TIFTON -- Maj. Gen. David Poythress told Tifton Rotarians Tuesday that Georgia National Guard troops serving in Iraq are in good spirits and want to finish the job in Iraq for fallen comrades. On another note, Poythress said that there is plenty of blame to go around for the poor emergency response after Hurricane Katrina.

A native of Macon, Poythress is in charge of the Georgia National Guard. He attended Emory University where he received his law degree with honors in 1967 and was a distinguished graduate of the Emory ROTC program. He served four years on active duty with the U.S. Air Force as a judge advocate officer, including one year as chief of Military Justice at DaNang Air Base in the Republic of Vietnam.

Poythress said he recently visited troops of the 48th Infantry Brigade stationed in Baghdad.

"Their morale is extremely high and they are extremely committed to the war effort," Poythress said.

Plans are for the members of the brigade to come back home in June in groups of 200 and 300. Poythress said "virtually 100 percent" of National Guard troops spend time overseas.

"Everybody who joins the Guard today knows that they will be deployed to foreign soil," Poythress said.

Poythress said there was "plenty of blame to go around" for the less-than-speedy, disorganized response to Hurricane Katrina and the debate is ongoing as to what agency will be ultimately in charge if and when another disaster on home soil happens. The disaster has caused "a study in the failure at the political level" behind closed doors that Poythress said didn't make the news very often.

He said the National Guard responded to aid those devastated by the hurricane in Louisiana and Mississippi 48 hours after it happened and 1,500 of those soldiers were from Georgia.

"There are 30,000 soldiers in Iraq today and 50,000 soldiers responded to Katrina," Poythress said.

The troops, he said, maintained security until civilian law enforcement "rolled back in." The mission lasted for two weeks.

According to Poythress, the operation to provide security for the G-8 Summit in Jekyll Island last year ran without a hitch and 7,000 Georgia National Guardsmen participated. Others who are planning for better responses to disasters such as Katrina are using the success of the event as a model for future disaster planning, Poythress said.

"We took the position that the governor was going to be in charge," Poythress said. "If you have something like a Katrina, bring in the federal reserves but let the governor command these forces."

Poythress said Guardsmen are often also the police, firefighters and other leaders in the community and know intimately the people and other features in the community, such as the road system.

To contact city editor Angie Thompson, call 382-4321.

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