Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer Calls for Bringing Guard Home

Montana Governor Sets Off Fight With Call to Bring Guard Home (NYT-Reuters)

Gov. Brian Schweitzer has touched off a political fight with Montana Republicans after calling for the return of National Guard troops serving in Iraq to help out in what many fear will be a record-setting wildfire season. Mr. Schweitzer, a newly elected Democrat, infuriated Republican lawmakers who see his request as a way to criticize the Bush administration over Iraq. “He’s figured out how to use the wildfire season to protest the Iraq war,” said Bob Keenan, the state Senate Republican leader. “It’s an antiwar statement and condemnation of Bush’s actions.”

The governor and his supporters deny those accusations in a growing political battle that comes as weather experts say a seven-year drought and a severely reduced snowpack could lead to a devastating summer of wildfires. They also worry that limited resources stretched thinner by the National Guard’s service overseas could make it hard to combat the kind of huge blazes that engulfed the state in 2000, when some 2,400 wildfires burned nearly 950,000 acres of mostly public land. “Everything right now is pointing to the possibility of a large and damaging fire season,” said Bruce Thoricht, meteorologist with the federal Northern Rockies Coordination Center in Missoula.

Governor Schweitzer said Montana would disproportionately suffer the pain of proposed cuts in the federal budget, with money allocated for firefighting cut in half. As fire season approaches, about 1,500 of Montana’s 3,500 National Guard troops have been deployed on federal active duty, said a Montana Guard spokesman, Maj. Scott Smith. A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Mike Milord, said in an e-mail message that deals with neighboring states would provide for more troops during emergencies this summer.

Schweitzer apparently doesn’t realize that the National Guard is paid for by the Defense Department and is part of the total force that gets deployed during wartime. This highlights a problem with the dual nature of the Guard, which is routinely used to augment domestic law enforcement and emergency response units by state governors. Perhaps it’s time for the states to consider funding police and firefighter auxilliaries. Of course, they would never do that because they’ve come to expect the federal government to pay for so much.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    small counties in Texas do have a sheriff’s deputy auxiliary, and volunteer fire departments as well. I’m sure something similar could be worked out if someone would agree to provide the funds.

  2. From the Left says:

    I was a volunteer firefighter in rural Oregon, and a Hot-Shot during fire season. I’m glad I’m not there anymore, doing that work. We relied heavily on the Guard, and ask any Guardsman and they will tell you they joined up for the local folks in times of natural disaster, or “acts of God.” Those Montana folks joined the guard because of wildfires. Period. They grew up with them and they grew up seeing the Guard in that capacity. Well, this war is no act of God, it is the act of a few chicken-hawks who never had to fight one, (My father died fighting the one they dodged.) Good for the governor! I hope a few more pull their troops back home and don’t try to sugar coat it: “The National Guard troops from my state are being recalled because you guys fucked up!” My 22 year old son grew up an Air Force brat. He is not a stone-pacifist hippie, we (his parents, married over 24 years) talked him out of enlisting after high school. We discussed it recently on his birthday. He sees the necessity of action in limited cases, and there are causes I would not be able to discourage him taking up arms against. There are things I would take up arms against. But he won’t fight “this war for that guy.”

    Want to know what is really going on in Baghdad? Plunk over to Kevin’s website and in the bottom left corner, pull down the list of other blogs and go to “Baghdad Burning” It is being posted by a western-educated moderate intelligent young woman, who does not want to live in “Western Iran”. But that is where they are headed. Sadaam was a horrible dictator – but the fundamentalists were in check. At least when the europeans went on their crusades, the weapons could only kill one person at a time, as a general rule. Our fearless leaders are destroying hundreds of civillian, non-combatant lives every week at a cost of billions. I am just non-plussed! Bring them all home!

  3. They Can't Have My Son says:

    Traditionally the Guard stay’s home in the event an attack happens at home or to assist with natural disasters and qwelling of riots and civilian unrest. The Reserves and the inactive ready reserves are mobilized before the Guard is deployed over seas, as a last resort. But proper protocol doesn’t occur to these guys, they create reality. I’m with Leftie, above.

  4. McGehee says:

    Those Montana folks joined the guard because of wildfires. Period.

    And each and every one of them told you that, personally?

  5. From the Left says:

    Of course they didn’t! But I have been on firelines with Oregon and Washington and Idaho and Wyoming and Montana Guardsmen, and I learned from the ones I actually met that fires were the main reason they joined. A lot of the younger guardsmen joined for help with school, and to keep the ever-threatening fire at bay. If you have never lived out west, and even if you have, if a wildfire has never threatened your community, I simply do not expect you to understand. It is an ever-present threat, and made more so by 75 years of Federal “Forest Management” that blows up in our faces every summer, like the Storm King Mountain fire.

  6. Attila Girl says:

    Yeah. McGehee knows nothing about the West. 😉

    (Give me a break.)

  7. anjin-san says:

    Let’s face it, Iraq is more of a priority for Bush then much of America. I know I felt better when I saw the now absent guardsmen on duty at the airport and on the bridges in the Bay Area,,,

  8. dw says:

    Yeah. McGehee knows nothing about the West. 😉

    Do you?

    Do you know how dry it is out here right now? I think it’s rained four days in the last thirty in Seattle. The snowpack in the Cascades is the worst in nearly 30 years. And it’s the same throughout the northwest corner of this country.

    There have already been small fires in the Cascades and Olympics. In March. This could be a hellish fire season in the Northwest. All Schweitzer is saying is that he’d love to have the Guard home to help fight the potentially huge fire complexes this summer. There’s a similar sentiment in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.

    As for this “well, the states should pay for it” attitude, you forget that most of these fires are on federal lands, and the states have so many flippin’ unfunded mandates that they don’t have the cash to have their own smokejumper squads. Try selling a statewide tax increase on building and training a fire auxiliary sometime. Good luck.

    And a decent chunk of Montana/Idaho/Inland Empire Guard members do it for the firefighting, more than you’d find in, say, Oklahoma or Mississippi.

  9. From the Left says:

    Iowa, of all places was the site of a large and devastating grass fire just this month! That is unheard of! I no longer live in Oregon, and I haven’t fought a fire for over a decade, but I have friends and family in the northwest still, and they are scared, even the ones who live in towns. Sparks travel for miles, and the shake-cedar roofs that so many upscale housing developments require are just expensive, nice looking tinder. One big overbuilt house with a shake roof can be responsible for fires three miles or more away! And every one of those big overbuilt houses torches a few more and it grows exponentially as the spring winds whip!

    The truth is folks, the west is overpopulated, and it’s nearing the tipping point. Common sense dictates that you don’t build mansions where there is no natural water supply!

  10. From the Left says:

    P.S. The paid firefighters in that part of the country are usually either former or current Guard members. They parlay the training into a job, and jobs out there are hard to come by with the closing of so many mills. I’m from there, and I do know that of which I speak. Those boys and girls – and that is what most of them are – did not join up to fight a war with other people who don’t have a lot of economic advantages either. And that is the bitter truth. Rich kids are not fighting this war. Rich kids don’t enlist, even in peacetime. If they do serve, they are usually officers, and officers don’t take as much fire as grunts, who tend to come from the lower-middle and working classes. If a poll were taken of enlisted personel to see how many joined because of the college education at the end of the tunnel, you would be surprized by the number responding in the affirmative.

  11. McGehee says:

    None of which supports the blanket claim you made that I questioned. You may be in a position to speak for those guardsmen you have spoken to, and whose opinions you choose to pass along, but your statement was that they all, absolutely joined the National Guard to fight fires.

    They also knew, and you sell them short by not allowing for this, that National Guard troops also go to war.

  12. FactChecker says:

    I’m a rural Montana resident, when my area was evacuated during the devastating fires 2 years ago, (August 2003 – remember what was going on back then?) I attended a community meeting where the District Ranger offered the excuse: “We just don’t have the resources to fight this thing”

    The question was asked from the audience: “Why not?”

    The ranger had no reply (being honest in this situation might very well have cost him his job).