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Retired general says war weakens Guard

Echoes comments on tornado relief

WASHINGTON -- The National Guard isn't as strong as it should be because of the war in Iraq, and American communities will suffer as a result, retired General Melvyn Montano of the Air Force said yesterday.

Delivering the Democrats' weekly radio address, Montano said the strain means it will take longer for Greensburg, Kan., to recover from a devastating tornado that leveled the town a week ago.

"Crucial equipment used by the Guard for disaster relief is now in Iraq instead of standing ready to respond to crises here at home," said Montano, who was once adjutant general of the New Mexico National Guard.

"When the tornado struck Kansas last week, the Guard had half the number of Humvees and large trucks they usually would have at their disposal," Montano said.

"The recovery process now will take longer."

Montano echoed Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, a Democrat, who clashed with the Bush administration this week. "I don't think there is any question if you are missing trucks, Humvees and helicopters that the response is going to be slower," she said Monday.

"The real victims here will be the residents of Greensburg, because the recovery will be at a slower pace," she said.

Sebelius later said the Guard was adequately equipped to handle the disaster, though possible flooding in another part of the state would have forced her to make hard choices about where to send aid.