Training, coordination key to future for USNORTHCOM

By Petty Officer 1st Class Joaquin Juatai NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs


U.S. Northern Command, the unified command formed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and charged with the sacred mission of defense of our homelands, commemorates its fifth anniversary Oct. 1.
Established in 2002, USNORTHCOM provides command and control of Department of Defense (DoD) homeland defense efforts and coordinates Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA).

Key to the success of USNORTHCOM is a robust training program designed to exercise not only the service members who work at the headquarters, but service members in the field, first responders, federal, state and local government agencies and even private sector partners.

“From small beginnings, our exercise program has seen continuous growth in participation and sophistication,” said Gene Pino, head of USNORTHCOM’s training and exercise directorate.  “Our early integration with Federal, State, regional, local, tribal, private sector and multi-national agencies and organizations accelerated our ability to both defend our homelands and provide civil support as requested.”

According to Pino, NORAD and USNORTHCOM’s major exercises are now premier national homeland security and homeland defense training events.  The most recent exercise, held in May 2007, met training objectives for scores of local, State, Federal, and non-governmental agencies, Pino said. 

“This exercise alone gave over 5,000 personnel an invaluable, realistic training and evaluation opportunity impossible to accomplish through other means,” he added.

USNORTHCOM Director of Operations, Maj. Gen. Guy Swan, III, says USNORTHCOM brings several cultural assets to the table that may have been foreign to its interagency partners in the past, and that service members had taken for granted.

“We’ve been able to share our skills,” Swan said.  “The things that we take for granted, such as the way we conduct planning, or our constant training and exercises, others may not have been exposed to.”

Including those ‘others,’ the interagency team made up of federal agencies, state and local governments, first responders, private sector businesses and even international partners is part of the key to USNORTHCOM’s continued success, according to Interagency Coordination Director Bernd “Bear” McConnell.

“It’s a combined effort that will lead to success,” McConnell said.  “We are seeing our responses becoming less federally focused and more ‘other guys’ focused.”

“As we move forward, we continue to share best practices and lessons learned with our Combatant Command counterparts, other DOD organizations that support our mission, and the even larger interagency community,” said Pino.

“I think we are seeing in the post 9/11 and post (Hurricane) Katrina world that solutions that in the past may have been viewed one dimensionally, such as a ‘military’ solution to a problem or an economic solution to a problem, can no longer be seen that way,” said Swan.  “We have to bring together all of the elements of national power to solve the security problems that face our nation.

“I think where we have to go in the future is fusing together the strengths of each of these agency partners into a team response to security and DSCA problems,” Swan said.  He explained that each agency represented at USNORTHCOM headquarters, as well many other interagency partners, have a role to play in homeland defense and disaster response.

“None can do it by themselves.  The strength of USNORTHCOM as an ‘interagency center of excellence’ is using the command as a conduit and as a catalyst for bringing together interagency partners,” said Swan.

Teamwork, communication and interagency cooperation continue to be the rallying cry at USNORTHCOM as the command looks forward to its next five years of operation.