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The Oregon National Guard requires more training and the right equipment for Guard members to carry out expanding types of civil support missions, according to State Reps. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, and Marty Wilde, D-Eugene.

Rep. Marty Wilde (left), a colonel in the Oregon Air National Guard, and Rep. Paul Evans (right), a retired Air Force veteran and Oregon Air National Guard member, urge more training, modern equipment and greater financial support for Oregon National Guard members who are being activated to address a growing number of home-front disasters from wildfires to overwhelmed hospitals.

In a guest column published by The Oregonian, Evans and Wilde, both Guard veterans, wrote, “Oregon has never relied more on the National Guard. The changing face and missions of the state military force require us to take a hard look at how we support our troops.”

The lawmakers praised “profound changes” by the National Guard on “inclusion, quality and responsiveness”. “When we joined the Guard in the 1990s, it didn’t reflect Oregon’s diversity – it excluded women from combat roles and LGBTQ people from service. Similarly, the missions we trained for reflected a Cold War mentality. We weren’t going to get called up unless Russian tanks came through the Fulda Gap in Germany.”

Evans and Wilde noted their overseas service “hunting war criminals in Bosnia to directing air support in Iraq.” Now, they said, the Guard focuses on homeland defense, preparing for a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, distributing personal protective equipment, helping unemployed Oregonians get jobless benefits, fighting wildfires and supporting hospital staffs overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases.

“With these new missions come new requirements to train, equip and support our Guard members,” Evans and Wilde argued. “To accomplish any mission effectively, the Guard must be trained to do it.”

The federal government foots the bill for Guard training, but Evans and Wilde say that training centers on national security missions, not home-front missions. The equipment and technology the Guard receives is often second-hand and outdated. They said, “Training and equipping the Guard for the continuing demands of state missions requires the state to invest in these missions, not just to continue to rely upon federal funding.”

Guard members deserve better financial support, Evans and Wilde insist. “Until recently, Guard members in Oregon lacked job protections for the most common kind of domestic activation. While we patched that hole with House Bill 2231 this session, the reality for veterans is still dark. Oregon spends about $50 per year per veteran on support services, while the federal government spends about $10,000 per year per veteran. We’ve lost too many veterans to suicide. Our state policy should invest in making sure all veterans get the support they need.”

The Oregon National Guard website touts state-paid tuition assistance for the majority of state universities and colleges.

Money spent on readiness for an emergency often seems wasteful when there’s not a disaster happening. But failure to prepare, train and equipthe Oregon National Guard for the unexpected can lead to devastating consequences.

Evans and Wilde suggest civilian alternatives to Guard mobilization to respond to certain emergencies. “For example, two different hospitals recently requested 30 registered nurses from the Oregon Guard. But what Oregon needs is greater investment in educating and training additional nurses. Using Guard members for this work is not sensible. We only have 19 Guard nurses, and they already have civilian health care jobs. We can’t expect the Guard to cover for underinvestment in nursing education.”

They also called for a statewide database of civilian volunteers who could be pressed into service during some emergencies. “We’ve seen how well volunteers can work when well organized, but it takes an investment to organize them for action. The federal government already has such a database, but the state does not.”

“Money spent on readiness for an emergency often seems wasteful when there’s not a disaster happening,” Evans and Wilde said. “But failure to prepare, train and equipthe Guard for the unexpected can lead to devastating consequences. The Oregon National Guard has been there for the people of Oregon and will always be. Now it is time for us to be there for them.”

Evan’s Oregon Air National Guard unit was activated for 24 months following the 9/11 attacks. Wilde, who attended the University of Oregon Law School after joining the Oregon National Guard, prosecuted sexual assault cases in Qatar.