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National Guard, the Gulf Coast and the War in Iraq

By Nancy Lessin and Charley Richardson, Military Families Speak Out

"Stay at home and serve your country" was the slogan used to attract men and women into service to their communities and their country in the National Guard. The promise to the men and women of the Guard was also a promise to citizens of the various states that they would have a force available to them in time of emergency.

One weekend a month, two weeks each year, those who signed up to serve in the state militia known as the National Guard trained to protect Country and Constitution and to provide aid in times of local emergencies such as forest fires, floods, hurricanes, blizzards, and civil unrest. National Guard soldiers have specifically been trained to assist in emergencies such as the one that Hurricane Katrina brought to the Gulf Coast on August 28-29, 2005.

Unfortunately, about 35% of Louisiana's and 40% of Mississippi's National Guard troops have been deployed to Iraq - to a war that has nothing to do with protecting Country and Constitution. Along with the troops who have been deployed is much of the heavy equipment -- vehicles, generators, air support -- that is needed along the Gulf Coast today. While the Bush Administration claims that this in no way impeded rescue efforts along the Gulf Coast, those residents who waited days for water, food, shelter, medical assistance and evacuation -- and those who are still waiting, and those who watched this horror unfold across the nation -- have a very different view of the situation.

It appears that Guard troops just back from Iraq will be pressed into hurricane relief efforts. While personnel are desparately needed to aid in these relief efforts, it is critical that provisions be made to care for those returning soldiers who are suffering from symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of their service in Iraq.

In addition, the de-funding of efforts such as flood-control plans and mechanisms, and wetlands barriers, along with the earmarking of billions of dollars for the war effort in Iraq, raise serious questions about how much damage to life and property could have been avoided had there been real support for prevention measures along the Gulf Coast.

There are clearly many factors that contributed to the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, but among them is the fact that troops, equipment and billions of dollars have been devoted to an unjustifiable war, when troops, equipment and funds were needed here along the Gulf Coast.


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