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Most National Guard units rated 'not ready' for service

Commission cites heavy deployment, lack of equipment

WASHINGTON -- Nearly 90 percent of the Army National Guard units in the United States are rated "not ready" -- largely because of shortfalls in equipment worth billions of dollars -- jeopardizing the Guard's ability to respond to crises at home and abroad, a congressional commission said in a preliminary report released yesterday.

The commission found that heavy deployments of the National Guard and Reserves since 2001 for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other anti terrorism missions have deepened shortages, forced the military to cobble together units, and hurt recruiting. The problems threaten to undermine the nation's 830,000-strong selected reserves, the commission said.

"We can't sustain the [National Guard and Reserve] on the course we're on," said Arnold Punaro, chairman of the 13-member Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, established by Congress in 2005.

"The Department of Defense is not adequately equipping the National Guard for its domestic missions," the commission report said. It faulted the Pentagon for a lack of budgeting for "civil support" for domestic emergencies, criticizing what it called the "flawed assumption" that as long as the military is prepared to fight a major war, it is ready to respond to a disaster or emergency at home.

Army National Guard units in the United States have on average about 50 percent of their authorized stock of dual-use equipment, meaning gear needed both for fighting wars and domestic missions, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.

The National Guard estimates it would require $38 billion for equipment to restore domestic Army and Air units to full readiness.

The Army has budgeted $21 billion to augment guard equipment through 2011.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the use of US military reservists has sharply escalated, from about 12.7 million days of service in 2001 to an estimated 63 million in 2006. The current increase in US troops in Iraq is expected to require the accelerated call-up of as many as four National Guard combat brigades beginning early next year, as part of an effort to relieve the strain on active-duty brigades, which are now spending as much time in combat as at home.

But while the selected reserves make up more than one-third of the total US military, they receive only 3 percent of the equipment funding and 8 percent of the Defense Department budget, the report said.

National Guard units deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have been required to leave behind large quantities of gear in the combat zone. Partly as a result, 88 percent of Guard units in the United States are so poorly equipped that they are rated "not ready" to deploy, the report said, citing Lieutenant General H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau.

A National Guard chart showed that 45 percent of the Air National Guard is also "not ready."

To help address such problems and increase the authority of the reserves, the commission called for the chief of the National Guard Bureau to be elevated one rank to four-star general. But in commenting on legislation known as the National Guard Empowerment Act, the commission disagreed with a proposal to make the head of the National Guard a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in part, it said, because it would complicate the chain of command.

The commission also called for granting governors more power to handle emergencies, including allowing them to command not only National Guard forces, but also federal troops responding to emergencies in their states.

The commission is to complete a final report by January 2008.