Nevada Guard Says its Ready for Emergencies Despite Deployments

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While many states complain that deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have left their National Guard units understaffed and ill-prepared to handle emergencies at home, Nevada officials say its force of citizen soldiers is in "great shape" and ready to respond if needed.

"We're not 100 percent, but if something happened, the Nevada National Guard is well-equipped to help deal with the problem," Capt. April Conway said.

Of the Guard's 3,500 members, 350 are deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan, she said.

As far as equipment, Conway said "the vast majority of what we've taken with us to the desert has been returned or replaced."

The biggest fear in Nevada is the upcoming fire season, said Brent Boynton, spokesman for Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Last year, fire burned more than 1.3 million acres in Nevada - more than 2,000 square miles.

A recent outlook by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, concluded that the Sierra and much of Nevada could be particularly vulnerable to wildfires this summer because of drought and above-normal temperatures.

"This year has the potential to bring a severe wildfire season. That should concern every Nevadan," Boynton said.

Boynton said the state is trying to acquire sophisticated equipment to provide Air Guard planes with the ability to carry retardant and augment commercial air tankers. The Army Guard's helicopters also are available for bucket water drops.

Should additional resources become necessary, he said Nevada has
cooperative agreements with other Western states to provide mutual
aid in fighting wildfires.

Despite the Guard's assertion of readiness, Democrats in the state Senate signed a letter urging Gibbons - a former combat pilot who served in Vietnam and the first Gulf War - to petition President Bush to call Nevada guardsmen home by November.

The Nevada Guard, the letter said, "has done its part in the war in Iraq and should now be released to return home."

Since the war began, about 1,500 Nevada guardsmen have served
overseas. Two were killed and 200 have been injured, according a
statement by Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas.

"Nevada's National Guard troops and equipment are needed here," said Titus, who ran against Gibbons in the 2006 gubernatorial election.

"We believe our citizen soldiers and their families have sacrificed above and beyond the call of duty."

Boynton said the Republican governor would not petition the president.

"I'm sure the governor respects their opinion but he's a veteran of two wars himself," he said. "He feels strongly it's important to support our troops."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)