Homeland Disaster: Natl. Guard Watches Helplessly from Afar

08/31/2005 03:13 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

As the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina's damage to Louisiana and Mississippi overwhelms families, aid agencies, and news coverage, we will do well to remember one group of people truly caught in the middle: the 6,000 National Guardsmen from Louisiana and Mississippi serving in Iraq right now.

See this story about one unit from Lousiana.

"Lieutenant Colonel Jordan Jones says he and his fellow soldiers have been following the events on television and trying desperately to get in touch with loved ones back home. Jones says some of the troops "have seen their neighborhoods completely submerged in water."

He adds that it's doubly hard since members of the Guard see it as their duty to serve during times of natural disaster.

Louisiana's 256th Brigade Combat Team is serving in Iraq and now largely unable to contact their families or get straight answers about children, homes, business, parents, or friends. Other units include the Mississippi 98th Division conducting training for the new Iraqi Security Forces.

I remember when I was in Iraq with soldiers from the Florida National Guard during the 2003 hurricane season. Our guys were terribly concerned about the fate of their families back home every time a storm hit. It's hard for a soldier to focus on the threat of insurgents in Baghdad when he is worried about his wife and kids being trapped underwater back home. Needless to say, this really took its toll on the morale of the unit. The worst part was the near total lack of information. The powerlessness my soldiers felt was agonizing. I can only imagine what it's like for the soldiers in Iraq right now.

But there is also another piece to this. As the Pentagon has turned increasingly to the Guard and Reserve force to fill the gaps left by poor planning and missteps in Iraq (more than 118,000 members of the National Guard are activated right now) this disaster gives us all yet another reason to question the prudence of it all. Activated Guardsmen have many times raised their voices over the last two years to point out that they joined up to defend their homeland in the homeland and not in a foreign country. Too often they were silenced by criticism and questions about their commitment. But the validity of their concern hits home now as governors make impossible choices between clearing roads, guarding convicts, and evacuating people; and scraping together equipment to fill in for what's on the ground in Iraq.

The Hurricane Katrina disaster should also make us all think about America's overall homeland security strategy. If the President needs some recreation, he should spend less time riding bikes, and more time playing the board game Risk. Anyone who has ever played the game can understand the dangers of over-committing your forces.

Our military commitment to operations in Iraq has not made America safer. We have devoted an unwise percentage of our military resources to "fighting them over there, so we don't have to fight them over here." And now our back door is wide open.

We are already fighting them over there. What would we do if we actually had to fight them over here too?