With Gear in Iraq, Ark. Could Suffer if Disaster Strikes, Gov. Says

May 11, 2007

With much of its equipment in Iraq, the Arkansas National Guard could have problems like Kansas is experiencing if a disaster were to strike Arkansas, Gov. Mike Beebe says.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius voiced frustration in the wake of deadly tornadoes in her state. Sebelius said about half the state’s National Guard trucks are in Iraq, as well as equipment that would be helpful in removing debris. She said the state is also missing a number of well-trained personnel.

“She’s absolutely right,” Beebe said. “Gov. Sebelius is a good leader … somebody who calls it like she sees it. She’s indicated that they are way below-strength in their equipment that would normally be available to the National Guard because it’s been utilized and sent to Iraq.”

Beebe said that much of the Arkansas Guard’s engineering unit is currently deployed in Iraq, and that the state’s Blackhawk helicopters also are deployed overseas.

Capt. Chris Heathscott, spokesman for the Arkansas National Guard, said he was aware of the issued raised by Beebe and the Kansas governor.

“I can understand their concern but that’s what the equipment is there for, wartime missions, and the states can authorize use of the equipment when the equipment is not being used,” he said.

Heathscott said Arkansas is part of an emergency management assistance compact with other states that allows for the governor to ask for the use of National Guard assistance from other states after a natural disaster, if that state’s Guard troops are not available.

Beebe said Forestry Commission equipment helped in cleanup efforts following the February tornadoes in Dumas. Beebe said the commission’s equipment was used because it was easily accessible, but was unsure how long it would have taken National Guard personnel and equipment to reach the scene or if it would have been available.

Beebe said he realizes that the Guard’s top priority is to assist the U.S. in times of war, but said their resources are also needed at home following disasters.

“We need to send whatever equipment we need to send and have whatever equipment we need to have to support our troops in Iraq. The worst thing we can do is not give them the tools that are necessary for them to do their job and protect themselves, so I favor that first,” Beebe said.

The governor added: “It would be nice if the federal government would provide them with sufficient materials so that the states would still have sufficient materials for their people in case of a crisis.”

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