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ARLINGTON, Va. — ARLINGTON, Va. — Guard and Reserve units returning from war zones are facing such serious shortfalls of basic equipment that the issue is becoming an “an Achilles heel” for the Pentagon, according to a retired general asked to assess the situation.

“You can have all the greatest people in the world and the greatest leaders, but if you don’t have the equipment, it doesn’t work,” Arnold Punaro, chairman of the Congressionally chartered Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, said Tuesday.

“That’s an Achilles heel the [Defense] Department is going to have work very closely with Congress and the units on,” said Punaro, a retired major general in the Marine Corps.

Punaro said he has been surprised too at the number of high-ranking officers, not only from the reserve components, but from the active Army and Marine Corps, who have gone public, “beating the drums in warning about basic stuff, like trucks and communications gear.”

Shortfalls are also occurring in unit inventories of trucks, Humvees, helicopters, engineering and bridging equipment, radios, and communications gear — “just basic nuts-and-bolts equipment” — Punaro said.

“One of our governors told us his Guard brigade just got back [from Iraq] and he will not have any equipment for four years,” Punaro said.

The commission Punaro chairs first met in March 2006 to begin a one-year project to study training, organization, pay and personnel, readiness, and other issues confronting the reserve components.

They are supposed to deliver a final report to Congress in March 2007 that identifies significant problems areas and recommends changes in laws and policies to help fix them.

Punaro said that the one of the biggest questions facing the commission is the “profound shift” that has overtaken reserve forces since the end of the Cold War.

A reserve force which was once “a strategic reserve,” intended only for use in case of an emergency on the scale of a World War III, “is now is clearly an operational reserve that is being called on every day to do the same thing that the active component forces are being called on to do” Punaro said.

“Whether or not that profound shift is feasible is an open question,” he said, “and if it is feasible, is it’s sustainable?”

“If you talk to people in the Pentagon, they’ll say ‘no sweat, [the reserves] can do it in a cakewalk, in their sleep’. And you look at the results of the units that have served in Afghanistan [for example] and come back and served at home, and they’ve certainly done exceedingly well.”

But some business owners are telling commissioners that they cannot continue to employ constantly deployed reservists, Punaro said.

Meanwhile, “a gazillion pay categories” and other bureaucratic snafus and outdated regulations make bringing people on and off active duty “an absolute nightmare,” he said.

“My personal instinct is that [the situation with the reserves] is not as rosy as people suggest,” Punaro said.

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