Prior to the death of an Army EOD tech, his unit had repeatedly requested better equipment and training but were denied both due to a lack of funds, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.
Sgt. James Slape, 23, died Oct. 4 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, from an improvised explosive device. His Army National Guard unit, the 430th Ordnance Company out of Washington, North Carolina, had been in the country since April.
Prior his death, Slape’s unit had requested tools often used when clearing buried land mines and improvised bombs, the New York Times reported, though it remains unclear whether the lack of this equipment contributed to Slape’s death.
Before deploying, the 430th had to borrow equipment like rifle sights and radios from other National Guard units and received more items upon the soldiers' arrival in theater.
Slape died in southern Afghanistan, a volatile region where the Taliban have remained historically strong throughout the 17-year war in the country. As an EOD tech, he was responding to help with a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle that had hit a roadside bomb.
Slape was reportedly sweeping around the vehicle for secondary explosives when he was killed by an explosion.
Readiness shortfalls on big-ticket items are straining the National Guard's ability to respond to contingencies, leaders said.
When they arrived downrange, the 430th still did not have the most advanced mine detectors that could locate bomb components the Taliban use, according to two officials who spoke to the Times.
That detector has reportedly been issued by many active-duty bomb disposal units, including some not deployed to conflict zones. The Times reported that much of the gear and training the 430th sought for their deployment was standard for active-duty troops.
Regardless of culpability, the reported training and equipping oversight for Slape’s Guard unit stands in stark contrast to the Pentagon’s ongoing assurances that the total force — active duty, National Guard and Reserve components — will be afforded what they need to maintain readiness.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis attempted to assuage Guard soldiers' readiness concerns this summer at the National Guard Association of the United States conference in New Orleans.
“One of the challenges that we face, both Army and Air, is older, outdated equipment,” a Delaware Guardsman told the secretary of defense during a question and answer session. “How do we assure that the National Guard stays relevant, as we continue to battle and fight?”
“It’s a great question,” Mattis said. “When President Trump came into office, he was adamant that we were going to restore readiness, and he didn’t say of only the active force, or only the Reserves, or only the National Guard. He said, ‘We’re going to bring the whole force back up.’”
Mattis pointed to the Pentagon’s record-breaking budgets that have moved through Congress during the new administration as evidence that readiness will improve.
“What you’re talking about is not unique to the Guard,” he said. “Obviously, the first out the door are the ones that are getting the front of the line.”
“We’re working it, and we’ve got the challenges, the readiness problems across the force — active, Reserve, National Guard, and we will get it up, but it’s going to take some years,” Mattis added.