Canada-U.S. conference focuses on situational awareness, maritime and border security

By Virginia Beaton | Trident Military Newspaper | September 30, 2008

It is necessary to work together “to defeat any threat that comes into North America,” said the commander of Canada’s Joint Task Force Atlantic and Maritime Forces Atlantic at the second annual Command Senior Enlisted Leader (CSEL) Northern Border Conference at Canadian Forces Base Halifax in Nova Scotia.

Maritime security is vital to the economic health of the continent, he added.

“Increasingly, we are looking at the maritime domain to recognize and understand the activity occurring in the oceans,” said Rear Adm. Paul Maddison, “and we are working together with the military and other government agencies and departments to better recognize anomalies in activities at sea that would suggest a threat. Then we are prepared to deal with it offshore before it comes into New York or Halifax or Vancouver or Long Beach.”

Maddison spoke during the opening of the conference, which Canada Command hosted Sept. 15-17. Twenty-one American and 11 Canadian SELs participated in the conference, which focused on maritime security, situational awareness and border security.

Maddison noted the strong sense of cooperation between the military forces of the two countries. “We are very close friends and we are very close allies. We know the business of defence and security.”

The conference included briefings on Canada Command, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command, Joint Task Force North, the Civil Assistance Plan, Border Integrity, the National Guard, Joint Task Force Atlantic, the Regional Joint Operations Centre (Atlantic) and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre.

In addition to receiving the same operational brief provided to the commander of Joint Task Force Atlantic and Maritime Forces Atlantic, attendees toured the Regional Joint Operations Centre (Atlantic), the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre and the HMCS Sackville, the last remaining corvette of Canada’s Second World War fleet.

“The main purpose of [the conference] last year and this year is information,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Wood, command senior enlisted leader of NORAD and USNORTHCOM. “Senior enlisted leaders in Canada and the U.S. become more credible and better assets for their commanders, as advisors on the operational side of things, if they are exposed to what capabilities exist on both the north and south side of the border.”

Following the 2007 conference, there was interest in maritime security within the Great Lakes, Wood said. This year’s conference covered some of the capabilities on the land border “and some specific issues dealing with counter-drug and working with interagency partners.”

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the National Guard gave presentations on integrated border enforcement teams, Wood said. This was particularly beneficial, he said, because, with the exception of the U.S. Coast Guard personnel who were present, most of the U.S. military personnel at the conference had not had exposure to maritime security operations. “As we look at continental security, the maritime approaches offer great access to those who would do us harm.” The concerns range from criminal activity such as drug smuggling, to terrorism, Wood said.

Chief Warrant Officer Eric Christensen, Canada Command Chief Warrant Officer, agreed that the conference provided valuable opportunities for sharing knowledge and also for networking. “We are working to be more proactive than reactive,” he said.

One conference briefing concerned the Civil Assistance Plan, the bilateral Canada-United States plan that facilitates military-to-military cooperation in support of a civil emergency in either country, once agreement for assistance is reached between the two governments. The CAP was signed in February 2008 and, in early September 2008, Canada sent several aircraft to assist with the response to Hurricane Gustav.

“It was the first time we had done this with the CAP,” Christensen said, “and it was important for our senior non-commissioned officer leadership and the Americans to understand what the CAP is all about.”

During a day at sea onboard HMCS Toronto, conference attendees observed demonstrations of at-sea rescues and interdictions, including a demonstration by the ship’s Naval Boarding Party and maneuvers by a Sea King helicopter.

With the information gained at the conference, American senior enlisted leaders will have a greater appreciation for situations on the Canadian side of the border, Wood believes. They will have an enhanced ability “to talk to not only their superiors, the state adjutant generals, the Air Guard and Army Guard generals within their states, but also with their subordinates.

“It is a critical piece, as the [senior enlisted leader,] to be able to mentor your subordinates not only on what threats are out there that worry us in this time period of potential terrorist attacks and dealing with asymmetrical warfare, but also to be able to talk to your subordinates and teach them what capabilities exist not only in the U.S., but in Canada.