By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 30, 2008 - In the six years since the Defense Department stood up a combatant command charged with unifying homeland defense efforts, U.S. Northern Command has moved from a past mixed with tension and friction among commanders and agencies to an international model of integration at all levels, its commander said yesterday. "The synergy that has been created by this continuum of effort, from warning to consequence management, is what this nation deserves and is maybe one of the best examples anywhere in the world," said Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and NorthCom. "We have created a true team effort."
Renuart told the attendees of the National Homeland Defense Foundation symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., that effectively defending the homeland and responding to natural or man-made disasters requires an integrated approach that involves federal, state and local governments, and even international and private organizations.
In the end, Renuart said, the average citizen doesn't really care how relief is delivered, only that it is delivered.
"Our citizens really don't care if it's a hurricane or a flood or an airplane striking towers in New York City. They want to see if the nation is prepared to take care of them when these events occur," Renuart said. "So we have to have an integrated organization, ... a team that prepares for the worst that always questions the way we ought to be in the future, not [one that] just worries about what we've done in the past."
Renuart said over the past six years organizations have blended together that once operated somewhat autonomously, each caring for its own particular piece of the homeland defense puzzle.
Within the Department of Homeland Defense, 22 organizations were pulled together. Within DoD, commands were dissolved as others were standing up. Many agencies were suddenly responsible for working together that had not traditionally had a relationship.
Now, the agencies have been successful at growing teams, rewriting policy and securing funding and support, Renuart said. He now has the ability to plan alongside support agencies. This allows commanders and leaders to understand gaps in support and resource needs, he said. This type of collaboration will make homeland defense successful, Renuart said.
The commander cited recent support in California during its forest fire season, where as many as 2,000 fires were burning at one time in areas not accessible by traditional fire-fighting resources. A joint task force already was in place, and aviation assets flew 470 sorties, Renuart said.
Also, while hurricanes Gustav and Ike did not render the devastation that was projected, teams were in place to coordinate aid even before the storms hit land.
"In each case, we had the support of the nation to put a collaborative team on the ground pre-landfall to ensure that we could assist the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas as they prepared for what at least looked to be a near-catastrophic event," Renuart said.
Renuart said 72,000 military servicemembers were deployed after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast. For Gustav and Ike, a few thousand were in place before landfall, and 15,000 were on alert. Integration of search and rescue efforts after the hurricanes was the best this nation has seen, Renuart said.
"That pre-event planning, that understanding and integration of capabilities, ... allows us to not just throw mass at the problem, but rather quick precision against the problem," Renuart said. "That's the nature of working in the homeland. It's not a mass-against-the-problem challenge. It is the ability to put the right kind of ... support against a challenge in the community so that the citizens of that community are cared for."
Renuart said the nation can never again consider NORAD, with its missile, cyber and maritime warning systems, and NorthCom, with its response capabilities, operating distinctly. The general said the strength of terrorism often lies in the fact that its groups can move faster than governments.
"Warning requires an integrated team. Action requires a national effort. If you separate those, you lose the ability to operate effectively in a ... decision cycle where our enemies can move faster than government," Renuart said. "We have to accelerate that process. One of the ways we have done that is to make the missions of warning and deterrence integrated into missions of response and consequence management."
Renuart said NorthCom and NORAD are integrated across their staffs. It improves efficiency, he explained, and it helps in integration, planning, coordination and timeliness of execution.
Renuart praised the Defense Department's recent approval of the assignment of a brigade-sized contingent of troops to NorthCom. The 4,700 troops will belong to the command for the next year, and are dedicated to training and preparing to respond to a large-scale chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear event or other major explosion. The force is designed to support civilian agencies that might be overwhelmed by the size of a large-scale disaster, Renuart said.
Before, forces were earmarked by the services for support to NorthCom, but the command had no control over their training or equipping. This led to an ad hoc, mismatched effort that was largely reactive, he said.
"That model showed itself during Katrina to be flawed," Renuart said. "If you wait for an event to occur and then you say 'I need forces to come and help,' ... those forces aren't prepared. They're not trained. They may not be equipped the way we want. There is no command structure established. There is no way to integrate those with the national effort in a way that is truly effective."
Now, DoD will annually assign forces to the command and NorthCom will mandate their training and equipping and integrate their command staffs into planning. This will add to the 11,000 servicemembers that NorthCom has identified for its missions who already are serving mostly in specialty units such as medical, aviation and rescue.
This first brigade-size element is made up of aviation and medical assets and nuclear, biological and chemical warfare specialists. But the bulk of its troops come from an active-duty brigade combat team at Fort Stewart, Ga. This has caught the attention of some in the media and activists who are wary of the use of federal troops on American soil.
Renuart said the forces will not be used to quell an insurrection or to usurp the authority of local governors or law enforcement.
"That is absolutely not the concept," he said. "These forces are ... organized, trained and equipped to go in and assist in an event that is of such a scale that local and even federal first responders are not able to manage."
Renuart said a second element, roughly the same size, will be built in 2009, largely from National Guard forces.
During the speech, Renuart cited NorthCom's successes working with the U.S. Coast Guard in its efforts to secure the nation's ports. The command also works with U.S. Southern Command on counternarcotics efforts and collaborates with Canada and Mexico to share intelligence on drug shipments and cartel movements, Renuart said.
The command also has worked to integrate its efforts with international agencies such as the Red Cross, and with private organizations. And it regularly collaborates with the Department of Homeland Security in what Renuart called "the model" for interagency planning.
"All of us have a vested interest in ... securing the communities in our nation," Renuart said. "All of us have to be prepared, and if we can't plan for that ahead of time, we will not be successful."