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Tuesday, March 4

States share burden of reserve, National Guard call-ups

By Mike Madden

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon‘s mobilization for a possible war in Iraq and the ongoing fight against terrorism has hit some states harder than others, according to a GNS analysis, forcing officials around the country to balance national security concerns with their own homeland defense.

Nationwide, 16 percent of all reservists and National Guard troops had been called to active duty by the Pentagon as of Feb. 12, according to a GNS analysis of military data.

But some states have had far more than that called up and are feeling the pinch as the Pentagon relies more on reserves and Guard troops to perform the combat and logistical missions of the armed forces. The GNS analysis shows that 17 states and Puerto Rico have had 20 percent or more of their Guard troops and reservists mobilized. North Dakota — at 29 percent — is the state with the highest percentage of activated troops.

While officials say they are confident that the mobilization won‘t leave citizens unprotected, they have had to keep the Pentagon call-ups in mind as they put together their own contingency plans. "All we can do is grin and bear it," said California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat.

In California, only 13 percent of reservists and Guard members have been activated, but Davis said aides have been keeping an eye on the mobilizations as they prepare for possible emergencies at home. For example, the state has had to keep the numbers of available Guard troops in mind as officials respond to the nationwide "code orange" terror alert.

"The National Guard is principally paid for by the federal government," Davis said. "Its principal obligation is to help defend the country, and if the Pentagon mobilizes the Guard, we‘ll just have to find ways to replace them."

Davis said California could decide to activate various volunteer civil defense organizations if necessary.

To complete its analysis, GNS obtained state-by-state Pentagon data on the total number of reserve and National Guard forces and compared them with a roster of active-duty call-ups through Feb. 12. The Pentagon‘s own reports did not include the percentages of call-ups in each state, which GNS compiled.

Which units are called up is largely a function of what specialties are needed by top military commanders, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dan Stoneking said. Once commanders in the field make certain requests — for a unit that can handle construction in the desert, for example, or for technicians who repair fighter planes — officials at the Pentagon decide which units to activate.

"All … states and territories are providing support for the war on terrorism," Stoneking said. But because of where the units needed for the current mobilization are based, certain states and territories wind up sending more of their reserve soldiers, sailors, Marines and Air Force personnel to active duty.

Utah, for example, has had 26 percent of its reserve force mobilized and is second behind North Dakota in percentage of call-ups, according to the GNS analysis. Military police, doctors and an in-flight refueling team have been called up from Utah, home to Hill Air Force Base near Salt Lake City.

In South Dakota, 21 percent of the reserves and Guard troops have been called up. That includes an Air Force fighter wing based in Sioux Falls, several transportation companies and some engineers.

Florida has sent 23 percent of its reserve force, including many civil affairs specialists from Pensacola who work with local authorities to minimize the impact on civilians of a possible war.

Many local police and fire departments have been hit hard by the mobilization because large numbers of military reservists work full-time for these agencies. Beyond the impact on local communities, though, the call-ups also could reduce the number of troops available to state authorities if they need them to help with homeland security or natural disasters.

"It‘s a difficulty," said South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican. "It‘s a burden, anytime you have to send somebody off to war. It impacts almost every single family in our state. There are very few people who don‘t know somebody who‘s on active duty."

In other states, though, officials are less concerned about how the call-ups might affect their readiness to respond to a disaster or a terrorist attack.

"We would be ready to undertake any federal mission that would come up," said Maj. Kevin Olson, spokesman for the National Guard in Minnesota, where 9 percent of available reserve and Guard troops have been activated.

"It‘s also important to note we‘d have a sufficient force in reserve in the event that there‘s a state emergency."

Aware of the possible burdens the call-ups place on state officials, Pentagon planners do pay attention to the number of people called up from each state, Stoneking said.

"We‘re certainly not going and saying, ‘Well, let‘s take all the assets from a certain state,‘" he said. "We‘re one country."

(Contributing: Robert Benincasa, GNS)