Wednesday, May 09, 2007

"Sebelius is right," & an "unmistakable emptiness" in Greensburg, Kansas

By Diane Silver

Kansas' biggest newspaper and The New York Times weighed in today on the debate over whether the National Guard is stretched too thin to adequately respond to disasters.

In an editorial, The Wichita Eagle praised the federal government for its response to the Greensburg tornado. But the newspaper also noted that the event "underscored Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' long-standing concerns about state National Guard equipment shortfalls."

The Eagle editorializes:
She and other governors have a valid concern about readiness.

Because of equipment and personnel diverted to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, "50 percent of our trucks are gone," she told NBC's "Today" show. "Our front-loaders are gone. We are missing Humvees that move people."

Sebelius raised concerns as far back as December 2005, when she wrote then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asking the Pentagon to replace National Guard equipment sent to Iraq.

She's still waiting.

The Pentagon has told Sebelius that Kansas probably will see two-thirds of its equipment and vehicles restored within six years. But 2013 seems a long time off on a weekend like the one Kansas just experienced.

As a resident of Tornado Ally with storm clouds on the horizon, I don't find it particularly comforting that Kansas won't get even two-thirds of its vehicles restored before 2013. The Eagle adds:

Sebelius is right to press for a higher level of Guard readiness on the home front.

Meanwhile, The New York Times takes a look at the National Guard shortages, including the fact that last year all 50 governors signed a letter to President Bush. The letter asked "for the immediate re-equipping of Guard units sent overseas."

For nearly two days after the storm, there was an unmistakable emptiness in Greensburg, a lack of heavy machinery and an army of responders. By Sunday afternoon, more than a day and a half after the tornado, only about half of the Guard troops who would ultimately respond were in place.

It was not until Sunday night that significant numbers of military vehicles started to arrive, many streaming in a long caravan from Wichita about 100 miles away.

...Nonetheless, the governor and officials in other states again expressed concern that the problem could occur again as the stretched National Guard system struggled to respond to disasters at home while also fighting overseas.

As State Senator Donald Betts Jr., Democrat of Wichita, put it: “We should have had National Guard troops there right after the tornado hit, securing the place, pulling up debris, to make sure that if there was still life, people could have been saved. The response time was too slow, and it’s becoming a trend. We saw this after Katrina, and it’s like history repeating itself.


Illustration: Yet another great Richard Crowson cartoon from The Wichita Eagle. This is just a tiny slice of a much larger cartoon.

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