Guard to reduce soldiers assigned to oil spill response

The Mississippi National Guard will cut the number of soldiers supporting ongoing oil spill response operations by 75 percent in a multiphase reduction beginning this week, officials announced Tuesday.

"We brought on a responsible amount of National Guardsmen when the task at hand required it," said Col. Lee Smithson, commander of Joint Task Force Vigilant Horizon, which is overseeing the Mississippi National Guard's response to the oil spill impacting Mississippi. "But this phased reduction matches the response needed."

On Aug. 1, there were nearly 230 National Guard soldiers activated. By Aug.20, the count will resemble those activated early on, about 50 soldiers, Smithson said.

Tuesday's announcement of the troop reduction comes nearly two weeks after the decision to activate 30 additional troops to boost the communications link on clean-up vessels, and it coincides with the successful capping of the Deepwater Horizon well.

"With two weeks of no oil sighting, the time has come to right-size the force," Smithson said. "The light at the end of the tunnel is approaching."