Published May 08, 2007
TOPEKA, Kan. – Gov. Kathleen Sebelius says the war in Iraq has exposed holes in domestic disaster response like the one currently under way in tornado-ravaged Kansas.
The governor said about half the state's National Guard trucks are in Iraq, equipment that would be helpful in removing debris. Sebelius, who asked the Pentagon in December to replenish lost resources, said the state also is missing a number of well-trained personnel.
"I don't think there is any question if you are missing trucks, Humvees and helicopters that the response is going to be slower," Sebelius said. "The real victims here will be the residents of Greensburg, because the recovery will be at a slower pace."
White House spokesman Tony Snow said the National Guard has equipment positioned around the country to respond to disasters when requested by the states.
"There's been an enormous amount of help on the scene already, frankly, when it comes to what's been going on with the tornado. FEMA has certainly been actively engaged, and the administration is doing whatever it can," Snow said. "And if there's a need for equipment, it will arrive."
Sebelius said she would bring up those concerns with President Bush on Wednesday when he visits the hard-hit Kansas farming town of Greensburg, where a tornado hit Friday, claiming nine lives.
Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, the state's adjutant general, said the Kansas National Guard was equipped to about 40 percent of its necessary levels, down from the 60 percent it had at the start of the war. About 850 soldiers have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It just leaves you pretty tight," he said. "We're fine for now."
Bunting said Kansas would be asking National Guard units in other states to send specialized soldiers and equipment to help with the recovery.
Randy Noller, spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, said equipment needs have been an ongoing issue since the war began. He said Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, has repeatedly asked Congress for funding to replace equipment being left overseas.
"This is an issue that we've been dealing with for several months," Noller said. "He knows about it and is working to get it fixed."
Sebelius, a Democrat, has written the Pentagon twice and spoke about the issue at great length with Bush in January 2006 when they rode together from Topeka to a lecture in Manhattan.
"He assured me that he had additional equipment in his budget a year ago. What the Defense Department said then and continues to say is that states will get about 90 percent of what they had," Sebelius said. "Meanwhile, it doesn't get any better. I'm at a loss."
She said it will take a commitment by Bush, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Congress to see that the troops are funded properly overseas and the National Guard has the materials to protect the homeland.
"The issue for the National Guard is the same wherever you go in the country. Stuff that we would have borrowed is gone. It's gone across the country," Sebelius said.