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National Guard ready to combat oil spill, but few put in the field

Two months after President Barack Obama authorized 2,500 National Guard troops in Florida to combat the oil disaster, only 100 are being used.

The lack of requests for the troops has frustrated the White House, which has come under withering criticism about its response to the crisis.

"Everything is in place to put troops on the target," says Lt. Col. Ron Tittle, director of public affairs for the Florida National Guard. "If we get the mission, we'll be there."

But the guard has not received many missions. Neither Escambia nor Okaloosa counties, among the hardest hit, has requested any troops.

"Certainly at this point, everything has been manageable," says Sonya Daniel, public information manager for Escambia County. "I'm not familiar where we would use the National Guard."

The largest contingent of troops being used are patrolling the beaches of Bay, Gulf and Franklin counties for crude oil.

Bay County is happy to have the help. "Certainly the more bodies we have on the beach, the better," said county spokeswoman Valerie Lovett. "We want to take advantage of all the resources we have available to us, and I think that has been a good move on our part."

Escambia County beach patrols are being handled by subcontractors with engineering and environmental expertise, Daniel said.

The National Guard also has engineers, and officials said training the troops to patrol the beaches of Bay County took only two days. Because the Guard was authorized by the president, the federal government pays for everything, although Little said BP will eventually pay the bill.

Daniel said Escambia County awarded the contracts before the president authorized the National Guard use. The troops were authorized on May 3.

National Guard ready to combat oil spill, but few put in the field 07/14/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 6:56am]
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