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Governors Worried About Depleted National Guard

U.S. governors who are meeting in Washington, DC this week say they are worried Iraq war deployments have depleted the readiness of their state National Guard units. President Bush, at the White House Monday, told governors he was aware of their concerns. VOA's Jim Fry reports:

In a room filled with state governors, President George W. Bush is chief among chief executives. The nation's commander in chief sought to give the states' governors a glimpse of a president's daily concern: protecting the country, he said. "You gotta know something -- that a lot of my thinking was defined on September the 11th. I wake up everyday thinking about another attack."

Mr. Bush went on to warn that failure in Iraq will embolden an enemy that would follow U.S. troops back home.

Therefore, he said his strategy is to stay on the offense by sending more troops to Iraq.

Yet, what may be the primary danger on the minds of many governors: a natural disaster that can prove deadly and require a governor to call out the state national guard.

But with many National Guard units mustering out to Iraq -- for the second or third tour, far from their home states -- governors such as North Carolina's Mike Easley are uneasy: "[The] National Guard is hurting and as a result of that, people are not as safe in the United States as they were before this poorly-planned operation in Iraq."

What is more troubling is that about 40 percent of the National Guards' equipment remains in the war zone.

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter is among those who fear they do not have the equipment they need at home. "One of the greatest concerns is the equipment is leaving, going to Iraq and either being damaged there or damaged beyond being able to be replaced."

One Republican governor -- Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota -- said the administration is listening: "We have gotten verbal commitments from the federal officials that the guard units, when they return, will get equipment that is as good in quality and as large in number as the equipment they left with."

Still, Mr. Bush acknowledged the governor's concerns and said he, too, was concerned about funding for state militias. He said Congress is often tempted to take money away: "And if you are concerned about making sure your troops get what they need, make sure you call your congressman or your senator."

Earlier this month, the governors had signaled their displeasure with the administration for proposing cuts in National Guard troop strength--even as their soldiers have repeatedly been sent off to war.

The Pentagon rescinded the cut.

But Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona promised continued vigilance. "We are the commanders of the Guard. These are huge responsibilities that every governor has and we intend to be heard about this."

National Guard units that the Pentagon sends to war in the next two years will be on active duty longer than 12 months -- longer deployments than had been pledged.