Nelson says war hurts Guard’s hurricane effortsAssociated Press

Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE – The war in Iraq has depleted the equipment inventory of the National Guard, potentially hampering its response to the predicted heavy hurricane season, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said.

The Florida National Guard has only 53 percent of the dual-use equipment it once had for responding to a storm or domestic disturbance, a recent analysis by the Government Accountability Office found. Texas, California and Louisiana also have about half of their dual-use equipment available to non-deployed Army National Guard forces.

“Problems from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched the Florida National Guard further than ever before, leaving it without all the resources it should have for responding to a domestic crisis,” Nelson said. “Hurricane season is coming fast, and we need to make sure the Guard has what it needs.”

The hurricane season, which runs June 1 through Nov. 30, is predicted to be worse than recent years.

Florida has about 600 to 700 soldiers in Iraq. Members were sent overseas with their equipment, but when they come back, the gear often stays in the war zones.The Florida Guard was down 500 Humvees, 600 trucks, short 4,000 pairs of night vision goggle and needed 30 more wreckers, spokesman Lt. Col. Ron Tittle said.Yet Tittle said sufficient manpower and equipment remained to respond to a major hurricane, and additional supplies could be borrowed from other states or rented if needed.

But Nelson questioned the lag time and the fact that the other state Guard units also are facing the same depletion of equipment problems.

“I know that at the highest levels … they are concerned about this,” Nelson, D-Fla., said.

Nelson said a memorandum of understanding between the Army and the National Guard could allow Gov. Charlie Crist to use Army Reserve trucks and generators upon the declaration of a State of Emergency. Without such a memorandum, the governor has to go through a bureaucratic process to request that the president release Reserve equipment that is being held unused in Florida.