National Guard Readies as Gulf Braces for Oil Spill

ARLINGTON, Va. – At least three states along the Gulf of Mexico are preparing for a potential call for thousands of National Guard members as the nation ramps up its response to an oil spill that’s threatening the coast.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal sent letters to federal officials asking them to approve funding to activate up to 6,000 Guard members to assist in the response to the oil spill.

In letters addressed to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Jindal said the Guard “will provide security, medical capabilities, engineers and communication support in response to this threat.”

“Currently, our soldiers and airmen are staging for and are engaged in the planning of the effort to evacuate and provide security and clean up for the coastal communities expected to be impacted by the oil spill,” Jindal wrote. “They are engaged in the protection of vital infrastructure to include medical facilities, fuel distribution, interstate highways, water/ice distribution and power facilities, which are all vital to the recovery of coastal Louisiana.”

Jindal added that he believes these National Guard operations are necessary and appropriate to protect the region from “a significant national event with potential catastrophic loss of natural resources.”

Other Gulf Coast states, including Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas, reported they are in close contact with state and federal officials and are ready to respond with Guard personnel and equipment to assist in their communities.

“Right now, we are taking a look at the assets that are available and the possible missions that our Guard forces could receive, as far as dealing with an oil spill,” said Army Maj. Christian Patterson, Mississippi Guard spokesman. “We are looking at everything and waiting to see what happens, to be ready to do whatever we are called on to do.”

Patterson said the Mississippi Guard has a number of assets that can be used in such an emergency, including security forces to support police at checkpoints, aviation assets for aerial reconnaissance missions and civil engineers.

Army Maj. Cynthia Bachus, public affairs officer for the Alabama Guard, said her state also is monitoring the situation. “We have drill this weekend, … so if something does occur, we will be here,” she said.

The Florida Guard is prepared to support the state’s Division of Emergency Management, said public affairs officer Air Force Lt. Col. Ron Tittle.

Although it is hard to speculate on missions they might perform, Tittle said, officials typically look at how they respond to natural disasters such as hurricanes, providing engineering assets and serving at distribution points for those affected in their communities.

“It just depends,” he said. “We just look at all the different possibilities and pull out our plans that we use to respond to other types of disasters and adapt a plan accordingly.”

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