Sarah Palin: Leading Alaska's National Guard Across the Bridge to Nowhere

11/06/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain surrogates have been touting Palin's experience as commander of the Alaska National Guard. Veterans For America, a nonpartisan veterans advocacy group, has been in Alaska all last week researching the plight of the National Guard in Alaska, as they've been doing all with other state National Guard forces. Their new report about the Alaska National Guard is damning enough to make Team McCain not want to talk about her leadership of the Alaska National Guard anymore.

If Palin's record as commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard is any indication of how she would serve as commander in chief of all our forces, should she ever have to, it would spell absolute disaster for our already weakened military.

Some selections from the report:

"The post-deployment challenges facing the Alaska National Guard are more daunting and widespread than any seen by Veterans for America's National Guard Program."

"For Guard members living in remote villages, it can cost over $1,500 to travel to Anchorage for appointments. VA will reimburse this money; however, the soldiers need pay upfront. In Bethel, Alaskan Native Elders and local VSOs had to help Soldiers pay for their travel and lodging." i.e. a National Guard Soldier with severe PTSD will have to have $1500 up front to spend if he wants an appointment with the VA.

"The families of Guard deployed from rural Alaska were hit very hard. For instance, those on public assistance lost their food stamps and Medicare eligibility when their husbands were deployed because their household income had temporarily increased. Food is incredibly expensive in the remote villages of Alaska -- milk costs $10 for a half gallon. Also, there are no Tricare providers in the villages so as a practical matter many rural Guard family members lost all health care when their loved one was deployed. "

"State of Alaska benefits for state employees who are deployed are paltry relative to other states--a fact worsened by the high costs of basic necessities in the state. The state of Alaska only provides military leave up to 15 days (for instance, California provides differential pay for all state employees when called to federal or state duty for up to 365 days)."

"The State of Alaska's own readiness ratings demonstrates that the Alaska Army National Guard is poorly prepared to respond to a major domestic emergency. Under the "Training Capability Rating," each Alaska Army National Guard unit is assigned a rating or T-1--representing the best trained, to T-4--requiring additional training. For every quarter since FY 2005, the Training Capability Rating for the Alaska Army National Guard as a whole has been a T-4, with the goal of reaching a T-3 rating."

Gen. David McGinnis, the former Chief of Staff of the U.S. National Guard Association, lays the blame with Gov. Palin:

The limited accessibility to mental health care and services as well as the conditions observed and those presented to study investigators by elements of the Alaska National Guard family are equally fitting for the Governor's personal attention. In addition the lack of sensitivity to the specific needs and assignment limitations of the most rural Alaskan Guard members would also be worthy of a Governor's direct intervention.

We can find no evidence that Governor Palin intervened on behalf of members of the Alaska National Guard before or after their recent deployments. Where has the Governor been?

Prior to the Vice Presidential debate, Vietnam vet and longtime veterans advocate Bobby Muller wrote on Huffington Post:

Governor Palin's cavalier approach to learning about U.S. national security policy is offensive, given that she is well aware of the horrific impact that the war in Iraq has had on the Alaska National Guard...

I have spent the better part of a year trying to get our presidential (and now, vice presidential) candidates to recognize the unprecedented sacrifices that have been asked of our National Guard, but, to date, the response has been inadequate.

According to VFA's preliminary Alaska findings, "The post-deployment challenges facing Alaska's Army National Guard are more daunting and widespread than any seen by Veterans for America."

The Alaska National Guard needs their governor to advocate and fight for their needs -- not exploit their deployments for her own political advantage.

We cannot let her shy away from this. We must demand that she answers questions during Thursday's Vice Presidential Debate -- and accepts responsibility -- for the conditions on the ground in Alaska. For any who might say that what's happening in Alaska is part of a larger Army problem (or any other excuse), remind them of what the Adjutant General of the Alaska Guard recently told Fox News: "Yes. Governor Palin is in charge, the commander-in-chief for the Alaska National Guard, and she plays the same role that all governors in all 54 states and territories play, running and managing and operating the Guard day to day for the states that they're responsible for... National Guards are state military forces run by governors, and Sarah Palin does it great."

Have a look at the report. Is this a governor who "does it great"?

The plight of Alaska's National Guard was not brought up in Thursday's Vice Presidential debate, as Mr. Muller urged, but Gov. Palin must still be held publicly accountable. There is a bridge to nowhere in Alaska after all -- and Gov. Palin is content to lead Alaska's National Guard right to the edge of it.

Lt. General Robert G. Gard Jr. (USA, Ret.) is the steering committee chairman of Vets for Obama. Visit their official site or join them on Facebook.