Worn down by the war in Iraq and security demands in the United States, the National Guard announced yesterday that it needs $20 billion in new weapons and equipment over the next three years to continue to meet all its overseas and homeland commitments.
Without the money to "reset" itself, Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, the head of the Guard, warned that the reserve force "will be broken and not ready the next time it's needed, either at home or for war."
Number of total U.S. military deaths and names of the U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war as announced by the Pentagon yesterday:
Fatalities in hostile actions:
In non-hostile actions:
Cpl. Michael D. Anderson, 21, of Modesto, Calif.; 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Killed Dec. 14 in Anbar province.
Sgt. Tina S. Time, 22, of Tucson; Army Reserve 208th Transportation Company, based in Tucson. Killed Dec. 13 near Nasiriyah in a vehicle accident.
All troops were killed in action unless otherwise indicated.
Total fatalities include three civilian employees of the Defense Department.
A full list of casualties is available online at www.washingtonpost.com/nation
SOURCE: Defense Department's www.defenselink.mil/newsThe Washington Post
His remarks to reporters, in a group interview and in a separate talk with The Washington Post, came as the Bush administration is preparing to submit to Congress an emergency spending plan totaling more than $80 billion to cover war costs and remedy equipment shortages throughout the military. Guard officials have asked that $7 billion of the supplemental funds be earmarked for their troops, and they intend to seek an additional $13 billion in later budget requests.
By speaking out now about the Guard's needs, Blum said he was trying to "put a marker against the supplemental" and other subsequent budget submissions "and make it stick." He said the Army's active-duty leadership had been sympathetic to the Guard's plans, so his message appeared directed beyond the Pentagon at the White House and Congress, where final authority over funding rests.
"This has got to be addressed now," he said of the Guard's weakened condition. "The need for this money can't fall through the cracks and be an afterthought."
The $20 billion request represents a huge increase over the $1 billion to $1.5 billion a year in new equipment that the Guard has received in recent years. Blum said the funds would go toward a range of purchases, including aircraft, vehicles, radios and weapons.
Once a force intended to be held chiefly in reserve for a potential large war abroad -- and used periodically in the United States for disaster relief and other emergencies -- much of the Guard has been pressed into service over the past three years to assist in homeland defense missions and in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Guard members generally expected to give up only one weekend a month, plus two weeks a year, for training exercises. But as of Sept. 30 this year, more than 90,000 members of the Army Guard had been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or other countries in the name of the war on terrorism. About 42,000 are currently serving in Iraq or Kuwait.
Blum said the Guard was "under-resourced" and "underequipped" before this surge in activity. A large portion of the equipment that Guard members have taken to Iraq, he said, needs replacing because it has been battered by repeated use under harsh conditions and was dated to begin with.
Other Guard members have complained of being sent ill-equipped into combat. It was a soldier with the Tennessee National Guard who, at a base in Kuwait last week, protested to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that vehicles in his unit were not sufficiently armored.
Blum said Guard units departing Iraq are leaving much of their equipment behind for incoming units to use. "If they don't have equipment" after returning home, "they're useless," he said.
In addition to equipment worries, Blum expressed concern about the Guard's ability to retain members. The service has an authorized strength of 350,000 troops but is down to about 340,000, the general said.
"We're in a more difficult recruiting environment," he said. "There's no question that when you have a sustained ground combat operation going that the Guard's participating in, that makes recruiting more difficult."
Part of the shortfall is the result of fewer active-duty Army members deciding to join the Guard after leaving regular service. Previously, this pool provided about 50 percent of the Guard's new recruits, Blum said. Now, the Guard is counting on only about 35 percent coming from this group and intends to try to make up the difference by drawing more young people with no previous military service.
To help boost recruiting, the Guard is adding 1,400 recruiters to its force of 2,700, Blum said. Sign-up bonuses, previously $5,000, also will be increased substantially -- up to $10,000 for those without earlier service and up to $15,000 for those leaving active duty.
And the Guard has adjusted its advertising message.
"We are correcting, frankly, some of our recruiting themes and slogans to reflect the reality of today," Blum said. "We're not talking about one weekend a month and two weeks a year and college tuition. We're talking about service to the nation."
The general predicted that these changes will enable the Guard to build its ranks back to 350,000 by the end of 2005.