Remember when Senator Barbara Boxed said the National Guard couldn’t respond to the wildfires in California because so many personnel and so much equipment was deployed to Iraq?
She was close, but got her quagmires mixed up:
Bureaucracy hampered initial Calif. fire efforts
Rules kept firefighting aircraft on ground as devastating blazes took hold
As wildfires were charging across Southern California, nearly two dozen water-dropping helicopters and two massive cargo planes sat idly by, grounded by government rules and bureaucracy.
How much the aircraft would have helped will never be known, but their inability to provide quick assistance raises troubling questions about California’s preparations for a fire season that was widely expected to be among the worst on record.
It took as long as a day for Navy, Marine and California National Guard helicopters to get clearance early this week, in part because state rules require all firefighting choppers to be accompanied by state forestry –fire spotters” who coordinate water or retardant drops. By the time those spotters arrived, the powerful Santa Ana winds stoking the fires had made it too dangerous to fly.
The NG troops deployed to Iraq that Boxer said were missed would have mostly been involved in evacuation assistance, aid distribution, and general security. The military personnel that would have actually battled the fire, possibly reducing the need for evacuations, aid distribution, and security, were available and ready to go but not allowed to take off.
How much difference the planes and choppers would have been able to make is a big question, of course. The Santa Ana winds have been trumping most efforts, land, sea, or air, so far.
But I guess I’d be a bit hesitant to fault the military campaign in Iraq for the lack of National Guard troops fighting the fire in California at this point, particularly when it was state regulations and an undermanned state National Guard contingent to begin with that has had a far more direct impact on available resources.
California is authorized for 21,000 National Guard personnel, but apparently only has about 15,000 right now. (This would mean that there are 10,000, not 15,000, available troops right now.) Though lengthy deployments overseas are hurting NG recruiting and retention (much more than active military), it also seems that California’s benefits package is somewhat lacking when compared to other states. It’s the only state that doesn’t offer any college tuition assistance. I suggest maybe they should expand the military recruiting efforts on school and college campuses to get the state’s NG fully staffed, but the tuition thing would make that pretty tough.
The California province is a quagmire.
UPDATE: Phil Carter, before the fires started:
Today’s Los Angeles Times reports that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed eight bills which aim to help California’s veterans and reservists. Unfortunately, the most meaningful (and costly) state benefits for California’s vets didn’t make it through the State Legislature, including but not limited to tuition assistance for currently-serving California National Guard members.