The Arizona National Guard is facing an equipment shortage, with thousands of items left in the Middle East for other military units to use or destroyed in the war in Iraq.
All told, the Arizona Guard has less than half of the equipment it is supposed to have.
Figures released Thursday show Guard units are at 43 percent strength in terms of equipment. Maj. Paul Aguirre, spokesman for the Arizona Guard, said that was based on the number of items each type of unit is supposed to have, from weapons and radios to trucks.
Gov. Janet Napolitano said she is confident the Guard has what it needs to respond to most types of emergencies that arise in Arizona, such as wildfires. However, she said she is concerned about the ability of the Guard to respond to a major catastrophe in the state and to train new soldiers.
“We believe that, fundamentally, we are still sound, with the kind of natural catastrophes we are likely to see in Arizona,” the governor said. Yet that assessment does not include “something truly unusual.”
Napolitano said the problem traces its roots to deployment of National Guard units and their equipment to the Middle East.
“One of the concerns is that the governors of the country have — and I share those concerns — is that while that equipment has been going over to Iraq, it hasn’t been replaced,” she said. “And the Department of Defense budget doesn’t call for it to begin being replaced for another three years.”
Aguirre said the missing items include more than 300 vehicles of different types, ranging from trucks to forklifts. The Guard also does not have about 1,000 of its communications units, including two-way radios, switchboards, field telephones and public address systems.
And the Guard is short nearly 2,000 weapons.
That figure of the Guard being at 43 percent of equipment strength actually is overstated. Aguirre acknowledged that when equipment that is actually being used by Arizona Guard units in Iraq and Afghanistan is figured in — not just items lost or destroyed — the amount of equipment left in the state for use here is just 35 percent of what should be available.
Arizona is not alone. Guard units in other states face similar shortages.
The problem was underscored in the aftermath of a tornado that destroyed a Kansas town last week. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said she was not able to immediately mobilize troops to respond to the disaster and there was not enough equipment.
Napolitano, who is chairwoman of the National Governors Association, said members of that group have been talking with both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and members of Congress about speeding up the replacement schedule.
“I’m hopeful now that people are more aware of the toll taken on the Guard, not just by manpower but on equipment,” she said.
Aguirre said the Guard’s ability to respond to emergencies can’t be measured solely by the number or percentage of items that are not on hand. He said some of the missing equipment includes weapons such as machine guns — items that would never be needed to help fight forest fires.