WASHINGTON – The National Guard doesn't have the organization or resources to properly respond to a biological or chemical attack on the United States,a retired Marine Corps general told a House committee Friday.
Speaking adamantly to the House Armed Services Committee,Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro said the guard's preparedness has hit an “historic low” and will worsen if new requirements aren't set.
“We're totally unprepared for some of the worst-case scenarios,” said Punaro,who chairs the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves.
The grim prediction contradicts the guard's slogan: “Always Ready,Always There.”
Punaro's warnings derive from the commission's report,”Strengthening America's Defenses in the New Security Environment,” submitted to Congress March 1.
Congress asked the commission to assess the National Defense Enhancement and National Guard Empowerment Act,which was introduced in both the House and the Senate. The act outlines new provisions for the guard,including identifying communication gaps between the state and federal levels.
Punaro said the military focus on Iraq and Afghanistan changed the guard's role from homeland first-responders to overseas backup.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,the Defense Department has demanded more from the guard but hasn't provided what the guard needs to adapt to its new role,”and in the DOD if you don't have a requirement,nothing happens,” he added.
Committee Chairman Ike Skelton,D-Mo.,called the comments “downright frightening,” and asked Punaro what needs to be done.
“You can't sprinkle some pixie dust and make it happen,” Punaro said.
The report recommends a slew of proposals,including giving governors control of the military during certain crises,creating a 10-member council of governors to advise the departments of Defense and Homeland Security,and requiring the chief of the National Guard Bureau be headed by a four-star general.
Rep. Duncan Hunter,of California,the committee's ranking Republican,who announced this week he won't seek another term in the House because of his presidential campaign,suggested that the guard could increase its readiness by taking possession of unused equipment in Iraq.
He said he thought the Army had about 20,000 Humvees it couldn't use because they don't have sufficient armor to protect against roadside bombs.
“We get an inventory of what is parked in theater and figure out where we're short,” Hunter said. “Would that solve the problem?”
Punaro agreed the equipment would help but real change would arrive only when the guard has better relationships with the departments and when those at the state level have more clout.
“There are those that don't want to give the guard the respect – it doesn't deserve – but has earned,” he said,emphasizing the final word.