This article was originally included on Task and goal.
Editor’s note: This article is part of War and Climate Weeka series of stories exploring how the U.S. military is coping with extreme weather, rising sea levels and a warming globe.
Five years ago, the National Guard spent about 14,000 hours fighting forest fires. Until last year, which had increased up to 170,000 hours.
And experts agree that the trend is only getting worse.
“What does it mean for the National Guard to have spent 170,000 man-hours in 2021?” Instead, think of it as the worst fire year the western United States has ever experienced, but perhaps the best fire year of the next 20 years, ”said Erin Sikorski, director of the Center for Climate and Security. “It’s only going to get worse.”
The sharp rise is just one example of how record-breaking weather and climate disasters are affecting the National Guard, which often serves as a force to respond to forest fires and hurricanes across the country. Morgan Higman, an expert on the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ energy security and climate change program, told Task & Purpose that while we see an increase in “catastrophic natural and climate-related disasters”, it is reasonable to expect that those supporting the need to respond to these disasters will increase. ”
In fact, Paul Farnan, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and the Environment said earlier this year that troops are increasingly being called for “humanitarian aid”. And it is not only the frequency with which they occur, but also the severity of the natural disasters that the National Guard is called upon to deal with.
Wayne Hall, a spokesman for the National Guard, said that “the increasing frequency and severity of hurricanes, forest fires, floods and global pandemics continue to challenge the safety of our citizens and communities” and that the National Guard “always plans and trains … to maintain to a unified and rapid response to man-made and natural disasters. “
Gen. Joseph Langeill, the former chief of the National Guard, reiterated the same view in 2017, saying that the climate is “getting harsher” and the storms are “getting bigger, bigger, stronger”. And not just the fact that the guards often respond to these storms, but also their facilities and equipment across the country and often in vulnerable areas.
Due to the role of the National Guard, they “must have some force structure” where climate events could occur, Lengiel said. “So, whether it’s in Oklahoma, where you have a lot of tornadoes, or it’s in the northwest, where you have a lot of fires, or it’s in the Persian Gulf or the East Coast, we need a force structure that’s in all 50 states. ”
As we have seen in recent years, extreme weather can lead to billions of dollars value of damage to equipment and installations.
Extreme weather events are far from the only thing the National Guard needs to prepare for. The thousands of hours the guard registered to respond to fires last year, for example, do not include the time spent reacting to hurricanes, global pandemicsor civil unrestin addition to military-specific requirements to include training or deployment.
And in many cases, these things overlapped.
An article by Joan VanDerworth, published by The Center for Climate and Security in 2020 called the combination of COVID-19 with the effects of climate change “the perfect storm”, as the pandemic faced the “existing effects of the readiness of the Ministry of Defense” from the shocking effects of severe weather events, rising sea levels, floods and forest fires fueled by climate change. ”
“The entry of COVID-19 into the scene has complicated and accelerated the existing impacts on climate change preparedness,” VanDervort writes.
For the past two years, the National Guard has been called upon to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by assisting with testing and vaccination; civil unrest in response to the assassination of George Floyd and January 6 uprising; mission at the southern border which obviously involved the presence of guardsmen protect rich texas ranches; not to mention the demands of the states to recruit guards like school bus drivers and substitute teachers.
All this is in addition to their response in 2020 massive forest fires that create history and destructive hurricanes against the background of the eveningbreaking records The season of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean the same year.
The pace of demands for the National Guard has also led countries to lean on others to help in response to disasters. Like Earlier, the Army Times reportedThe combat team of the 256th Louisiana Infantry Brigade was stationed in Iraq when Hurricane Ida struck Louisiana last year, and the 40th California Air Force Brigade was stationed in Iraq and Kuwait as wildfires ravaged the state. Gen. Dan Hokanson, head of the National Guard Bureau, told the Army Times that the National Guard had planned this and was able to identify other units to intervene to help with the response effort.
And while trends about how disasters and weather will affect the guard are at best concerned, there are significant steps forward. Sikorski, director of the Center for Climate and Security, outlined the army’s climate strategy, the first ever launched by the service, and the request for a budget for 2023 which has allocated $ 3 billion to strengthen military facilities against climate change.
Higgman of CSIS explained that the guard has “much closer opportunities” to work with state governments and local partners to get the resources they need, as they are a more localized force. And these partnerships between government and the private sector are “critical,” she said, because the decision on climate resilience is unlikely to come from the National Guard alone.
“Governors in almost every state recognize that fire is bad, having water is good, having electricity is crucial,” Higman said. “I think this is actually a place where there’s a lot more … a public-private partnership in a way that is really needed.”
Sikorski agreed, saying that the more local you become, the easier it is to understand “risks and responses”, and having close relationships with state governments can make the guard “better prepared to respond in these local communities”. . But there may also be a challenge in state governments, where depending on which state the guard works in, it can change how seriously climate change is taken and considered in politics.
“Climate-driven forest fires do not care to some extent who the governor is, they will happen if they happen,” Sikorski said. “So I think you will see more and more that states, regardless of political ideology, will just have to react to what is happening on the ground in their communities. And the National Guard will be a tool they will turn to to help manage those responses. ”