http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/ne...B6B8B8B37E72EEDC862570AE001A93DF?OpenDocument National Guard is short on gear By Philip Dine POST-DISPATCH WASHINGTON BUREAU Wednesday, Nov. 02 2005 WASHINGTON National Guard units in Illinois and Missouri are underequipped across the board, from vehicles to radios to night-vision devices, according to internal military figures. While Guard units' supplies are below full strength nationwide, as shown by a recent government study, military data on individual states paint a particularly stark picture for Illinois and Missouri. The equipment shortage puts the states in a more vulnerable position in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack and makes it more difficult for reservists to properly train - whether for domestic emergencies or overseas deployment - political officials and Guard members say. Among the shortages: Illinois has 4 percent of the medium trucks required by military standards - six out of 166 - while Missouri has only 28 percent. Missouri has 37 percent of the night-vision devices required, and Illinois has 47 percent. And the National Guard Bureau says the problem is getting worse across the country, with a great deal of Guard equipment - 64,000 items in all - having been destroyed or left in Iraq, and more being written off every day. "We have nothing to train on. We're begging and pleading to get just one truck so we can train our drivers and engineers," state Rep. Jim Avery, R-Crestwood, said Wednesday. A specialist with the 138th Engineer Company from Farmington, Avery spent a year and a day in Iraq searching for roadside bombs, returning in March. Recently, he helped out in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and says his company had to scrounge for vehicles before heading to the Gulf Coast. "Overall, we just have a bunch of junk, and that's the truth and everybody knows it," said Avery, a former Marine who is vice chairman of the appropriations panel for Guard equipment in the Missouri House. "If we don't have it, we can't train on it, and if we can't train then there's really no purpose to even go to drill," Avery said. Mark Allen, chief spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, said that in September 2001, before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Guard equipment levels stood at 75 percent - but have fallen to 34 percent. "We've left a lot of equipment in theater, and of course a lot of it has been destroyed and is not coming back," Allen said. "The Department of Defense has a responsibility to fill these items for us, and so that's what we expect to happen." A Government Accountability Office study late last month found that National Guard units generally are short of equipment, in part because they have been asked to leave vital equipment in Iraq for replacement troops. Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said governors have agreements with other states to share equipment in a pinch. In addition, she said, the Army is seeking $21 billion to modernize and re-equip the National Guard over the next six years. But Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is calling on President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to address the problem right away, by requesting money in the next budget, due in 60 days. The underequipping of the National Guard "reflects the real cost" of the war in Iraq, Durbin said. "In Illinois, the numbers are startling," Durbin said. "It really has put our National Guard at a disadvantage. More than 70 percent of the National Guard units in Illinois were activated (for Iraq) and many . . . came home empty-handed." Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., who is joining Durbin's effort, said Missouri's lack of needed equipment "puts us further out on the margin of risk than we need to be." Trucks are the biggest gap, and the only way to catch up is to fully fund the required amount of trucks for at least one full year, he said. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., who heads the Senate National Guard Caucus, said the Guard "has a dangerously low level of equipment" given its mission as "the primary responder to domestic disasters." P.J. Crowley, director of homeland security at the Center for American Progress and a former National Security Council member, says the Guard's expanded mission hasn't yet translated into expanded resources and equipment. "When you look at the combination of an overseas commitment like Iraq, a hurricane and the prospect of a terrorism attack, the reality is the Guard and its equipment are stretched too thin," Crowley said. Spence Jackson, chief spokesman for Gov. Matt Blunt, said the heavy involvement of Missouri Guard units in relief efforts for Katrina "drove home" the need for more funding and equipment for the state's National Guard. Chief Warrant Officer Bud Roberts, spokesman for the Illinois National Guard, said that by shifting equipment around as needed within the state, units can generally perform required training and missions. When units lack equipment, there usually are transportation units within two or three hours' distance - in Springfield, East St. Louis, Cairo, Chicago - to drive it to them. "But making do doesn't do it anymore for the Guard," he said. "We're robbing Peter to pay Paul. The Reserves are such an integral part of the force structure that it's not acceptable to have these shortages - because we can be called up at any time to deploy."