As the heart of hurricane season begins, the Florida National Guard says past equipment shortages caused by deployments to Iraq have been reversed in the last year.
This is reassuring news to Guard leaders, who expect the number of their troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan to increase from 1,000 today to a peak of 5,000 by 2010.
That would be the most troops Florida has sent overseas since the Iraq war started in 2003.
But even if all those troops deploy, guard spokesman Ron Tittle said, that would still leave as many as 9,000 guard troops available in the event of a natural disaster in Florida.
Any shortfall either in men or equipment could easily be met by neighboring states, he said.
"We don't have any special concerns," Tittle said.
Among the troops who may deploy by 2010 — depending on political developments here and in Iraq — are two-thirds of the 3,000 assigned to the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
While the 53rd is headquartered in Pinellas Park, it draws troops from around Florida.
Right now, the guard has 70 percent of its authorized levels of essential equipment, from trucks to Humvees and night-vision goggles. Few states are ever at 100 percent, so that number is seen as healthy.
Early last year, the guard commander said equipment stockpiles were down to a third of the levels before Sept. 11.
At one point, shortfalls were so critical that commanding Gen. Doug Burnett considered denying any Army request for further equipment.
Now, said Tittle, the federal government has stepped up the replacement of equipment around the nation. A week ago, for example, the Guard received two state-of-the-art UH-72 Lakota helicopters.
And even with deployments set to increase, the guard said the equipment burden won't be as severe as early on. That's because much of the gear used by troops is already overseas.