Ohio Governor Questions Guard's Return to Iraq
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.
The next wave of American troops is being told to prepare for Iraq.
Colonel KENDALL PENN (Commander, Arkansas National Guard): And I can't say that necessarily would want to go back. However, this is a mission that the unit has trained for over the past two years. This is a mission that we are capable of doing.
INSKEEP: That's Colonel Kendall Penn of the Arkansas National Guard. Arkansas is one of the states being told to prepare a total of 13,000 Guard troops. The other states are Indiana, Oklahoma and Ohio, where the governor is Ted Strickland, who's on the phone.
Governor, good morning.
Governor TED STRICKLAND (Democrat, Ohio): Good morning.
INSKEEP: Could you explain the basics of how this works? The Guard works for you, right, until they're called up?
Gov. STRICKLAND: Well, the Guard - it does work for me. Once they are federalized, though, they are into the total control of the president of the United States.
INSKEEP: So when did you get the word?
Gov. STRICKLAND: I was informed late last week that this was likely to happen. And, of course, we all found out a few days later.
INSKEEP: Now what are you hearing from Guard members and their families? This is certainly not the first Guard deployment to Iraq.
Gov. STRICKLAND: It isn't. And of course Ohioans, as all Americans who belong to the Guard, are patriotic. They have a sense of duty. And they will do what they are asked to do. However, as governor I want to tell you that this troubles me greatly. I'm writing the president today expressing my concern that these soldiers are being asked to do, I think, what is above and beyond the call of duty.
INSKEEP: Why is it above and beyond the call of duty?
Gov. STRICKLAND: Well, because they're being deployed later this year when, according to what they were led to believe in past practice, they would not have been subject to deployment until '09. And so they haven't been given sufficient time off from the last deployment. There are so many concerns that I have. The effect upon employers, the effect upon the families of these men and women. And I just think this is an example of the government not keeping faith with the men and women who have volunteered to serve in the Ohio National Guard.
INSKEEP: You're referring to a rule that has said in the past that there's a limitation to the amount of time that Guard members can spend deployed overseas, right?
Gov. STRICKLAND: That's right. Absolutely.
INSKEEP: And it seems that the need for troops in Iraq has begun to override that. That's what you're concerned about.
Gov. STRICKLAND: That's what I'm concerned about. And these men and women are going to be paying the price for, I think, a failure to adequately plan, to predict. And it really troubles me. And it also troubles me that this is happening before the end of the year.
I want to make sure - although once they're federalized, they become subject to the authority of the president, I want to make sure that they have adequate training before they leave. I want to make sure that they have body armor, proper weapons. I want to make that the soldiers who leave Ohio to go to the war zone have been given every advantage they need in order to be safe.
INSKEEP: Do they not have the adequate training and weapons from their last trip in Iraq?
Gov. STRICKLAND: Well, I have questions about that. I really do. And I have questions as to whether or not when they leave this time they will be given the most up-to-date equipment in terms of night vision goggles, in terms of the weapons they have to carry with them, the guns they have. These are questions that I am asking the president to give me assurance about. And I think the families of these folks have every right to be given every assurance that nothing will be done to place their loved ones in harm's way until we as a government have done everything possible to make sure that whatever it takes to keep them safe has been done.
INSKEEP: Governor, in just 10 seconds, is there an argument to be made for saying, well, they may have been a rule, but it's an emergency, got to go?
Gov. STRICKLAND: Well, like I said, these men and women will do what they are asked to do. I have no doubt about that. They are patriotic Americans. They are committed to doing what their country asks them to do. My concern is that their country and this president is asking them to do more than should reasonably be expected of them.
INSKEEP: Governor, thanks very much.
Gov. STRICKLAND: Well, thank you, sir.
INSKEEP: Ted Strickland is the Democratic governor of Ohio.