USARNORTH sharpens skills during Vigilant Shield 2008

By Sgt. 1st Class Lori Simmons | U.S. Army North Public Affairs Office | October 16, 2007

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas — Servicemembers and civilians from U.S. Army North began participating yesterday in Vigilant Shield 2008, a week-long, national-level exercise involving federal, state and local agencies across the United States and Guam.

Army North Deputy Commanding General, Brig. Gen. Francis Mahon, said the exercise is "a great opportunity for all of us to work together, now, prior to a crisis.”

During the next several days, homeland defense and civil support scenarios will test Army North’s procedures and refine the command’s ability to work with other participants during a civilian-led response to a potential threat or crisis.

The first responders to an emergency situation are the local and state governments, and then federal agencies, Mahon explained. Army North’s mission is to support and fill in any gap in capabilities when requested by the agencies leading the response.

Mahon said the foundation of this support lies with the defense coordinating officers and their defense coordinating element staff.

The DCOs work daily to form partnerships with various Federal Emergency Management Agency offices in 10 regions within the United States. Establishing these relationships with FEMA and other agencies before disaster strikes helps DoD understand potential support requirements and shorten the military’s response time.

Army North headquarters will exercise mainly at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and two of the command’s DCOs will exercise with federal and state partners in Portland, Ore., and Mesa, Ariz.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command and the Department of Homeland Security are sponsors of the exercise. Army North is the Army component of Northern Command, the unified command responsible for homeland defense and civil support.