Isle brigade is short on gear
The Hawaii Guard's top general says the unit is not ready for a second tour in Iraq
The head of the Hawaii National Guard says he was surprised by the announcement that the Pentagon is developing plans to send combat brigades, like Hawaii's 29th Brigade Combat Team, back to Iraq for a second tour.
Maj. Gen. Bob Lee, state adjutant general, said the 29th Brigade Combat Team, which returned from Iraq earlier this year after nearly a year of combat, only has 30 percent of its allotted vehicles and equipment.
"We won't be reset until April 2007," said Lee, referring to current plans to restock the Army unit by next year.
Lee said Hawaii Army National Guard leaders are still working on the assumption that there will be at least five to six years between deployments.
However, last month, U.S. Reps. John Murtha and Neil Abercrombie both warned that President Bush might have no choice but to mobilize all members of the Army National Guard and Army Reserve because there are not enough active-duty military to handle the current level of violence in Iraq.
Abercrombie, who will assume the chairmanship of a House Armed Services subcommittee in January, said Bush can invoke such drastic mobilization only after initiating "a crash program" in spending more money on Army and Marine Corps vehicles and armaments because of severe shortages of equipment.
Lee said he missed a key meeting with the secretary of the Army and National Guard and Army Reserve leaders last month when he had to cut short a trip to Washington, D.C., because of the earthquakes off the Big Island.
He said the Pentagon's latest plans could have been discussed then. On Friday, Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, who commands the National Guard, said current demands could force National Guard and Reserve soldiers to deploy as often as one year every three or four years.
He said four Army National Guard units that were called up when the Iraqi war started three years ago face a possible second tour.
These four units are the 30th Brigade from North Carolina, the 76th Brigade from Indiana, the 53rd Brigade from Florida and the 39th Brigade from Arkansas.
All of the Army National Guard's combat brigades have been sent to either Iraq or Afghanistan.
Nearly 3,300 members of Hawaii's 29th Infantry Brigade and the Pacific Army Reserve's 100th Battalion/442nd Infantry were place on active duty in July 2004 and sent to Iraq the following February.
The 29th Brigade was taken off active duty on March 13 and is now undergoing a major reorganization.
For the next year, plans call for the 29th Brigade to evolve into a leaner and more self-sustained infantry unit. Lee said he expects to speak with Blum today to get an update on the status and future of the 29th Brigade.