Army Has Resisted Proposal For Guard Disaster Units; Short of People, Equipment
By GREG JAFFE, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, September 12, 2005; Page A5
WASHINGTON -- Before Hurricane Katrina, the Army fiercely resisted the idea that it should set aside big National Guard units that would specialize in homeland security and disaster relief.
But that resistance will be tested by the government's tepid initial response to Hurricane Katrina. So will some new ideas on how National Guard units might move closer to the front lines of disaster response. Both will be part of a seemingly inevitable debate that is almost certain to be fierce.
The wrenching pictures of hurricane victims pleading for help may have raised the issue for most Americans, but in some circles the search for a broader military role has been under way much longer. Earlier this year, the Rand Corp., a government-funded think tank, proposed that the Pentagon create 10 new 900-soldier battalions from the National Guard that would focus exclusively on homeland defense.
Instead of training for war, these units would train with state and civilian authorities. They would be positioned in each of the 10 regions into which the Federal Emergency Management Agency has divided the nation. They would craft disaster relief plans and help ensure communication systems were robust enough to survive catastrophes. When disaster hit, these soldiers would be the first to flow into the stricken areas, providing the core of a headquarters for other National Guard units to link up with and build on.
"The Army's view was that they wanted Army combat units to be trained, ready and available for all things," says Lynn Davis, a senior analyst who played a role in developing the Rand concept. "We argued that the problem with that is many units may not be [trained] and ready quickly enough to do things at home."
The response to Hurricane Katrina could change that thinking.
[snip discussion of the Army wanting to focus the NG on overseas combat duty, equipment shortages among non-deployed units, and Pentagon resistance to using active-duty units for disaster work]
In recent months, the National Guard has carved out some very small units for homeland defense missions. It recently formed 55 Weapons of Mass Destruction civil-support teams whose mission is to help state authorities if there is a chemical or biological attack. Each of the units has only about 25 soldiers. But siphoning off more soldiers solely to the homeland defense mission would create big strains on the active force, say Army officials.
daveamongus proposed solving this problem by creating a separate organization. Doesn't look like the government is headed that way yet, but there are some people considering the problem.