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Knight-Ridder Is a News Service

Drew Brown, Seth Borenstein and Alison Young write:

KR Washington Bureau | 09/16/2005 | Key military help for victims of Hurricane Katrina was delayed: WASHINGTON - Two days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, President Bush went on national television to announce a massive federal rescue and relief effort. But orders to move didn't reach key active military units for another three days. Once they received them, it took just eight hours for 3,600 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., to be on the ground in Louisiana and Mississippi with vital search-and-rescue helicopters. Another 2,500 soon followed from the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.

"If the 1st Cav and 82nd Airborne had gotten there on time, I think we would have saved some lives," said Gen. Julius Becton Jr., who was the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Reagan from 1985 to 1989. "We recognized we had to get people out, and they had helicopters to do that."

Federal officials have long known that the active-duty military is the only organization with the massive resources and effective command structure to handle a major catastrophe. In a 1996 Pentagon report, the Department of Defense acknowledged its large role in major disasters. Between 1992 and 1996, the Pentagon provided support in 18 disasters and developed five training manuals on how to work with FEMA and civilians in natural disasters. "In catastrophic disasters, DOD will likely provide Hurricane Andrew-levels of support and predominately operate in urban or suburban terrain," the report said. "This should be incorporated into planning assumptions."

The delay this time in tapping the troops, helicopters, trucks, generators, communications and other resources of the 1st Cavalry and the 82nd Airborne is the latest example of how the federal response to Katrina lacked organization and leadership. And it raises further questions about the government's ability to rapidly mobilize the active-duty military now that FEMA has been absorbed into the massive, terrorism-focused Department of Homeland Security. Addressing the nation on Thursday night in a speech from New Orleans, Bush said the storm overwhelmed the disaster relief system. "It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces, the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice," he said.

Several emergency response experts, however, questioned whether Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff understood how much authority they had to tap all the resources of the federal government - including those of the Department of Defense. "To say I've suddenly discovered the military needs to be involved is like saying wheels should be round instead of square," said Michael Greenberger, a law professor and the director of the University of Maryland's Center for Health and Homeland Security...

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.