By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 18, 2007 - U.S. Northern Command is cementing a vast network of relationships critical to protecting the homeland against attacks or natural disasters and providing a unified response should one occur, its commander said today. Since it was established a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Northern Command has formed critical partnerships with the Department of Homeland Security, about 60 other U.S. and Canadian federal agencies and the states, Air Force Gen. Victor E. "Gene" Renuart Jr. said.
"We have formed a team that anticipates the kinds of disasters that might occur, manmade and natural, and tries to prepare Department of Defense forces to work in support of a lead federal agency, a state adjutant general and his governor," Renuart said during an interview with the Pentagon Channel and the American Forces Press Service.
These relationships also are critical to defending the homeland, a mission in which the military takes the lead, Renuart said.
As NORTHCOM's third commander, Renuart said, he's seen increased governmental cooperation, nurtured closely through an interagency team in the command's Colorado Springs, Colo., headquarters.
"Initially, many of the agencies had to understand that it was important to build an interactive or interdependent team if we were really going to be effective, especially against some of the terror networks that we see out in the world," he said. "So we had to build confidence" in organizations to encourage them to work as partners.
Renuart conceded that these relationships have taken time to develop, but said they've come a long way since Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 identified gaps that needed to be filled.
"There was real concern and justifiable concern after Hurricane Katrina that the relationship between NORTHCOM and the National Guard, NORTHCOM and the governors, and NORTHCOM and the Department of Homeland Security was not as tight as it ought to be," he said. "So again, we have spent a great amount of effort reviewing those relationships (and) finding ways we can improve and tighten them."
Renuart reported solid progress in fostering these important relationships. NORTHCOM has spent the last 10 months working closely with the National Guard Bureau and state adjutants general to build confidence and cooperation, he said. Much of that involved letting states know the command is provide needed help as quickly as possible, but has no intention of taking over, he said.
NORTHCOM has initiated similar inroads among other agencies. "We created a team of about 45 permanent agencies and another 15 on-call agencies that are integrated into our headquarters every day," he said. "So I talk to the joint terrorism task force and FBI on a routine basis, (as well as) Customs and the Border Patrol as we support them to provide security along our borders."
He noted that an Army colonel is now assigned to each of the 10 FEMA regions, brining experience in "how to plan, organize and run things."
"They partner with the FEMA region director to look at each state's potential threats in the natural disaster area and anticipate what kind of capability would be required in the event this occurred," he said.
Renuart credited this kind of close, routine coordination with paving the way for NORTHCOM, as well as the North American Aerospace Defense Command he also commands, to be ready to move out quickly when required. That applies whether NORTHCOM serves in a support role, as during the recent California wildfires, or in a lead role in the event that the U.S. homeland is threatened, he said.
As NORTHCOM works to solidify these relationships, Renuart said, he's gratified with progress being made in a command "created from the ashes of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center and the fields in Pennsylvania" in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. "We are not totally perfect yet, but we have come a long way since our founding five years ago, and I'm very pleased with the progress we have made," he said.