Guard Readies for Possible Ophelia Mission
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 13, 2005 National Guardsmen in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are eyeing Tropical Storm Ophelia and preparing to respond, if needed, National Guard Bureau officials reported today.
More than 220 North Carolina National Guardsmen and 100 Virginia National Guardsmen are on active duty, prepared to provide critical support when Ophelia makes landfall, officials said. The South Carolina National Guard is monitoring the situation as well.
Forecasters predicted Ophelia would strengthen back into a hurricane today and reach the North Carolina coast Sept. 14 or 15. Ophelia's arrival comes as guardsmen from every state and territory, including Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, are responding to Hurricane Katrina relief operations. Officials report that more than 45,000 guardsmen are supporting hurricane relief efforts in the Gulf Coast region.
And at the same time, an estimated 75,000 National Guard members are deployed to some 40 countries around the world, including Iraq, where they make up almost one-half the U.S. force, National Guard Bureau officials noted.
Despite its far-reaching responsibilities and missions, Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, insisted today that National Guard deployments to Iraq "did not slow the Guard's response to Hurricane Katrina" and that the Guard stands ready to respond to Hurricane Ophelia and other natural disasters, if needed.
Under a plan he instituted when taking over the National Guard Bureau's reins, Blum initiated a policy to ensure every state has at least 50 percent of its Guard assets available to support state missions. Louisiana has 65 percent of its troops available for state missions; Mississippi, 55 percent; Alabama, 78 percent; and Florida, 71 percent, Guard officials said.
"The fact that National Guard units were deployed to Iraq at the time of Katrina did not lessen the Guard's ability to respond," Blum said today.
National Guard forces "were in the water and on the streets throughout the affected areas rescuing people within four hours of Katrina's passing," Blum said. By Aug. 31, just two days after Katrina made landfall, more than 11,000 guardsmen were involved in rescue operations when the governors asked for more troops, he said.
In a typical Minuteman response, "the National Guard amassed 30,000 more troops in 96 hours," the general said, and by Sept. 2, more than 6,500 Guardsmen were serving in New Orleans alone.
National Guard troops have provided vital security support to state and local law enforcement authorities in the hurricane-affected, and are currently conducting security operations at critical oil-refining facilities in Louisiana, officials said. Guardsmen also continue to provide security for utility-company workers while they restore power and much-needed services throughout the region.
The National Guard's response to Katrina demonstrates its capability of conducting operations across the full spectrum of homeland defense in depth, Guard officials said today. They expressed particular praise for the Guard members from the Gulf states, many who are supporting Katrina relief efforts despite experiencing hurricane-related losses themselves.
On returning from the Gulf Coast Sept. 3 to see citizen-soldiers and -airmen at work, Blum declared the National Guard's role in Hurricane Katrina response operations "a great success story." During a previous American Forces Press Service , he called the Guard response "probably the best demonstration yet" that the Guard can continue to respond to stateside crises while supporting a federal, overseas mission.
The general made his assessment during what National Guard Bureau officials are calling the largest and most comprehensive National Guard response to a natural disaster in recent history. Previously, the largest had been for 1989 the Lomo Prieta earthquake that rocked San Francisco, during which 32,000 California guardsmen were mobilized, officials said today.