By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
May 2, 2007 – The United States should be confident that the Defense Department is working toward better solutions to challenges like natural disasters and threats on the nation's security, the top general for planning, organizing and executing homeland defense and civil support missions said today. As U.S. Northern Command launches a 19-day preparedness exercise dubbed "Ardent Sentry/Northern Edge" with the Department of Homeland Defense, Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr. said he's "pleasantly impressed" that all involved agencies are working toward a successful collaboration.
"The defense of the homeland is everyone's top priority," Renuart said. "We're part of a team made up of local, state and federal agencies, as well as the individual (National) Guards in each state and the Department of Defense."
The exercise, which started April 30 and runs to May 18, is the largest and most complex exercise undertaken by the Northern Command. Field training exercises will be integrated with command and control entities to simulate disasters such as hurricanes and terrorists using nuclear weapons within the continental United States, the general said.
The primary exercise events will take place in Indiana and New England, as well as Alaska and its adjacent waters. North American Aerospace Defense Command will conduct simulated and live-flying events over multiple locations in the United States and Canada.
Although each state has an internal capability to use first responders and National Guard troops, active-duty troops also are participating in the exercise to offer expanded capability.
Renuart, who took command of Northern Command on March 23, said active-duty servicemembers can offer "niche capabilities" in areas such as communications and mobility. "Our job is to ensure that state and federal agencies succeed almost without having to ask for help," he said.
Since the U.S. military is heavily involved with forces deployed overseas, Renuart said, the availability of air resources to move things around could become an issue, depending on the size of the event.
"The active-duty resources allows us the capabilities like helicopters for search-and-rescue operations or moving around small federal response teams and fixed-wing aircraft of a more local nature, like C-130s to move larger pieces of equipment," he said.
He said the exercise will help NORTHCOM not only understand individual states' capabilities but also see how each state views its availability to respond and position the niche capabilities that the active-duty military may be able to provide on short notice.
"We can look at a number of recent events and find great rationale for having these kinds of exercises," Renuart said. "And certainly Hurricane Katrina was the most significant of those; that really opened our eyes."
The general said that the United States learned from the significance and number of complications following Hurricane Katrina.
"We had not done as good of a job at planning ahead of time for an event that was not only significant for a local area, like New Orleans, but across a broad area of multiple states," he said.
Within the past two years, NORTHCOM has worked to create more opportunities to share information with the Department of Homeland Security and other state and federal agencies to improve the ability to collaborate, interact and prepare for emergencies, he said.
"(The exercise) gives us the chance to see if the plans we have in place are well thought out, if (organizations) are properly equipped, and if the troops -- whether they be first response or follow-on medical teams -- have the appropriate training," Renuart said. "And it allows us to look at a spectrum of planning, integration and collaboration with state and federal agencies to ensure that (Defense Department) resources have the proper training and equipment to be value added to this kind of scenario."
Renuart said he knows the exercise will reveal shortfalls within the system, but added that he is eager to budget, fund and train to close the seams and gaps that may exist today to improve training and real-life scenarios tomorrow.
"We have to impress upon all the participants that, in order for the nation to succeed at providing a secure homeland, all the elements of the government have to work together and do it in a way that takes advantage of the synergy of the collaborative work as opposed to individuals having to work alone," he said. "It's a mission we can't afford to fall short on."
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