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Always There, but Always Ready?

A commission studying the military's readiness to respond to a catastrophic attack on the homeland reports that our domestic military units lack the training and resources to deal with such an attack.

Even fewer Army National Guard units are combat-ready today than were nearly a year ago when the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves determined that 88 percent of the units were not prepared for the fight, the panel says in a new report released Thursday.

The military's response is less-than confidence-building:

Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, chief of U.S. Northern Command, said the Pentagon is putting together a specialized military team that would be designed to respond to such catastrophic events.

"The capability for the Defense Department to respond to a chemical, biological event exists now . . . it is not as robust as we would like because of the demand on the forces that we've placed across the country. ... I can do it today. It would be harder on the (military) services, but I could respond."

It is easy but only partially correct to blame the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for these shortcomings at home. A Guard combat engineer unit is highly capable at one primary mission; absent a dramatic influx of funds, equipment and training it will only be marginally effective at any other (the specialized skills of discrete unit members notwithstanding).

The real shortcoming here is the apparent assumption at the strategic level that given the military's willingness to do whatever it takes to get any mission done (part of the reason why the military is one of the most highly regarded institutions in the country), we could get by on the cheap. A few hundred first responders flying or driving in from across the country is only an effective response if an attack is modest and occurs in only one location. Multiple large-scale attacks – the working definition of "catastrophic" for this analysis – makes a 4,000-troop response unit woefully inadequate.

1 Comment

In my reading of the Exec. Summary of the CNGR report (I was planning to write about it but got tied up in my programmatic stuff), while funding is an issue, it seems to me to also be a combination of enabling military actions domestically, plus the need to anticipate the varied skill sets required to address a range of unpredictable "catastrophic" conditions. One of the keys also seems to be the defined role of the military in domestic homeland defense and the 1st responder issues (herein lies the differences between homeland defense and homeland security). It even gets further complicated when you factor in the military medical commands and their roles in domestic disaster response.

One thing is certain to me, however. Any assumption of National Guard duty being a "safe" tour is no longer real.