Hurricane Response Demonstrates Guard's State, Federal Capabilities
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Army Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum described the thousands of Army and Air National Guard troops called to active duty in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and other states to support hurricane operations as a testament to the Guard's ability to carry out its federal and state missions simultaneously.
Guard members along the Gulf Coast are performing a variety of missions, from providing security at the emergency shelter at the New Orleans Superdome, where thousands of local residents are seeing refuge from Hurricane Katrina, to assisting with emergency evacuations.
As the storm's fury begins to wane, the Guard will begin providing a wide range of other support: helping law enforcement agencies with security and traffic control; transporting and distributing food, water and ice; conducting searches and rescues; providing generator support; and carrying out other missions to support life and property.
Meanwhile, as they support one of the largest hurricanes on record to hit the United States, Guard units are fighting wildfires in the Northwest and guarding critical infrastructure nationwide against terrorists, Blum noted.
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, he said.
"All of this is happening at the same time, yet we are not putting the overseas mission at risk, nor are we putting the homeland defense mission at risk," the general said. "We are able to do what the nation needs us to do, and whenever we are needed, we are there, with the right skills and the right equipment and the right personnel."
Blum called this capability "a huge success story for the Army and Air National Guard" that provides "probably the best demonstration yet" that the Guard can continue to respond to stateside crises while supporting a federal, overseas mission.
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.
As of today, Louisiana has 65 percent of its troops available for state missions; Mississippi, 60 percent; Alabama, 77 percent; and Florida, 74 percent, Guard officials said.
The National Guard's presence in states being battered by Hurricane Katrina provides reassurance to the American public, which recognizes the security, medical, communications, logistics and law-and-order support Guard members provide local, state and federal first responders, the general said.
"It's a calming and reassuring effect on the American public when they see their National Guard," Blum said. "When you call out the Guard, you know that you've got committed citizen-soldiers with considerable skills and a great commitment to the mission at hand."
At the same time, Guard members "have great compassion because they come from the people they are supporting," the general said. "So when you call out the Guard, you basically call out America."
The National Guard is braced to continue that support for the long term until the affected regions get back on their feet, he said.
"We learned from hurricanes in Florida that recovery takes weeks and months, and not days," Blum said. "So we are looking at this recovery operation with the long haul in mind, and we are setting ourselves up to have an extended, protracted response, as necessary, until normalcy is restored to these communities."
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