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NORTHCOM Remains Focused on Homeland Defense

By Tech. Sgt. Devin Fisher, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., Nov. 4, 2005 – Although Mother Nature has captured the headlines since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast Aug. 29, the U.S. military command coordinating the Department of Defense relief effort has not lost sight of its primary mission of defending the homeland.

"As we act to support civil authorities in responding to hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters, we never lose focus on our primary mission: to deter, prevent and defeat attacks on our homelands," said Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

"We are a nation at war," he said referring to the global war on terrorism. "It may be a prolonged war, but we will win. We will win."

Keating, a keynote speaker at the third annual Homeland Defense Symposium here Oct. 25, said the event provided a "powerful tool that aligns" NORTHCOM with partners in homeland defense.

The admiral told the nearly 500 attendees that NORAD and NORTHCOM are working to improve the way the commands execute their vital missions. NORTHCOM was created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. to serve as the Defense Department's lead for homeland defense and defense support to civil authorities. NORAD is charged with providing comprehensive, integrated aerospace defense of North America.

"The stakes are high," Keating said, "but with your help, we will prevail."

Keating noted that recent NORTHCOM rescue and relief efforts in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita have improved the nation's preparedness for the next manmade or natural disaster. "Katrina has further reminded us, just as 9-11 taught us, that we have to be willing to consider the unthinkable is possible, maybe even probable," he said.

As a result, "if and when a crisis occurs, we have almost instant recognition of what capabilities will be limited or required," Keating said. "There'll be more confidence and better planning, because we'll have thought out in advance many of the 'hypotheticals' attendant to crisis action and crisis response."

Keating said participating in disaster relief and other civil-support operations increases his commands' ability to conduct homeland defense by providing more operational experience and enhancing ties with key interagency partners.

Hurricane Katrina made it clear to the command that building relationships on a multiple-agency level is an "absolute necessity" that wasn't routinely practiced in the years prior to Sept. 11, Keating said.

Keating said Katrina was a "huge test" of the National Response Plan, which forms the basis of how the federal government coordinates with state, local and tribal governments and the private sector during domestic incidents.

"All would agree that some tenets of the National Response Plan worked better than others," Keating said. "At least we had a plan. ... We have something upon which we can, and will, still build."

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Devin Fisher is assigned to U.S. Northern Command Public Affairs Office.)

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