Weekend warriors in Iraq

National Guard members make up roughly one-third of the ground forces in Iraq.

In a recent letter to the president, the governors of all 50 states emphasized their concern over proposed budget cuts that would weaken the National Guard and over policies that have stripped the National Guard of the equipment and personnel needed to respond to domestic emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina.

The governors of all 50 states absolutely are right to have little assurance in the president’s policies. The Guard members are essential to day in, day out state operations. The extent to which they are being overused in Iraq is unacceptable. According to the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, ”extensive use of the guard’s equipment overseas has significantly reduced the amount of equipment available to governors for domestic needs.” Needs like the ones in Louisiana. Right now there are tens of thousands of National Guard members in Iraq. They constitute roughly one-third of the ground forces in the region.

While it is not unusual for the National Guard to be federally activated in times of war – given that they have a dual federal and state mission – it is unusual for the Guard to be so depleted when they return to their home states. The GAO estimates that the army cannot account for half the equipment the National Guard has left behind while overseas.

According to its own Web site, the National Guard is traditionally known for work it does to battle fires, help communities deal with floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, snowstorms or other emergency situations. Governors and state communities rightly are upset that Guard members cannot adequately do their jobs at home because of their overuse in Iraq. Furthermore, this overuse comes at a time when the Army has had its largest recruiting shortfall (8 percent) since 1979.

Perhaps what is most troubling about the increased use of the Guard for war is that these “weekend warriors” are dying in Iraq. It’s a reality that many who signed up for the Guard didn’t imagine.