WASHINGTON -- Governors worried about increasing demands on National Guard units want to hear from the Bush administration about its long-term strategy in the fight against terrorism.
State leaders raised their concerns in a private meeting with Lieutenant General H Steven Blum, who is the top Guard general, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.
"It's not that we're not supportive of the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq," said Governor Mike Huckabee, Republican of Arkansas. "We have to kind of step back and rethink the whole picture." Like other governors, he said the part-time soldiery has seen a transformation in recent years.
Guard and reserve soldiers make up about 22 percent of the forces in Iraq. That level is expected to rise to nearly 40 percent as a result of force rotations in the coming months.
Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, which oversees all reserve forces, made a private presentation to governors at the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.
The governors attended a formal dinner at the White House last night and were welcomed by President Bush, who said the nation needs to remain vigilant against terrorism.
"We're still at war," Bush said. "The war on terror is a new kind of war in which every American is threatened and every level of government must work together."
The military demands in Iraq and Afghanistan give governors, who technically are commanders in chief of their state units, a heightened interest in the development of US foreign policy.
The reliance on the part-time soldiers will have a ripple effect, governors said.
"We've got a real retention issue," said Mark Sanford, Republican of South Carolina and a member of the Air Force Reserve.
"You're going to see just an emptying, when people's tickets are up, . . . of Guardsmen not stepping up to the plate," he said.
Tom Vilsack, Democrat of Iowa, said: "We need two things -- predictability and stability."
States often rely on their Air and Army Guard units to help in emergencies such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or riots. In the past two years, their roles have expanded even more, as they assisted in homeland security patrols.
The part-time soldiers are brought under federal control for missions such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq.
There are roughly 500,000 members of the Guard. With the reserves, there are more than 1 million civilian soldiers.
According to a document obtained by the Associated Press, Blum told governors that the goal was to manage deployment so half of each state's units would remain at home and be available for state needs; one-quarter would be deployed for federal matters; and one-quarter would be going through intensive training for deployment.
Some states now have 40 percent or more of their Guard troops overseas.
Blum, speaking as he and his staff ran through a multimedia presentation before the meeting, said his goal was to change the Guard so governors could have a predictable number of troops to rely on.
Blum said he hopes to balance deployments geographically so one state does not end up seeing three-quarters of its reserve deployed overseas while others lose just a few. The extended deployments overseas take their toll on families, local businesses, and state economies, the governors said.