TN National Guard & Reserve units stretched too thin?

TN National Guard & Reserve units stretched too thin?

April 25, 2007

By ADAM LONGO
6 News Reporter

MCGHEE-TYSON AIR BASE (WATE) -- A cache of the nation's top military leaders are in Knoxville for a two day training conference. Ten National Guard and Reserve generals and the Director of the Air National Guard are at McGhee-Tyson air base.

In addition to the generals, nearly seventy business leaders from all over the south are here to learn more about the National Guard and military reserves.

"One of the things we're trying to show is that if they support the Air National Guard, they will get a better employee back," says Colonel Michael Waggett of the Air National Guard's I.G. Brown Education and Training Center.

Employers are getting a first hand look at what their Guard and Reserve employees are doing when they are away from their full-time job.

"Just to learn more, to understand what the needs of the Guard and Reserve are," says Fred Larson of Orlando, FL. Larson is a sales manager with Walt Disney World. He says some 250 cast members at Disney are part of the Guard and Reserve.

It's becoming increasingly clear that Reserve and National Guard troops are playing a pivotal role in the war on terror. However, their contribution abroad has cut domestic ranks thin and has some questioning whether or not they could adequately respond to a domestic crisis. The focus for part-time soldiers shifted dramatically after September 11th. They have become a critical component in the military arsenal.

"Right now, we supply 35% of the contribution to the Air Force through the Air National Guard," says Maj. Gen. Buddy Titshaw, of the ANG Air Combat Command.

McGhee-Tyson Air Base is home to the Air National Guard's 134th Air Refueling Wing. They've been activated to serve overseas since the war began, and right now the base commander says thirty-three of their personnel are in theatre, filling in for active duty soldiers.

"Army National Guard soldiers, Air National Guard airmen are deployed overseas tonight in great numbers fighting the global war on terror," says Lt. Gen. Craig McKinley, who serves as the Director of the Air National Guard.

But, great numbers of soldiers and airmen, come at a great cost to the Guard and Reserve coffers.

"600 million dollars worth of equipment we're short. We left about 257 million in Iraq," says Tennessee's adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett.

In the event of a natural disaster, like Hurricane Katrina, some of that is equipment they would need to adequately respond to a crisis.

"The biggest shortage we've got that would affect our ability to do things within the state are probably Humvees," adds Hargett.

Hargett says the Guard is short around 500 Humvees. And Tennessee isn't alone. A new government report, and statements from top military leaders, indicate that no state in the country has more than 65% of the equipment they would need to respond to a domestic crisis.

So, what can the military do to make sure the National Guard gets what it needs? One problem, is that the Guard doesn't prepare it's own budget and its leaders don't have a powerful voice in decision making. Lawmakers in Washington are considering a measure called the "National Guard Empowerment Act" which would give the Guard more independent authority.

"The empowerment act is vital to the future of the national guard and I'm very happy Congress and the Senate are debating it. I'm sure it will have a positive outcome," says McKinley.

The measure would give the Guard budgeting authority and make it's leader one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The White House and Department of Defense are on record against the proposal. It's expected to be discussed in two weeks by the House Armed Services Committee.

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