TOPEKA — Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting has seen a lot in seven years as Kansas adjutant general, challenges brought on by man-made events and Mother Nature that taxed the state's abilities.
Bunting said Monday that the Kansas National Guard and emergency management have been asked to respond to several events, from natural disasters in each of the state's 105 counties, two wars and increased demands for homeland security.
"Challenging, but it's been incredible actually," Bunting said. "I don't know that we've fully grasped that for seven years now we never had a break."
Bunting will leave command in January when Republican Sam Brownback becomes governor. Col. Lee Tafanelli, who also is a state legislator, will take Bunting's place. Bunting said Tafanelli was part of a "close-knit" team that had been in place during his tenure and he doesn't see dramatic changes coming to the Kansas National Guard or emergency response.
Since 2003, Kansas has averaged 1,000 men and women a year deployed to either wars or peacekeeping missions around the globe, including repeated stints in Kosovo, Bunting said.
"We knew that the global war on terror was a long war, and we're set for it, but I don't know that anyone could have envisioned that the operation tempo would stay at that level," he said. "And how well we've done it is encouraging."
Bunting said 2007 was the most difficult year, when a tornado leveled Greensburg, floods covered southeast Kansas and more than 3,000 soldiers and airmen were deployed to war.
Bunting said response time was complicated then by the fact that so much of the National Guard's equipment was deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. At the time, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and other governors facing similar circumstances pleaded with President George W. Bush and the Pentagon to increase spending to replace trucks, generators and other equipment needed to properly respond to disasters at home.
States have received more equipment in recent years as part of a $30 billion plan to reset National Guard units, Bunting said. He said he would give the current situation a "B" grade, especially with the number of heavy trucks and transportation systems available.
Bunting said attending the burials of 11 soldiers killed in combat was one of the hardest parts of the job.
"I always say the best way to honor their sacrifices is to live our lives the best way we can," Bunting said.
He said it is likely that Kansas soldiers will continue to be called to war. The nation has transformed its reserve units like the National Guard from a strategic reserve to an operational force asked to go to battle.
"Overwhelmingly, even though we're tired on occasion and have to try to catch our breath, we wouldn't have it any other way. Of course we don't want any storms and we don't really want to be at war," he said. "We join to serve, we join to be of service, so use us."