- WASHINGTON -- America's state
governors have complained to the Bush administration that the high number
of national guard volunteers serving in Iraq has hobbled their ability
to fight wildfires or other disasters, it was reported yesterday.
- With 40,000 national guard troops in Iraq, many states
are missing large numbers of firefighters, policemen and prison guards,
leaving their public security services operating with skeleton staffs.
The scale and ferocity of the Iraqi insurgency has delayed the soldiers'
- Republican and Democratic governors voiced their anxiety
at the largest deployment of the part-time force since the second world
- In peacetime, national guard forces are under the control
of state governors and can be used to handle civil unrest or natural disasters.
Their absence has become acute as summer wildfires have taken a grip of
western states. Oregon's Democratic governor, Ted Kulongoski, told the
New York Times that the state's national guard firefighting force was at
half strength because 400 of its members were overseas.
- "We're praying a lot that a major fire does not
break out," Mr Kulongoski said. "It has been dry out here, the
snow pack's gone because of an extremely warm May and June and the fire
season came earlier ... You're just going to have fires and if you do not
have the personnel to put them out, they can grow very quickly into ultimately
- Altogether Oregon has 700 national guard soldiers in
Iraq and that number is expected to rise to 1,300 by the autumn. Meanwhile,
in Idaho, over 60% of the national guard force, 2,000 troops, have been
sent to Texas for training prior to deployment in Iraq.
- "In the past we've been able to call on the national
guard," Mark Snider, a spokesman for the Republican governor, Dirk
Kempthorne, said. "We may not be able to call on these soldiers for
- Elsewhere, officials in Arizona said they were facing
a staffing crisis in state prisons caused by the absence of over 100 guards
serving overseas. As the death toll in Iraq continues to rise and as tours
of duty are extended, the national guard's recruitment fig ures have been
hit. The army national guard is below strength by about 6,000.
- Discontent in the ranks has also been stoked by reports
that life insurance sales agents have been using compulsory financial planning
sessions with raw recruits to sell them expensive policies.
- An investigation by the New York Times found that many
of the soldiers who signed policies had no idea what they had bought, believing
that signing the documents was obligatory and that they were agreeing only
to put aside savings. In fact, they had agreed to pay inflated monthly
premiums for less coverage and benefits than the standard package offered
by the army.
- "They were given no time to read the documents and
no copies to keep," the newspaper reported of one incident at Fort
Benning in Georgia. Its investigation found that the practice of misleading
sales pitches to captive audiences of green recruits was widespread, involving
other bases and several financial services companies.
- The Pentagon said it did not intend to end the practice
of personal insurance selling, but said it was taking measures to protect
recruits from "deceptive or predatory sales practices".
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