'Ardent Sentry' Testing U.S., Canadian Crisis Response
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 10, 2006 More than 5,000 U.S. and Canadian servicemembers are working with authorities in five U.S. states and two Canadian provinces to test their response capabilities to crises ranging from a major hurricane to a terrorist attack to a pandemic flu outbreak.
Ardent Sentry 2006, a two-week U.S. Northern Command exercise, kicked off May 8 to test military support to federal, provincial, state and local authorities while continuing to support the Defense Department's homeland defense mission, according to Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Butterbaugh, a NORTHCOM and North American Aerospace Defense Command spokesman. The Canadian part of the exercise began May 1 and continues through May 12.
The goal is to give these players an opportunity to sharpen their ability to respond quickly and in a coordinated way to national crises, Butterbaugh said.
Already, active-duty, National Guard and Reserve participants operating in Colorado, Michigan, Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, the Canadian provinces of Ontario and New Brunswick and adjacent waters have gotten plenty of opportunity to do so, said Mike Kucharek, another NORTHCOM and NORAD spokesman.
They've confronted incidents in Michigan and Ontario, faced activity on the south border and are tracking a potential threat to a DoD computer system, he said. At the same time, they're monitoring a suspicious incident in the northeastern United States that's affected utility and energy supplies. Kucharek declined to share too many specifics that might tip off exercise participants to what's coming or interfere with its realism.
"We're feeling every bit of it," Kucharek said of the exercise, affirming the promise Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, NORTHCOM commander, made last week of a "very aggressive" Ardent Sentry scenario.
"It is not an open-book test," Keating told reporters during a May 4 media day at NORTHCOM's Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., headquarters. "It will be very challenging for us, and that's the point."
Just as in real-life crises, NORTHCOM is playing a supporting role to first responders during the exercise, as spelled out in the National Response Plan. "We're not the lead," Kucharek said. "We may only be monitoring, or we may send support as requested."
No large-scale troop movements are planned, but military units involved will conduct field training at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich.; Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.; and an abandoned mining town in Playas, N.M., now owned by the Department of Homeland Security, he said.
While testing the military's interagency coordination, the exercise also focuses on its ability to operate with the Canadian government and the newly established Canada Command, NORTHCOM's Canadian counterpart, Kucharek said.
"This is the first major exercise which will allow Canada Command to train with federal and provincial departments and agencies," said Gordon O'Connor, Canada's national defense minister. "Exercises such as Ardent Sentry 2006 help ensure we respond to domestic threats and natural disasters in a coordinated manner." It also will promote "cross-border information sharing" between Canada Command and NORTHCOM, he said.
Ardent Sentry builds on lessons learned during Hurricane Katrina, which Keating called NORTHCOM's "first real acid test" since its establishment in October 2002 to provide command and control of DoD homeland defense efforts and to coordinate military assistance to civil authorities.
"We learned a lot, and we observed much," Keating told reporters last week. "We're working really hard to take lessons observed and make sure they are lessons learned and mistakes not repeated."
New procedures introduced since Katrina will reduce NORTHCOM's response time and improve communications and damage assessment, he said. They'll reduce the time it takes to get assets where they're needed and help tailor the type of assistance provided to the specific need.
In addition, a new cell phone tower will improve communications among first responders, particularly in areas where existing communication lines are down.
Keating said he's confident NORTHCOM is prepared to face whatever natural or manmade disaster it faces, including the hurricane season that begins June 1.
"I can't imagine anything else we could do or should do," he told reporters last week. "We are fully operational, we are as ready as we can be for this upcoming hurricane season, as well as our response to any other natural or manmade disaster."