‘Quiet’ mission of Joint Task Force – Civil Support

By Staff Sgt Christopher Hale | Joint Task Force - Civil Support Public Affairs | March 30, 2010

FORT LEWIS, Wash. – On any given day, one could find numerous people at Joint Task Force – Civil Support sitting quietly at their desks thinking, planning and developing new methods and procedures – all working toward the goal of providing the best possible response to an event that each and every one of them pray never happens.

JTF-CS is the DoD’s premier consequence management response force, designed to quickly respond to and mitigate, as best as possible, the effects of a catastrophic chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive attack or incident in the United States. But, that mission does not always stop at the U.S. border.

As a subordinate command of U.S. Northern Command, JTF-CS was recently called upon to potentially provide support and assistance to the Canadian military, taking on the daunting task of preparing to respond to any potential attack on the 2010 Olympics. So for the last month, a portion of JTF-CS and its CBRNE Consequence Management Response Force has been staged in Washington State, poised and ready to move should our northern neighbors request assistance.

“It’s the longstanding relationship between our two countries and militaries that brought us here,” said Col. Thomas Plunkett, director of operations for JTF-CS. Plunkett explained that even though the original charter of JTF-CS is to respond to a specific domestic event, the role of JTF-CS is continually evolving, providing more opportunities like this for the organization to lend its expertise in the area of consequence management.

“Just like how we operate here in the U.S.,” Plunkett said. “We would have been in a support role in Canada had anything catastrophic happened during the Vancouver Olympics. The Canadian government made the request that certain capabilities be made available to them should a major international event happen, and the decision was made that JTF-CS was the best answer to that request.”

Still, it would have taken an additional request, in the event of an incident, from the Canadian government before JTF-CS and the CCMRF moved an inch toward the border.

“The Canadians have very capable consequence management assets already in place,” Plunkett said. “We were there just in case they needed a specific skill set to augment their own.”

Assistance to another military is not what JTF-CS normally plans for. Almost its entire focus is on support to civil authorities. But the adjustment of plans and playbooks was virtually seamless.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to have out here doing this mission,” Plunkett said. “They took what they already knew, tweaked it just a little bit and stood ready to go. I’m confident that if we had received that call, we would have performed our mission flawlessly.”

Fortunately, that call was never made.

The various parts of JTF-CS and the CCMRF in Washington have packed their gear and returned home, going back to what they do best – planning – planning for the worst and praying it never happens.

And, knowing that if it does, they’ve done everything they can to be of assistance.