National Guard Plays Big Role in War on Terrorism
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2004 America's citizen soldiers are taking an unprecedented role in the global war on terrorism, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said today.
While the National Guard has always been in the homeland-defense business, it is being used in a new and different way, Army Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum told media at the Foreign Press Center here. He noted that the Guard bureau acts as an operational force supporting both the Army and the Air Force overseas and defending the homeland in the United States -- and doing both simultaneously.
The Guard is deployed around the globe in support of every combatant commander, Blum said. At home, it has responded to DoD missions and state missions, such as assisting in cleanup efforts after natural disasters.
"You can see the National Guard is participating in every single aspect of our national-security strategy," Blum said. "(Defense of the homeland) is always Job One for the National Guard. But it doesn't always mean we have to defend the homeland here at home."
At the request of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the National Guard is becoming a more meaningful and useful tool in the global war on terrorism.
To this end, the Guard transforming from a strategic reserve -- to be called only in the event of World War III -- to an operational force to be called up as needed -- any time, any place, for any reason, both here at home and abroad, Blum said. But, he cautioned, this presents challenges.
"We still have a mandate to the governors to provide them the right force capabilities in the right mix and the right size and the right place so that they can handle Hurricane Ivan or they can handle al Qaeda should they visit a neighborhood in the United States," Blum said.
To meet these needs, the Guard has established a Joint Force Headquarters in all 54 U.S. states and territories to leverage the capabilities of both the Army and Air National Guards, he said. They are set up to provide capabilities in command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance known in the military as C4ISR.
Each Joint Force Headquarters is a tactical joint task force-capable headquarters able to manage any military service element -- including active duty, Reserve or National Guard -- individually or in combination with other agency and government responders, needed to respond to an incident in any given state or territory. If needed, the Guard is able to synchronize responses from across the nation, pulling resources from other areas.
Blum called it a "very, very powerful model, which means that there is no part of our country that is not protected and would not have the capability to respond if it were attacked or if it suffered a tragedy."
To become more relevant, ready, accessible and essential to the defense of the country, the National Guard Bureau is taking on some specific initiatives, Blum said.
One is the development of chemical- and biological-response teams that have special training and equipment to perform mass decontamination, treat mass casualties, and perform technical extractions of victims from collapsed buildings. He said that in addition to these teams, each state and territory has an immediate quick-reaction force and rapid-response force capable of delivering a battalion-sized force in less than 24 hours.
Some 32 civil-support teams are trained to identify various weapons and advise local first responders. Eventually, 54 such teams will be set up, one for each state and territory.
Blum said these teams "can offer an immediate communications bridge so that the local first responders can plug in to the Department of Defense communications system immediately."
All elements are tied together through a secure information-technology system, and the Department of Homeland Security's information network has been integrated for maximum effectiveness.
Blum called the Guard's efforts "a tremendous capability that has been developed in the last three years that most people in our own nation don't even know about."
"I think we have delivered what we promised: a ready force, a reliable force, absolutely an essential force, and an accessible force -- accessible to both the governors here at home and to the president and the secretary of defense and the services when they need them abroad."