By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
March 17, 2009 - The continuing terrorist threat against the U.S. homeland "is real," the commander of U.S. Northern Command told the Senate Armed Services today as he outlined an aggressive defense program aimed at preventing another Sept. 11-type attack. "Those who wish us harm have not gone away," Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., who also commands North American Aerospace Defense Command, told the senators. "The threat is real. It is there." Terrorists "only have to be lucky once," Renuart said, emphasizing the need for continued vigilance.
"We work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to ensure that does not happen. We want to keep the momentum that we have built," he said. "We want to remain alert because the mission of protecting our families and our nation is the most important mission we have."
While focused on external threats, Renuart also is the Pentagon's point man for providing Defense Department support to civilian authorities in the event of a natural disaster. Renuart cited the Oct. 1 standup of a dedicated force to respond to potential biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive incidents as a major step in supporting that mission. The team is trained and equipped to provide search-and-rescue, decontamination, medical, aviation, communications and logistical support.
"Our Consequence Management Response Force is a great example of an interagency approach, and how [the Defense Department] can support in a large-scale, catastrophic, nuclear, biological or chemical event," he said.
In the event of a hurricane, earthquake or other natural disaster, Northcom and its assets would work as part of a combined team to support civil authorities.
"It is a national response," Renuart said. "We coordinate with international, federal and state partners, with the governors and with the National Guard from each of the states, and the emergency mangers."
Two large-scale exercises, Ardent Sentry and Vigilant Shield, tested this collaboration this year, as well as 30 smaller regional, state and local exercises. In addition, Northcom and NORAD exercised with Canada in preparation for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
Renuart called the relations being built and solidified through this process "a real success story" for Northcom, NORAD and the American people they work to protect.
"We train hard to execute our mission," he said. "We exercise with all of our partners in government and we must be prepared to ensure that we never let the country down."