Governor Tom Vilsack is claiming credit for the “chain of command” eventually set up in Louisiana to direct the National Guard’s hurricane response. Vilsack says during a meeting he had with National Guard and Pentagon officials “several weeks” before the hurricane struck, he offered his idea of how the Guard should be directed when there’s some sort of emergency. “My suggestion was that there continue to be the power of controlling those troops vested in the governor, but that we have a…military individual designated as sort of the incident command person who would have responsibility from both a state and federal perspective,” Vilsack says. The governor of Louisiana has been criticized for not rushing National Guard troops into New Orleans to keep order and for taking 24 hours to decide whether she’d give up her command role of the Louisiana Guard to the feds. Vilsack says if his idea had been in place nationwide, it might have prevented some of that indecision and the delay in the response. Vilsack says it’s time to “figure out the rules of the game in advance of the game being played” so a similar situation won’t pop up when disaster strikes again. Vilsack says it may seem “ridiculous” to have a fight over who has jurisdiction over National Guard troops in an emergency, but he says it’s important “because you have to determine who’s calling the shots, who’s directing the movements of the troops.” Vilsack says if disaster strikes here, he’ll appoint General Jodi Tymeson of the Iowa National Guard to be the state’s military coordinator and if soldiers from any other branch of the full-time military were sent into Iowa, she’d work with federal commanders to coordinate activities. Tymeson is the highest-ranking woman in the Iowa Guard and she’s also a member of the Iowa Legislature. Vilsack says in the event of a disaster in Iowa, he intends to keep the reigns of the National Guard because Iowa taxpayers are financing part of the Guard’s operations. “It goes back in history to a concern that states had about federalizing armed forces activities within states. It’s part of our historical tradition and structure that governors are empowered,” Vilsack says. “We’re going to press the national government for a concrete set of decisions about who gets to call the shots (in times of disaster).”
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