Katrina forces change
to isle conference

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, at least three top-level National Guard, Reserve and Homeland Security officials have bowed out as guest speakers at this year's 127th National Guard Association convention in Honolulu.

Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, head of the National Guard; Thomas Hall, assistant secretary of defense for Reserve affairs; and Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense, will not be attending this year's convention, 1st Lt. Regina Berry, Hawaii National Guard spokeswoman, said yesterday. It begins Saturday at the Hawaii Convention Center.

Attendance also has dipped, especially by National Guard members from the stricken Gulf Coast states.

Maj. Chuck Anthony, Hawaii National Guard spokesman, said last night that 150 of the 3,700 delegates who had originally signed up will not be attending.

"It's not a significant drop," Anthony said.

Anthony only had figures for one of the Gulf states badly ravaged by Hurricane Katrina two weeks ago.

Of the 121 delegates who had signed up to attend from Mississippi, six have canceled. Maj. Gen. Harold Cross, who heads the Mississippi Guard, has said he expected to have 6,000 military police assisting in the relief effort.

More than 46,000 National Guardsmen and 22,000 active duty troops continue to provide critical security, logistical and other support to hurricane relief.

Blum was supposed to give a report on the status of the National Guard during Saturday's opening session. That address was to review the status of National Guard and the Army Reserve soldiers who now make up 40 percent of nearly 130,000 troops in Iraq.

Anthony said Blum's message may be delivered by video instead.

Adm. Timothy Keating, U.S. Northern Command, will be the keynote speaker at Saturday's business session.

The topics of Hall's and McHale's talks weren't available.

McHale was supposed to address the delegates Sunday, and National Guard officials yesterday weren't able to say who will replace him. Other Sunday speakers include Rep. Ed Case and Coast Guard Rear Adm. Tim Sullivan, senior military adviser to the secretary for Homeland Security.

Monday's speakers include Gen. Dan McNeill, commander of U.S. Forces Command; Lt. Gen. David Deptula, vice commander of Pacific Forces, who will address air operations in the Pacific; and Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, deputy commander U.S. Pacific Command, who will talk about the ground operations.

The delegates also will honor several members of the Kentucky Army National Guard, including Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester of the 617th Military Police Company. She was the first female soldier since World War II to be awarded the Silver Star.

Hester received the medal June 16 in Iraq along with two other members of her unit -- Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein and Spc. Jason Mike. The three were recognized for their actions during a March 20 enemy ambush of their convoy.

She was serving as team leader during the mission outside Baghdad when her convoy came under attack. Sgt. Hester maneuvered her team through the kill zone and then turned to assault the insurgents' trench lines with grenades.

The Army reported that she entered the trenches with Nein and killed at least three insurgents with her rifle. The unit killed 27 insurgents in the attack without losing a soldier.

The meeting of the National Guard will precede a three-day 2005 Asia-Pacific Homeland Security Summit and Exposition Sept. 21 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. That meeting will conclude on Sept. 23 with a nearly three-hour community response exercise.

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