NORTHCOM training course prepares JTF commanders for second hat

By Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs

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PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. –More than 50 state National Guard generals and colonels attended the U.S. Northern Command-sponsored Joint Task Force Commanders Training Course June 14 - 18 to prepare them to take on roles as joint task force commanders in the event of large-scale disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The JTF Commanders Training Course is a week-long event held twice a year that prepares National Guard leaders and other potential joint force commanders from across the country to coordinate and integrate military and federal agencies during a disaster.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command and USNORTHCOM Training and Exercise Branch is conducting the training.

Army Lt. Col. Craig Temmer, National Guard Training and Education Branch chief, said the Guard leaders already know how to perform Defense Support to Civil Authorities missions. What the course teaches them is how to work in a joint environment.

“The training takes the senior leaders of the National Guard and prepares them for future joint task force commander positions,” Temmer said.

National Guard commanders could be made joint task force commanders during major events taking place in their state such as natural disasters or large-scale political events.

“For instance, the G20,” he explained. “We had a dual-hatted Pennsylvania National Guardsman commander for the G20 that had Title 10 forces and Title 32 forces under him. They know how to perform DSCA missions, it’s a matter of them being prepared for that dual-hatted role.”

Eugene Pino, NORAD and USNORTHCOM Director of Joint Training and Exercises, said while the active-duty side of the military has worked jointly for many years, many on the National Guard side have not had this experience. The course, he said, helps them learn what their roles and responsibilities are as JTF commanders in regards to managing both federal (Title 10) and state (Title 32) forces.

“This was going to require training in how you operate as a joint organization and more importantly, during a crisis or disaster for your state, how do you transition in alignment with how we operate in our basic wartime doctrine of creating joint task forces and joint force headquarters that can command control and coordinate all the operations of that disaster or contingency,” Pino said.

As a result, the command started bringing together general officers and colonels in 2007 who could potentially be JTF commanders.

“We’re building a cadre of trained potential JTF commanders in each of our states,” Pino said. “We wanted a training paradigm that would help transition from service-centric operations to joint operations at the state level during disasters and contingency operations and ensure that the commander that would be designated to be that JTF commander understood all the roles and responsibilities, the authorities, the limitations and the interactions that he would have to execute as a commander.”

Temmer said the students get an opportunity to learn from Guard commanders who’ve worked other disasters.

“They provide a lot of anecdotal, historical and institutional knowledge,” Temmer said. “For instance, we have the former adjutant general of New York here. He was the adjutant general during 9-11, so through his efforts and the efforts of the surrounding states, a lot of lessons were learned. You can’t fully capture that in a paper. You need to hear it from someone who was leading the charge.”

Pino said the most important thing students leave the course with is a better understanding of their authority, what they can and cannot do with the forces available to them.

“Their understanding of their lane and how they operate within those authorities is absolutely critical,” he said. “If they’re put into a position where they’re commanding both Title 10 active duty forces and National Guard forces as a dual-status commander, they’ve really got to understand their authorities with Title 10 and their chain of command while being able to wear that other hat in command of Title 32 National Guard forces reporting to the state adjutant general and the governor.”

The potential commanders are also taught how to work with federal civilian agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security.

“How they interact with those federal elements is a cornerstone of the course,” he added.

Pino said the feedback they’ve gotten from National Guard commanders on the course has been overwhelmingly positive and that its success speaks for itself.

“There have not been any mission failures in this joint structure,” he said. “Not during disasters or during national special security events. These JTF commanders have operated JTFs during hurricanes, during floods, during fires. They’ve also commanded during national special security events like the Democratic National Convention and the inauguration. All of those are real world execution of the value of this course, and every single one of those commanders has stated that what he learned at this course was the fundamental foundation of his success as a JTF commander.”