By Kathleen T. Rhem
MANAGUA, Nicaragua, Oct. 3, 2006 – Twenty-six sailors who worked for Navy Adm. Timothy Keating in the Pentagon died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the building. Now Keating is responsible for protecting the U.S. homeland -- and he said the memory of those 26 sailors motivates him to be as effective as possible in that role. Keating is commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, which was stood up in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks to focus homeland defense assets and coordinate military assistance to civilian authorities when needed.
He is here attending a conference of defense and security ministers from Western Hemisphere nations. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, commander of U.S. Southern Command, which has responsibility for operations in most of Latin America.
"Some folks say, 'Well, you must be in this for revenge, to try and avenge the death of those 26 kids that were working with you,'" Keating told American reporters who accompanied Rumsfeld to the conference. "And it's not that at all."
Rather, he said, it's about making sure that other Americans don't have to suffer through losing loved ones to terrorist attacks.
"I've had the good fortune to stay in touch with some of the families who lost a spouse that day, ... and they just say they want to be more secure. With kids and grandkids, it's not revenge; it's about making sure that they don't have to go through the same thing themselves in any way shape or form," Keating said.
"It's a motivator, personally to be sure and professionally," he continued. "But it's not about getting even; it's about making sure it doesn't happen again."
Keating is attending this conference to share lessons NORTHCOM has learned in interagency and international cooperation. He noted that the United States and Canada have particularly strong mutual-defense agreements and work closely together at NORAD.
Security concerns in Latin America can translate into security problems for the United States, as well. Money from narcotraffickers can fund terrorist groups, and smugglers of drugs and illegal immigrants could just as easily smuggle terrorists into the United States.
"This is our hemisphere," Keating said. "This recurring theme here is that we're all subject to terrorism. It's an asymmetric war; it is a non-state-supported war to a very, very high degree, so each of the counties here feels vulnerable, some a little more than others perhaps."