As the U.S. opens another international fighting front in Libya, Air National Guard crews from eleven states have been mobilized to support Operation Odyssey Dawn. National Guard contributions to the country’s ongoing wars have been invaluable, but that doesn’t exempt their operations from oversight. Investigative reporter Charles Piller of the Sacramento Bee has been keeping a close watch on the California National Guard — one of the largest Guard forces in the country, with an annual budget of roughly $1 billion.
In February, Need to Know highlighted Piller’s work in a report on financial misconduct in the California Guard. Yesterday, the Bee published a new installment of his investigative series that tells the story of Camp Roberts, California’s largest Guard base. According to Piller’s investigation, “decades of deferred maintenance and neglect” at the facility have led to unsafe and unsanitary conditions for soldiers training for deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report said that some structures lack heat or air conditioning, despite below-freezing temperatures in winter and blazing California summers. And in at least one building, raw sewage “routinely” overflows from shower drains and toilets.
In addition to basic concerns for the well-being of our fighting forces, federal taxpayers should also be paying attention to how their dollars are spent: National Guard organizations answer to state governments, but the majority of their funding comes from federal coffers. Piller says that the mismanagement at the California Guard training facility has caused “millions of dollars in sorely needed building materials, appliances and other supplies to sit unused or ruined in Camp Roberts warehouses.”
Follow Charles Piller’s ongoing California Guard investigation over at Sacbee.com.