Chattanooga Times Free Press - Edward Lee Pitts
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., asked President Bush to include in the upcoming budget more money to replace equipment that National Guard units left behind in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In a letter sent to the president, Sen. Alexander wrote that more than 10,000 Tennessee guardsmen have served overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan with units that have had to leave most of their equipment behind.
"Re-equipping the National Guard is one of the biggest challenges we face in funding the Defense Department," Sen. Alexander wrote. "Guard units have been equipped to do their jobs in combat overseas, only to come home and find that what equipment was not destroyed in combat had to be left behind for others to use."
Sen. Alexander wrote that the practice leaves units without enough resources to carry out their jobs at home, such as responding to natural disasters.
Sean Kevelighan with the White House Office of Management and Budget said the specifics of the new budget would not be available until Feb. 5. "We will take Senator Alexander’s recommendation under advisement," he said.
Gov. Phil Bredesen said in October that he also is concerned about equipment shortages. He said then that it would take 10 years to replace the equipment valued by state military officials at $250 million.
During its Iraq deployment from 2004 to 2005, Tennessee’s 278th Regimental Combat Team left much of its equipment behind, said Col. Jeff Holmes, current commander of the 278 th.
That included generators, trucks, Bradley fighting vehicles and armored humvees, Col. Holmes said. He said some of those vehicles eventually might be used by the Iraqi Army.
The regiment is continuing to receive replacement vehicles each month in a process that should continue through 2007, Col. Holmes said.
He said the unit was scheduled to receive updated vehicles in a normal replenishment cycle that was accelerated by the Iraq deployment.
"It is part of a natural evolution of replacing old equipment," said Col. Holmes, who said he didn’t expect the unit to be 100 percent equipped until any future deployment.
The Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, charged with looking at a possible revamping of the forces, heard testimony last month that the Guard and Reserve components are being strained by the ongoing war on terrorism.
That includes chronic equipment shortages, according to testimony before the commission.
The reserve components began deployments after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with about 65 percent of required equipment, said Dan McKinnon with the commission. Officials testified in December that Guard and Army Reserves now are operating with between 50 percent and 60 percent of equipment capacity. That is below the military’s goal of having 70 percent of equipment on hand at any one time.
"The Guard’s not getting the kind of equipment they deserve," Mr. McKinnon said.
Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army’s top general, testified before the commission that the Army faced $56 billion in equipment shortages when the war on terrorism began.
"Frankly, we entered this war flat-footed," he said. "To make Reserve components ready, we had to pool personnel and equipment from across the force."
He said the Army has earmarked $21 billion to buy new ground equipment.
Officials at the Pentagon recently announced that more money would be set aside for re-equipping the National Guard during the next five years.
But Sen. Alexander said more dollars are needed now to help the National Guard carry out its mission.
Sen. Alexander said he has raised the issue with new Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Officials with the Tennessee National Guard’s headquarters did not return calls for comment.