Over the last month, the US National Guard has activated thousands of members from across the country to help put out wildfires and respond to three severe hurricanes. It is no wonder then that when asked by a reporter on Tuesday how the climate was affecting National Guard activities, General Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, went into detail on why he takes it seriously (see below). General Lengyel also emphasized that the impacts of climate change are felt around the country. As the wildfires and hurricanes demonstrate, natural disasters in one region of the United States are often responded to by National Guard members from all across the country – sometimes from states thousands of miles away. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has stated that preparing for climate requires a “whole of government” response. Gen Lengyel’s comments suggest it will also require a “whole of country” response.
Rebecca Kheel, with The Hill, and Dan Lamothe, with the Washington Post, reported on this exchange which took place at the Defense Writers Group breakfast (full transcript forthcoming).
Gen. Lengyel on climate change and what it means for the National Guard:
“I do think that the climate is changing, and I do think that it is becoming more severe…I do think that storms are becoming bigger, larger, more violent. You know, I never know if this one speck of time is an anomaly or not, but, you know, we’ve all seen now three Category 5 storms that popped out in a period of a month.”
“It impacts me because the National Guard does provide — we are the military domestic response force. We keep that as part of our job jar…For us to do that job, we have to have some force structure that’s located were the events might happen. So whether that’s in Oklahoma, where you have a lot of tornadoes, or whether that’s in the northwest, where you have a lot of fires, or whether that’s in the Gulf or along the East Coast, we need force structure that is in all 50 states, the territories and the District of Columbia, so that we can respond…It doesn’t work for me to put all of our forces on one base in any particular state.”
Dan Lamothe points out that the “National Guard must keep people and equipment staged in areas where mega storms and other environmental catastrophes are likely to put people and property at risk.” And that “The general’s comments come amid a review that could consolidate some National Guard installations across the country. Lengyel acknowledged Tuesday that there is room for some consolidation in areas where population has diminished, but advocated keeping Guardsmen dispersed.”
Gen. Lengyel was also asked whether climate change would require the Guard to get more boats, high-water vehicles or other specialized equipment. Lengyel noted that while the Guard would focus first on getting equipment to use in combat that he looks “at equipment that works for both the war-fight piece and the homeland piece…It’s rare that we have a domestic-only capability.”