The United States of America is the world's fourth largest nation with 3.5 million square miles of land and 88,000 miles of tidal shoreline. Each year, 11.2 million trucks and 2.2 million railcars cross into the U.S. from the 7,500-mile land and air border shared with Canada and Mexico. More than 7,500 foreign-flag ships make 51,000 calls annually to U.S. ports. The country routinely admits millions of visitors from around the world.
The freedom America enjoys, employs in its commerce, and extends to non-U.S. citizens presents national defense challenges. Ruthless and resourceful enemies seek to threaten the nation with new technologies, dangerous weapons, and nontraditional tactics that exploit our freedoms.
Emerging threats include chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive weapons, ballistic and cruise missiles, and electronic and cyber warfare. As the nation witnessed Sept. 11, 2001, America's enemies have the resolve and means to commit acts of terrorism against innocent civilians and commercial interests within our country. The historical insularity of the U.S. has given way to an era of new vulnerabilities, and enemies may strike the U.S. in new and unsuspecting ways.
As authorized by President George W. Bush April 17, 2002, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced the establishment of U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) to consolidate under a single unified command those existing homeland defense and civil support missions that were previously executed by other military organizations. On May 8, 2002, U.S. Air Force Gen. Ralph E. “Ed” Eberhart, the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Space Command, was nominated by DoD to be the first commander of USNORTHCOM. USNORTHCOM attained initial operational capability, that is, assumed its responsibilities, Oct. 1, 2002. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Gen. Richard Meyers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, participated in the ceremony at which command of USNORTHCOM was presented to Gen. Eberhart, who continued to serve as the commander of NORAD. At the same ceremony, U.S. Space Command transitioned its missions and responsibilities to the U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.
USNORTHCOM is co-located with NORAD headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. The headquarters site was chosen based on several considerations, such as military effectiveness, existing facilities, location, force protection, infrastructure and costs. The secretary of defense approved the command's location after an environmental impact study was conducted in June 2002.
USNORTHCOM provided support in response to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in Feb. 2002, and in May 2003 participated in what was to date the most comprehensive terrorism response exercise ever undertaken in the United States -- Top Officials 2, or TOPOFF 2, sponsored by the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and State. In August 2003, USNORTHCOM conducted Exercise Determined Promise 03 in Clark County, Nev., and Colorado Springs, Colo. This major exercise was designed to evaluate the command’s ability to command and control multiple homeland defense and defense support of civil authorities missions simultaneously.
Following Exercise Determined Promise 03, USNORTHCOM announced full operational capability Sept. 11, 2003, the second anniversary of the New York, Pentagon and Shanksville, Penn., tragedies.
Shortly afterward, on Sept. 25, 2003, USNORTHCOM presented the first Homeland Defense Symposium in Colorado Springs, in partnership with the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and Rocky Mountain Chapter National Defense Industrial Association. The purpose of the symposium was to educate the audience on the status of USNORTHCOM by addressing its mission, vision, and component roles; to describe the relationships between local, state, and federal agencies required to conduct defense support of civil authorities; to showcase the role of the first responder in homeland security and defense; and to discuss emerging trends and technology that could support homeland defense. This symposium is now held annually.
During Oct. 2003, USNORTHCOM supported NIFC (the National Interagency Firefighting Center in Boise, Idaho) to lessen or eliminate the effects of 11 wildland fires that burned more than 230,000 acres in Southern California and depleted the state’s firefighting resources.
The Homeland Security / Defense Education Consortium, or HSDEC, was established in Dec. 2004 by USNORTHCOM and NORAD, in collaboration with the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs; the University of Denver; and the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. HSDEC is a network of teaching and research institutions focused on promoting education, research, and cooperation related to and supporting the homeland security and defense missions. The consortium is committed to building and maintaining a community of higher education institutions supporting this mission and the overall homeland security effort through the sharing and advancement of knowledge. Currently more than 50 educational institutions are members.
In Jan. 2004, the men and women of USNORTHCOM supported interagency efforts to deter and defeat any possible threats against persons attending the Super Bowl. The following month, USNORTHCOM conducted Exercise Unified Defense 04. This major exercise allowed the USNORTHCOM, Fifth Army, Joint Task Force Alaska and associated units to practice the homeland defense and defense support to civil authorities missions. Unified Defense 04 involved the Department of Homeland Security and more than 50 federal, state and local organizations primarily in Texas, Alaska, Colorado, Virginia and the National Capital Region.
Over the summer of 2004, USNORTHCOM supported interagency efforts to deter and defeat any possible threats against several National Security Special Events, including the G8 Summit, the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, and the funeral of former U.S. president Ronald Reagan. Exercise Determined Promise 04, conducted in August 2004, tested USNORTHCOM’s ability to assist civil and federal authorities in a coordinated response to simulated chemical, radiological, and explosive hazards, conducted in California and Virginia. In the same month, USNORTHCOM supported the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s efforts to provide relief to areas in Florida most impacted by Hurricane Charley.
On Nov. 5, 2004, Admiral Timothy J. Keating became the second combatant commander of USNORTHCOM and the first Navy admiral to command USNORTHCOM. He also assumed command of NORAD. In April 2005 he directed command participation in a national homeland defense exercise, TOPOFF 05.
In Sept. 2005, as directed by the secretary of defense and in accordance with the National Response Plan, USNORTHCOM supported the Dept. of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal agencies in disaster relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. More than 21,400 active-duty servicemembers and 45,700 Army and Air National Guard members supported the effort in the U.S. Gulf Coast.
As avian flu became an issue of increasing global concern, U.S. Northern Command hosted representatives from more than 40 international, federal and state agencies for a Jan. 2006 exercise designed to provoke discussion and determine what governmental actions, including military support, would be necessary in the event of an influenza pandemic in the United States.
USNORTHCOM partnered with NORAD and other military and civilian organizations to create a safe, secure environment for the Jan. 2006 State of the Union address and the Feb. 2006 Super Bowl. At the same time, planning and preparation for the 2006 hurricane season began. In May 2006 USNORTHCOM participated in Exercise Ardent Sentry 06, which involved numerous federal, provincial, state and local agencies in Canada and the United States. The exercise required participants to respond to simulated terrorist activities and manage the consequences of a range of simulated man-made and natural disasters. Exercise Ardent Sentry 06 helped military and civilian officials prepare to respond to a variety of national crises.
On July 4, 2006, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea launched six ballistic missiles, including a long-range Taepodong-2 missile. USNORTHCOM personnel were immediately able to detect the launch of all the missiles. While Ground-based Midcourse Defense System interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., were operational during the launches, top officials from the command were able to quickly determine the missiles posed no threat to the United States or its territories.
Our nation was once again reminded of the continuing terrorist threat following the August 10, 2006 arrests in the United Kingdom of several suspects in an alleged plot to blow up airliners bound for the United States. Senior USNORTHCOM officials coordinated with the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies to ensure full situational awareness and appropriate response posture.
In a dangerous world, vigilance and preparedness can help protect our nation from aggression and mitigate the consequences of natural and man-made disasters. To the U.S. Northern Command team, this means making a difference within the nation's borders -- protecting family, friends and neighbors and providing life-saving assistance when America most needs it.
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