Sunday, July 17, 2005

National Guard troubles concern governors


National Guard troubles concern governors

DES MOINES (AP) — The nation's governors voiced sharp worries Saturday for the National Guard troops they share with the federal government, with concerns about recruitment targets, benefits and job prospects.

Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee, incoming chairman of the National Governors Association, said more attention must be paid to the needs of Guardsmen returning from overseas deployments, especially younger Guard members who need to find work.

More than 30 governors gathered here for their summer meeting.

Both Democrats and Republicans said changes caused by the huge demands placed on the Guard and Reserves for the war in Iraq need more examination.

"It is working today," said South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican.

However, troops returning from the war zone may be affected by objections raised by their spouses and parent, Rounds said. "The second time around, will they be allowed to re-enlist? That's the question," he said.

The governors are scheduled to meet privately Monday with top officials of the Guard, the Veterans Administration and the Homeland Security Department.

There has been an easing of worries among governors that the overseas demands would leave states without the National Guard members needed to respond to state emergencies, said Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat. Guard officials have offered assurances they would limit call-ups, he said.

Bigger questions remain, he said. "I don't feel we've had the full deliberations about what the role of the Guard will be," said Warner, who has been exploring a possible presidential bid.

States often rely on their Air and Army Guard units to help in emergencies such as hurricanes, earthquakes or riots. The part-time soldiers are not often brought under federal control for missions such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"You haven't seen these kinds of participation from the states since the Civil War," Idaho's GOP Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said.

More than 250,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen have been mobilized for active duty since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, the Army general in charge of National Guard forces, said last week.

National Guard soldiers represent about 40% of the U.S. ground force in Iraq. That is scheduled to drop significantly next year when the Army deploys two newly expanded active-duty divisions — the 101st Airborne and the 4th Infantry.