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Katrina Rescue Operations: Are National Guard and Equipment Stretched Thin by Iraq War?

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With search and rescue operations underway in multiple states and many communities facing massive reconstruction efforts in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, state governments are relying significantly on aid from the National Guard. But with the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of Guard members available at home has been slashed. [includes rush transcript]

With search and rescue operations underway in multiple states and many communities facing massive reconstruction efforts, state governments are relying significantly on aid from the National Guard. But with the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of Guardspeople available at home has been slashed. Still, the National Guard insists it has enough troops to address the storm but officials from several states have said that is not the case.

Earlier this month the Louisiana National Guard publicly complained that too much of its equipment was in Iraq. The local ABC news affiliate reported dozens of high water vehicles, Humvees, refuelers and generators are now abroad. Other states are facing shortfalls as well when facing fires, floods or other disasters. A few months before summer began, Montana’s governor called for that state’s National Guard to be brought home from Iraq because of possible wildfires. As is the case with Louisiana’s Guard, Montana found that critical equipment was overseas in Iraq. This included the bulk of the Guard’s helicopters which are critical in shuttling fire crews and equipment to blazes.

  • Rosemary Brasch, worked as a Red Cross family services specialist for national disasters. She has worked on several hurricanes along the East Coast.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Rosemary Brasch. She has worked with the Red Cross as a family services specialist for national disasters. She worked on several hurricanes along the East Coast and has written on the issue with her husband, Walter Brasch. Their piece is called “An Ill Wind and American Policy.” We welcome you to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Very briefly can you comment on this stretched National Guard?

ROSEMARY BRASCH: Actually, we were just talking about that yesterday, as I heard a blurb or saw a blurb on CNN about the National Guard coming into the area of the hurricane. And I said, possibly it will be a plus for that area, because to avoid criticism, they may be very quick to get as many National Guard as possible there from further away, from other areas, but to have the National Guard presence be seen. I’ve been in areas, and I know the importance of having them there for psychological reasons, for comfort, for safety, for all of those different things.

And in getting them there, I was thinking about this, and if Louisiana is saying that too many of their National Guard are away, they really are very fortunate, because they would have something to compare it to. Because I was in New Orleans for, I believe it was, a flood several years ago. They really have a recent history. When you look, you see, oh, the National Guard’s going, we don’t have too many over there. We have plenty. We haven’t spread them too thin. Look, they’re there already. That may be fine if in fact they send as many as are needed.

What I think they will do is send in an amount of them to say the National Guard is there, but as you were saying from the article previously, you get all of the water buffalo that are needed there, the trucks, the half tracks, all of those kind of things that, judging from the size of this, will be needed for a long time. And many of them, because it’s a very widespread area, that’s when I think you will start to see more — more of less. How’s that? There will be some there. There will be some equipment. And some people, and certainly the National Guard that they send from wherever they pull them, will do their very best with the equipment they have.

What would be interesting is to see a comparison study of past disasters of that size, where the National Guard came from, how well-versed they were with the area, what equipment was available, and I think you will find that it’s like they send a skeleton crew. It’s there but it’s not as much as should be there. And there’s also no guarantee there won’t be another need for them somewhere else.

I think, I said yesterday, I thought George Bush was very fortunate to have got on America’s side. Because he stopped this from being totally catastrophic, or we would be in even worse shape. Those people would be. We fortunately are not. But the people in that area of the country affected by it would be in worse shape. I also recall during, I think ,one of — a threat from — of hurricane last year, this year sometime, one of the major problems was lack of plywood. The plywood has gone to Iraq to rebuild Iraq. And when people desperately needed it to board up homes and shops and so on here, it was in much shorter supply. I don’t know if they ran into that in Louisiana and Mississippi and those areas. But those are things, not National Guard, but most definitely effected by having all of those — having all of the action over in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Rosemary Brasch, I want to thank you for being with us. Worked as a Red Cross family services specialist for national disasters. And has written with her husband, Walter Brasch, “An Ill Wind and American Policy,” a piece on natural disasters and the National Guard.

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