, leading to a tighter squeeze on regional disaster response. Moreover, the equipment and vehicles that would be broken out in response to a hurricane are unavailable, as they too are in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The “transformation” of U.S. military strategy has taxed local economies and, in Louisiana, among many other states, special arrangements have had to be made to keep enlistment high enough to staff a war; but the core mission of the Guard, to be available for governors’ to call upon for service in or near their home state is now neglected by Federal planners.
We have to rethink this use of the National Guard, both because of the severe consequences of having a shortage of citizen soldiers available to respond to disasters and the recognizable shortage of homeland defenses, where borders, shipping and other points of entry for would-be terrorists go unguarded. While President Bush argues this week that if we don’t fight the terrorists over there, they’ll attack us at home, we also have to take into account the consequences of his policy on people who don’t see the National Guard when they are needed at home.
I was born in Baton Rouge and have my fingers crossed for the folks down there.