Guard Carries Out State Missions Despite Deployments
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 8, 2005 While more than 77,000 National Guard members are deployed in support of the global war on terror, their comrades at home are demonstrating that they're still fully capable of carrying out their state missions.
They're pulling security duty in New York City, preparing for hurricane response in the Southeastern United States, conducting high-altitude rescues and preparing to provide wildfire-fighting support, if needed.
New York Gov. George Pataki mobilized hundreds of New York National Guardsmen from throughout the state today to provide security support in New York City, according to Kent Kisselbrack, a spokesman for the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs in Latham, N.Y.
The call-ups came one day after a series of terrorist attacks rocked London and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff raised the terrorism alert level for mass-transit systems nationwide to code "orange."
Due to operational security considerations, Kisselbrack did not reveal exactly how many Guard troops were activated or what units they hail from, or when they will begin security duty in New York.
To the South, National Guards were eyeing Hurricane Dennis as it approached Cuba and preparing to respond when it reaches U.S. soil.
On July 7, the Florida National Guard began to activate its planning cells and alerted units in a possible response to Hurricane Dennis as the hurricane gains strength.
"We have about 150 troops in planning cells today, with about 2,000 troops ready to mobilize," said Air Force Lt. Col. Ron Tittle, state public affairs officer. "It's important for the people of Florida to know the citizen-soldiers and airmen of the Florida National Guard are prepared to respond to Hurricane Dennis as assigned by the Florida Division of Emergency Management," said Army Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett, the state's adjutant general.
Last year, the Florida Guard mobilized more than 6,000 soldiers and airmen to support hurricane relief. They provided humanitarian aid, security support, equipment, debris removal, and search and rescue assistance.
Meanwhile, Guard troops from Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia are on standby, keeping an eye on the hurricane's path as it approaches Cuba.
National Guard units in Arizona, Nevada and Utah are also standby, ready to handle wildfire-fighting duties, if needed.
Air Force Capt. April Conway, a Nevada National Guard spokeswoman, said much of the equipment the Guard typically uses to fight fires is deployed, but that back-up systems are in place and ready for action. "We know it's only a matter of time until we'll be needed, so we're watching and staying vigilant," she said.
In the Pacific Northwest, Guard members were already getting a jump on the summer search-and-rescue season.
On July 7, the Oregon National Guard's 1042nd Medical Company (Air Ambulance) conducted a high-altitude rescue, saving four climbers who fell into a crevasse while crossing a snow bridge on Mount Rainier, Wash.
Two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters responded, lowering a hoist to lift the climbers from their 13,000-foot elevation, according to Air Force Capt. Mike Braibish, an Oregon National Guard spokesman. Two Guard medics, Army Sgts. Chris Skidmore and Mike Barber, lowered themselves into the crevasse to help the climbers into the hoist, he said.
The rescue was the unit's fourth so far this month, Braibish said. On July 5, the 1042nd rescued a 40-year-old man on Mount Rainier; on July 4, they rescued an injured hiker from Cascade Locks on the Columbia River; and on July 1, they conducted a rescue on Mount Washington, Ore.
"We generally do rescues two to three times a week," said Braibish.
Meanwhile, the Oregon National Guard has about 850 troops deployed in support of the war on terror. Just two months ago, almost twice that many were deployed, Braibish said.
Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said he's committed to ensuring that deployments don't leave state governors short of enough Guard troops to carry out their state missions during emergencies.
It's a balancing act, considering the major role the reserve components are playing in support of the global war on terror and other military missions worldwide, he acknowledged.
In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee in February, Blum said 120,000 Guard members were deployed in 44 countries around the world. The Army Guard makes up more than 40 percent of the combat forces in Iraq and the Air National Guard, about one-third of Air Force's combat power in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
Blum said state governors have demonstrated overwhelmingly that they understand their National Guard members are needed to reinforce the active Army and Air Force overseas, particularly during the war on terror.
But they also recognize the important work they could be required to carry out at home in the event of emergencies, insurrections, attacks or acts of nature, he said.
"We will make our fair contribution," Blum said the governors tell him. "But we don't want to make a disproportionate contribution that leaves our own constituents at risk."