WASHINGTON, July 27, 2014 —
U.S. Northern Command epitomizes the changes over the past decades in defending the United States of America, Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., the commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said yesterday.
Jacoby told attendees at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado that he spent his first 34 years as a soldier “out there” -- meaning concentrating on overseas threats -- defending the United States. “The distinction between the home game and the away game is really changed and really less significant than it’s been in the past,” he said.
The mission of U.S. Northern Command falls into three groups, Jacoby said.
The command’s bedrock is the defense of the homeland, he said. This is more than just defending the shores from an invasion, and includes missile defense, cruise missile defense, maritime defense and cyberdefense.
“The second basket of things … is defense support to civil authorities,” he said. “That’s a mission set we have always performed, but I will tell you the first half of my career we wouldn’t have said that support to civil authorities was a core military task. It was something that we would do -- sometimes grudgingly.”
But after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, DoD understood that the American people had a legitimate expectation that the military would be there and be an effective partner to civilian authorities. “We would deliver at times of our citizens’ greatest needs,” the general said.
This second basket includes defense support to law enforcement and to the Department of Homeland Security.
The final group is working with North American partners -- Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas, he said.
Civil support is the mission that most people are familiar with. The command aids civil authorities during natural or man-made disasters. The command works with partners across the United States to develop and maintain relationships with other federal agencies and with state and local authorities.
The command also works with intelligence agencies to spot and hopefully interdict threats to the homeland.
Jacoby’s command “resists taking control” of a situation unless ordered by the president or unless local and state authorities ask.
And the command is always planning for the “what ifs” and seeking to make improvements. Since 2011, the command has restructured the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear enterprise. “This was done with some view of what happened to the Japanese at Fukushima [nuclear power plant],” he said.
Today there are about 18,000 service members available to the command to respond within 24 to 96 hours to a chemical, biological or radiological event.
The command was tested during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. “I look back on it and we could have expected that a major hurricane slamming into the borough of Manhattan was not going to be just a Manhattan issue,” he said. The effect of a major hurricane hitting the nation’s largest city, he added, was going to be felt across the country and worldwide.
An example of that, Jacoby said, was when the first person to speak at a meeting on Hurricane Sandy was Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. He said it was imperative to get the markets running or the economic recovery would stall.
The command has to be prepared to bring huge industrial response to the problem, the general said. For Sandy, this meant providing pumps that drained the subways and tunnels. It meant deploying a Marine unit ashore. It meant airlifting electric company trucks aboard Air Force C-17s to fix the power grid.
“We have to be prepared to lean forward without leaning into or crowding,” Jacoby said. “It’s a bit of a balancing act.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneDoDNews)