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By Kirsten Scharnberg
Tribune national correspondent
Published March 19, 2006
SEATTLE -- The conflict in Iraq, launched exactly three years ago as bombs began lighting up Baghdad's midnight skies, has left America's National Guard as one of the most critically wounded casualties of the war.
Since the war began, the Guard has been badly stripped of equipment and resources even as it is tasked with one of the most important on-call jobs on American soil: to be the first line of homeland defense and security in the event of a catastrophic terror attack or a devastating national emergency such as Hurricane Katrina.
Statistics, compiled last year by the Government Accountability Office, are startling:
Non-deployed Guard units have just 5 percent of the lightweight rifles and 14 percent of the machine guns they are authorized to have.
Units nationwide have just 8 percent of the flatbed semi-trailers they are authorized to have and 10 percent of the Humvees.
And despite the fact the Guard likely would be the first force to respond to a terrorist attack, which many experts fear could involve the use of chemical or biological weapons, its units have only 14 percent of their authorized chemical decontamination equipment and virtually none of the chemical agent monitoring equipment they are supposed to have.