[ OUR OPINION ]
Guard deployment results
HAWAII has yet to experience the manpower shortages felt in other states because of the largest deployment of National Guard troops since World War II, but that is about to change. More than 2,100 members of the 29th Brigade have been ordered to begin active duty next month for service in Iraq, and they can expect to be away from home for 18 months. The large deployment of Guard and Reserve units is the sad result of underestimation of troop strength needed in Iraq, resulting in the depletion of first defenders in the war against terrorism.
More than 2,100 Hawaii National Guard members have been ordered to report for active duty Aug. 16 for deployment in Iraq.
Governors have registered valid concerns with the Pentagon about the effect on the families of citizen soldiers and on their states' ability to deal with crime and disasters. More than 150,000 National Guard and Reserve troops are now on active duty.
Hawaii has ranked last in the nation in the percentage of Guard troops mobilized for Iraq, at 13 percent, said Adjutant General Robert Lee. Next month's deployment will put Hawaii "in the middle of the pack at about 40 percent," he said.
Much of the concern in Western states on the mainland has focused on wildfires in large sections of of forests. Meeting with other governors this week in Seattle, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski spoke of difficulty in combatting fires with National Guard troops that have been reduced by half because 400 of them are overseas. Other governors say they have had to cope with a shortage of guards in overcrowded prisons and with diluted police and fire departments.
The 29th Brigade includes 535 Army reservists -- 215 from Hawaii and the remainder from American Samoa, Guam and Saipan. About 300 Army reservists and 200 Army National Guard troops from Hawaii already are in Iraq. The 29th Brigade deployment will leave about 2,500 Guard members in Hawaii, mainly members of the Air National Guard.
Rep. Neil Abercrombie expects that the state's police and fire departments "are going to be adversely affected because a major portion of the Army Guard are police officers and firefighters and teachers." He said Pentagon officials "are denying what the realities of the necessities for troops are in Iraq and Afghanistan and are masking it over with Guard and Reserve deployments, and we are going to have to pay a fearful price for that."
The Honolulu Fire Department has estimated that it will miss as many as 100 of its 1,000 firefighters. A Honolulu police spokeswoman said 40 of the 1,800 officers who belong to the Guard will be included in the call-up, while 192 are reservists. About 15 of the 700 Honolulu Airport security screeners are being called up.
General Lee has said about 25 percent of the Guard troops are students, 5 percent are state or county workers and 3 percent are police officers or firefighters. Governor Lingle said earlier this month that the Guard deployment will have an effect on Hawaii's work force and adjustments will have to be made.