USA — Gates Approves Federal Money for Guard Units in Gulf

WASHINGTON, May 4, 2010 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates has giv­en ver­bal approval to the gov­er­nors of Alaba­ma, Mis­sis­sip­pi and Flori­da for Title 32 sta­tus for Nation­al Guards­men to help to com­bat the oil spill in the Gulf of Mex­i­co.

The requests are in addi­tion to Louisiana Gov. Bob­by Jindal’s request for up to 6,000 Nation­al Guards­men to be cov­ered under Title 32 author­i­ty that the sec­re­tary approved yes­ter­day, Pen­ta­gon spokesman Marine Corps Col. David Lapan said.

Alaba­ma request­ed up to 3,000 Guards­men, Mis­sis­sip­pi request­ed 6,000, and Flori­da request­ed up to 2,500. Louisiana has employed about 1,200 Guards­men on Title 32 sta­tus, and they are pro­vid­ing com­mand-and-con­trol and sand­bag­ging assis­tance in St. Bernard and Plaque­m­ine parish­es. Guards­men pos­si­bly could be used in com­mu­ni­ca­tions, logis­tics, trans­porta­tion, assess­ment, med­ical, avi­a­tion sup­port and shore­line clean-up, Lapan said.

Once the sec­re­tary gives approval for the Guard units to oper­ate under Title 32 author­i­ty, “what puts them into action are requests from the on-scene fed­er­al coor­di­na­tor,” Lapan said.

Most of the 1,200 Louisiana Guards­men are from the 225th Engi­neer Brigade with head­quar­ters in Pineville, La. How­ev­er, many of the vol­un­teers are from the brigade’s bat­tal­ions locat­ed through­out the state, said Army Col. Mike Dev­ille, state pub­lic affairs offi­cer.

All Guards­men are receiv­ing Occu­pa­tion­al Safe­ty and Health Admin­is­tra­tion train­ing as they come on duty to deal with con­t­a­m­i­nants when and if they come ashore.

The Guards­men have pre-posi­tioned a pack­age of engi­neer­ing and logis­tics equip­ment to be able to respond as quick­ly as need­ed, and they’ve helped the Coast Guard load booms on boats for deploy­ment. They also are run­ning avi­a­tion mis­sions not only to pro­vide recon­nais­sance of the oil slick, but also to ensure that boom equip­ment has­n’t shift­ed posi­tion, offi­cials said.

The oil slick has not reached shore yet, said Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKin­ley, chief of the Nation­al Guard Bureau here.

“We have a good con­struct to oper­ate in,” McKin­ley said dur­ing a Defense Writ­ers Group break­fast today. The Coast Guard is the lead fed­er­al agency in the cri­sis, and Nation­al Guard lead­ers in the region have a good work­ing rela­tion­ship with the ser­vice, McKin­ley said.

Title 32 author­i­ty means the Guards­men con­tin­ue to work for the gov­er­nors of the states, McKin­ley said. “It also gives the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment the oppor­tu­ni­ty to recov­er the funds through the Oil-Spill Recov­ery Act,” he said.

The gen­er­al said Jin­dal has indi­cat­ed he will pre-posi­tion forces so he can react if the spill comes ashore. The pre-posi­tion­ing will allow author­i­ties to “get the need­ed peo­ple and equip­ment from the civil­ian agen­cies to the scene quick­ly and rapid­ly so we can assist BP and the oth­er oil com­pa­nies – who are tak­ing a very proac­tive response,” McKin­ley said.

“We’ll be part of that com­mu­ni­ty-based force that knows the roads, knows the back roads, knows the estu­ar­ies and knows the parish lead­er­ship,” he added, “and get the real experts to the scene, secure the site, set up relief efforts to feed peo­ple [and] to do the kinds of things a large relief oper­a­tion will require.”

The Louisiana Nation­al Guard still has the high-water vehi­cles that were used in Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na relief oper­a­tions, and the state has learned a lot since that cat­a­stro­phe in 2005, the gen­er­al not­ed.

“There has been marked improve­ment since Kat­ri­na in how the state of Louisiana attacks a prob­lem like this,” McKin­ley said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)