More than 3,000 members of the Louisiana National Guard’s 256th Brigade serving in Iraq can only watch from Baghdad as Hurricane Katrina bears down on their families and homes in New Orleans and the other south Louisiana communities from which they hail. The deployed soldiers and their equipment, which includes high water vehicles, Humvees and generators, will be sorely missed as Louisiana attempts to prepare for and recover from the historic Category Five storm.
The soldiers of the 256th are due home in October, assuming their tour isn’t extended to beef up US troop levels in Iraq for the October constitutional referendum and December general elections. Mississippi and Alabama, the other states under threat from Katrina’s second assault on the Gulf Coast, also have Guard contingents in Iraq, with 3,500 troops of Mississippi’s 155th Brigade Combat Team serving near Karbala and Najaf, while 140 Alabama Guard troops left last Sunday for training preparatory to joining some 2,000 Alabama troops already deployed overseas.
Governors throughout the country have watched anxiously as the Guard units they count on to see their states through natural disasters have been called up for service in Iraq, in many cases leaving behind tanks and other heavy armor while taking with them the kinds of equipment that are most valuable in coping with the aftermath of storms, floods and earthquakes.
President Bush has already created one Gulf wasteland. In a few days he’ll be offering condolences to the residents of another; one he didn’t create, only stripped of its guardians in service of something he can’t even define.