WASHINGTON — The cutbacks announced Thursday by the Pentagon would have the greatest impact on California of any state, eliminating 12,775 National Guard and reserve jobs within two years and curtailing disaster emergency responses statewide.
The planned reduction in mostly part-time forces also would be a blow to the state's ailing economy. About 60 units in California would be closed and many reservists would lose the supplemental income that they rely on.
The current expenditure of the Army National Guard in California is $161 million.
"I'm discouraged and alarmed by these proposed cuts," Sen. John Seymour (R-Calif.) told reporters shortly after the announcement. "There is an evident need for a continued strong and well-funded California National Guard."
Seymour is among a group of California legislators in Washington who have vowed to fight to restore some of the Pentagon cuts announced by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who hopes to reduce the nation's military reserve and National Guard forces by 234,000 in five years.
But other California congressional leaders indicated that they may support the proposal.
Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) has no intention of resisting the cuts if California's share is proportional to other states, Cranston spokesman Murray Flander said. "We have to cut back on unnecessary military spending all across the board and this is just another example," Flander said.
Rep. Don Edwards (D-San Jose), dean of California Democrats in the House, said: "This is a national problem. Everyone is suffering. I'm not encouraging the delegation to do anything other than to analyze and make sure it is done fairly in terms of the number of people we have in California."
Communities across the state would be affected by the proposed reductions in the National Guard and the reserve units for all four armed service branches. In 1991, there were 83,482 personnel in the state's National Guard and reserve units.
The Guard would lose 6,519 of its 22,000 positions. The Pentagon said 6,256 reservists would be cut in the state.
The 12,775 personnel cuts would fall most heavily on the Bay Area and San Diego County, with the two regions losing a total of about 4,500 reservists.
The National Guard's 40th Mechanized Division, headquartered in Los Alamitos in Orange County, is slated to reduce its ranks by 5,100 over the next two years--by far the biggest reduction for a unit in California. But which elements within the 40th would be trimmed could not be determined Thursday. The division has units stationed throughout the state.
Los Angeles County would lose about 572 reservists, including 342 from Van Nuys. An estimated 176 Naval Reservists at Point Mugu in Ventura County and 551 reservists from March Air Force Base in Riverside also would be cut.
Reactions varied among reservists and Guard personnel potentially affected by the Pentagon's actions.
"Our soldiers don't quite understand why their units are being eliminated," said Col. Roger Goodrich of the California National Guard in Sacramento. "We have people from mildly perturbed to highly disturbed."
The California National Guard, which is operating at 1,400 positions under its currently authorized strength, has armories in 116 communities. It can be called on to help in emergencies caused by earthquakes, floods, freezes, forest fires and other natural disasters. The Guard also is available to quell civil disturbances.
The proposed cuts would eliminate three medical units--the San Diego-based 129th Evacuation Hospital with about 400 personnel, the 143rd Evacuation Hospital in Los Alamitos, also with about 400 personnel and the 146th Combat Support Hospital in San Francisco with 303 positions. The hospitals were strategically placed in the north and south sections of the state so that they could respond better to medical emergencies. During the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the 143rd Hospital was flown to Travis Air Force Base and set up surgical units.
"That ability to respond in that kind of time frame is just not going to be there if these programs are cut," Goodrich said. "It doesn't exist in any other unit here in California."
Retired Maj. Gen. Bob Ensslin, president of the National Guard Assn. in Washington, said: "The governor of California needs a viable military force. His ability to respond to those kinds of crises is going to be impacted by cuts in the California Guard."
Gov. Pete Wilson considers the National Guard vital to California interests, said spokesman Franz Wisner. "Since the number is so high he would in fact like to see the proposal altered," Wisner said.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Coronado), sixth-ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, expressed concern that cuts in the Guard could threaten its duties on the Mexican border. Largely at Hunter's urging, Guard units have built roads and helped reinforce the border fence to aid the Border Patrol in drug interdiction and in controlling illegal immigration.