By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
June 3, 2010 - Ohio and Washington have been chosen as the first states to host new National Guard homeland response forces for responding to chemical and biological attacks, Pentagon officials announced today.
The response forces, called for in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, are designed to work in collaboration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide rapid response to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-explosive attacks.
The Defense Department plans to establish 10 homeland response forces, one in each of the 10 FEMA regions, officials said. The Ohio and Washington forces are to be established by the end of September 2011, with the remaining eight established one year later.
Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., the new commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said in an interview with American Forces Press Service last week that he welcomes supporting the Guard with the new response forces.
"The thing we all worry about is a terrorist with a weapon of mass destruction," Winnefeld said. "And, increasingly, we worry about terrorists who are realizing that they don't need a big boom to make a difference."
Although "we don't believe we are in imminent danger at this very moment," Winnefeld said, the knowledge that some nations and terrorist groups have an interest in obtaining weapons of mass destruction underscores the importance of the response forces.
"We are working very hard to ensure that we are as ready as we can be with as much lifesaving capability as we can have on as short notice as we can," Winnefeld said.
The response forces are each to have about 570 National Guard soldiers and airmen comprised of chemical and biological weapons specialists, command and control, and security forces. The forces are to self-deploy by ground within six to 12 hours of an event, bringing life-saving medical, search and extraction, decontamination, security and command and control capabilities.
Winnefeld explained the National Guard's response organization. It begins with 54 weapons of mass destruction civil support teams, one in each state and territory, consisting of about 50 members each. In the event of a CBRNE incident, these units would provide an initial assessment and limited life-saving capability.
The next layer in the hierarchy is 17 CBRNE Enhanced Response Force units, located around the country. Each consists of 200 to 300 specially trained people, Winnefeld said.
At the next level, CBRNE Consequence Management Reaction Force units, consisting of several thousand members, would deploy in the event of a larger event at the direction of the appropriate state governor, he said. This force operates under Title 10 authority, with federal funding.
The Ohio and Washington units will evolve from two of the 17 CBRNEs and will be replaced, officials said.
Northcom has a "good, cooperative effort [with] the National Guard Bureau," Winnefeld said. "That cooperation is growing tighter every day in terms of making sure we know the roles are standardized, and that the command and control is clean.
"I am optimistic about that," he continued. "We are going through some evolutionary changes in that response capability and will be doing so over the next several years."
(American Forces Press Service writer Donna Miles contributed to this report.)