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War strains Guard

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:43 PM

Following the devastating tornado that ravaged the town of Greensburg, Kan., the national debate has been renewed about the use of National Guard troops in Iraq.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said the emergency response was too slow to help the small town, saying it took two days for the National Guard to bring in the machinery and troops needed to begin the recovery process.

The National Guard is considered a first responder when a disaster strikes. Huron County Emergency Management Director Bill Ommert said in order to be able to request National Guard troops, the county must be declared a disaster at both the local and state level.

Ommert said Huron County has been fortunate and has not had to call in the National Guard during his more than 16-year tenure. For example, the Guard might have been called if last June's flooding had devastated the entire county the way it hit Norwalk.

"It depends upon the magnitude of the disaster," Ommert said.

But the war has put a strain on every state's national guard.

The Ohio Guard is short about 1,000 Humvees, 54 percent of the number considered necessary, and should have about 600 more heavy trucks, said National Guard spokesman Mark Wayda.

"We have 350 heavy trucks, which is a great capability to be able to deal with an event like a tornado," he said. "But if you're talking about a bigger event, it gets much more difficult."

Ommert said the Guard has not indicated it would have any limitations if called upon.

"Certainly they would not have the normal staff they would have if not assisting with war in Iraq," he said. "But they still are here for us if needed."

About 1,100 Ohio Guard soldiers currently are deployed, including 500 in Iraq and 100 in Kuwait, Wayda said. The remaining soldiers are mostly serving in Europe and elsewhere in the U.S.

Wayda said 2 percent of Ohio Guard equipment is overseas, a much smaller percentage than other states. He attributed the equipment shortfall to inadequate funding, but added the Ohio Guard will spend $21 billion in the next five years to bring equipment levels up to 75 percent of what it would like to have.

If Huron County needed to call in troops, Ommert said they could come from multiple locations within the state, depending on the need.

"They provide such a wide range of assistance. They can assist us with anything, from building bridges to maintaining law and order to picking up debris," he said.

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