Congress this week will pass the massive FY07 Defense Appropriations Bill, which will include almost $3 billion critically needed by our Air National Guard and Army National Guard.  Since 9/11 we have been asking our Guard members and Reservists (and their families, and employers, and communities) to take on more and more missions here and abroad.  And they have delivered spectacularly.  But along the way, in some ways we have neglected our side of the contract with them.

The National Guard at one point accounted for almost 40 percent of the troops on the ground in Iraq.  The hard duty of Iraq and Afghanistan has created a desperate need of replacements for equipment lost, broken, or left behind on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.  These shortfalls mean less equipment to handle emergencies at home, like natural disasters.  It's irresponsible and counterproductive to simply neglect the needs of one of the country's premier and primary defense forces, on which we rely so heavily.

As the co-chairs of the Senate's National Guard Caucus, Senator Kit Bond and I have seen it as our responsibility to blow the whistle on these shortfalls and to try to convince Congress to do something about it.

We've also been partners in trying to highlight and deal with the obstacles - both structural and financial - that face the Guard, year in and year out.  Part of our solution is the National Guard Empowerment Act, to elevate the status of the National Guard within the Pentagon. And while Kit Bond and I were successful in attaching Guard empowerment provisions to the Senate's version of the Defense Appropriations Bill, the conference committee considering the Defense Authorization Bill apparently has stripped aspects of the Guard empowerment legislation from the final bill.  That's a needless setback for the Guard, and it must be remedied.

Setting aside nearly $3 billion in the Defense Appropriations Bill for the Guard's supply backlog is not the permanent fix needed to address urgent needs that continue to pile up, but it signifies a growing awareness in Congress that the Guard is doing vital work on several fronts for the nation, and we can't afford to let our Guard down.