Vigilance, Readiness Drive Northcom Agenda, Priorities
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 9, 2013 With a commitment to the “sacred trust” of defending the homeland, Army Gen. Charles H. “Chuck” Jacoby Jr., the commander of U.S. Northern Command, said the command is continuing to evolve along with the threats it stood up a decade ago to confront.
Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, right, talks with Norwegian Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Harald Sunde, left, about the commands’ homeland defense mission during a tour of the command headquarters, Feb. 13, 2013. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Underpinning everything Northcom does -- along with its close partner, the binational North American Aerospace Defense Command -- is a shared memory of the 9/11 terror attacks and a dedication to never let it happen again, Jacoby said during a telephone interview with American Forces Press Service.
“The headquarters and the people here -- quietly but determinedly -- remain committed to the idea that we are not going to let our people and the people of Canada be struck like that again,” he said. “We are going to do what it takes to defend the American people,” and under the NORAD charter, “the Canadian people as well.”
As the nature of the threat changes -- encompassing both state and nonstate actors capable of conventional as well as asymmetric attacks across air, space, land, maritime, and even cyber domains -- Jacoby said, Northcom and NORAD remain on a never-ending path to keep a step ahead.
That, he said, requires a balance of “paranoia and practicality” he described as acute situational awareness and the ability to “outthink those who would do us harm.”
“It really starts with the assumption that we still have plenty of folks that would like to do us harm in the homeland and have an increased capacity to do so,” he said. That is across all domains, he added, including cyberspace.
“Those are the kinds of things we stay focused on,” he said. “We do our job every day against the known threats and then advance ourselves to make sure we are making the right investments -- not just in stuff, but in partnerships and relationships that keep us ahead of the next threat.”
To ensure the commands are postured to confront this hybrid threat, and that Northcom is prepared to support civil authorities if needed in a disaster response, Jacoby has adopted five top command priorities to chart the way forward:
-- Expand and strengthen trusted partnerships;
-- Advance the binational military command;
-- Promote all-domain situational awareness;
-- Enhance capabilities to outpace threats; and
-- Maintain a focus on people.
Partnerships are vital to the dual commands’ endeavors, Jacoby said, particularly in light of clearly defined laws and policies that specify what military forces can and can’t do on U.S. soil.
“Actually, the security environment we want for our people can only be gained through a partnership of agencies across state, local and federal [organizations], both civilian and military,” he said. “It is not always necessary for us to lead anything, and it is not necessary for us to have a grand, overarching authority when we can bring together partners that have all the authorities and all the capability and all the legal sufficiency to get the job done.”
Northcom has made huge strides over the past 10 years in overcoming initial distrust of a military command focused on the United States, Jacoby said.
“That is fundamentally counterculture,” he acknowledged. “So over time, we have made it a matter of trust -- that our partners can trust us not to overstep our bounds, of not crowding folks who have missions in the safety and security lane, and of not being late to need when we are needed.”
Jacoby said he’s particularly proud of Northcom’s relationships with the National Guard, typically the first military responders during a state emergency, and with interagency law enforcement organizations.
A new dual-status command construct that designates a single commander to oversee both federal and state troops in support of civil authorities during disasters promotes faster, better-coordinated responses to hurricanes, wildfires and other crises, he said.
“We have got this wonderful, resilient country where our state and local authorities are accountable for and want to take care of their people, and people want to solve problems locally,” Jacoby said. “But when they need the Department of Defense to help, they usually really need it.
“So through our partnerships with the Guard and with [the Federal Emergency Management Agency], we have really closed the gap to ensure we are not late to need,” he said.
Jacoby offered a similar assessment of Northcom’s other partnerships across the interagency spectrum. He cited close ties built with the FBI, particularly since the 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, and with Customs and Border Protection and other law-enforcement organizations working along the Southwest U.S. border.
“They are eager for us to work with them, and I couldn’t be happier with the mutual benefit we gain from those partnerships,” Jacoby said. “That really does require trust and confidence in each other.”
Meanwhile, Jacoby noted continued progress in advancing the six-decade partnership of the United States and Canada through the binational NORAD command.
NORAD has evolved with the changing security landscape to stay relevant, he said, improving its processes while expanding its scope to include maritime as well as airborne threats.
“This is having a robust security dialogue with our best ally, Canada,” Jacoby said. “It is making sure that we are examining all the vulnerabilities to North America together, and that we are making assessments of those vulnerabilities, and then making sure that NORAD as a command is accountable to both the government of Canada and to the United States.”
All these efforts, Jacoby said, center on the men and women who make them happen.
“At the heart of it, a military organization is its people,” he said. “And I will tell you, walking around this headquarters and visiting the units that support NORAD and Northcom, it is really the quality and commitment and vigilance of our people that gets the mission done.”
Jacoby said he feels so strongly about the importance of Northcom’s small complement of assigned forces and its civilian workforce that he’s made them one of his top command priorities.
Keeping faith with people and keeping them informed takes on particular significance during tight budget times, pending furloughs and the longer-term impacts of a major military drawdown after a decade of conflict, he said.
“This might be the infantryman in me, but we have always depended on our people, and not our stuff, to get our jobs done,” Jacoby said. Bad decisions made today will send the most talented workers and most promising future leaders elsewhere, leaving a deficit that could take 25 years to make up, he warned.
“You can break a lot of things in a drawdown, but the worst thing that you can break is your people,” Jacoby said.
“We know that we are going to have to draw down and make tough choices,” he added. “But we really need to be careful to make sure we keep our best and brightest and those we need for the future defense of our nation. They are our seed corn for the future.”