Schwarzenegger warns of National Guard equipment shortages
WASHINGTON – California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sought federal help Monday on border security, mortgage loans and equipment shortages affecting the California National Guard because of deployments to Iraq.
Schwarzenegger, in Washington for a meeting of the National Governors Association, also joined with other governors to press for more money to improve infrastructure.
The governor raised the Guard issue with Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Overseas deployment – mostly to Iraq – has worsened existing equipment shortages afflicting the California National Guard. The Guard has 200 trucks, Humvees and other items overseas, representing about 5 percent of its total equipment pool. It also is about to lose all 12 of its Chinook helicopters to other states to make up for aircraft those units have sent to war zones.
“I think it is not fair to the state for the federal government to go into a war situation and then to take from us the equipment,” Schwarzenegger told reporters. “Every time our National Guards leave, they take with them equipment, but they don’t bring it back. So there’s only so long they can do that.”
Schwarzenegger said he did not receive a specific commitment to address the equipment shortage.
“They talked about the difficulty, that it would take a few years again to provide all this equipment,” he said. “But what we want to do is push them to speed up that process.”
The Guard’s response capability in California has not been affected, but that could change if a major disaster strikes, said Lt. Col. Jon Siepmann, a Guard spokesman.
The state should get the Chinooks back in a year. Meanwhile, it will rely on Blackhawks and other aircraft, as well as on a compact with other states that make Chinooks available if they’re needed.
Overall, the Guard is 40 percent to 60 percent below its authorized equipment level because of long-standing shortages in federal provisions and money, Siepmann said.
There are about 3,000 California National Guard troops deployed overseas, mostly in Iraq, out of a total force of nearly 21,000. There also are about 600 troops deployed to help patrol the U.S.-Mexico border.
Schwarzenegger also met Monday with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to push for that partnership between the Guard and the Border Patrol to continue. Schwarzenegger said the objective of adding 6,000 new Border Patrol agents has not been met. Fewer than 3,000 have been added, and it will take at least until the end of 2008 to recruit and train the additional positions.
“Operation Jump Start,” as the project is called, is scheduled to end in July. But Schwarzenegger pushed in his meeting with Chertoff and in a Jan. 30 letter to President Bush for it to continue with full funding.
Schwarzenegger met privately Monday with President Bush and governors from Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, as well as the Mexican states of Sonora, Baja California and Tamaulipas. They sought to improve relations and communications across the border.
A meeting with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and the Mexican governors focused on money laundering and investing in infrastructure along the borders.
Schwarzenegger also met with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson to ask about permanently increasing federal loan limits for home mortgages.
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