Location, Knowledge Keys to Reserves New Role
By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 18, 1998 Deborah Lee has three words to sum up why Guard and reserve component forces have been given primary responsibility for responding to attacks by weapons of mass destruction: "Location, location, location."
Lee is the assistant secretary of defense for Reserve Affairs and one of the key architects of the program Defense Secretary William S. Cohen unveiled March 17.
She said the ability of reserve component forces to get to the scene of an attack quickly, as well as their knowledge of the states and local communities, were key factors in giving them the responsibility.
Under the program, National Guard and reserve forces will be trained to help states and local governments respond to nuclear, biological and chemical attacks against their communities.
A total of 10 rapid assessment and initial detection elements will be trained and equipped beginning in fiscal 1999 to respond to a variety of scenarios, including terrorist bombings. Each element will have 22 full-time National Guard soldiers and airmen capable of deploying to an incident within four hours. Reconnaissance, decontamination and medical teams drawn from existing reserve component forces will support the teams.
In the case of an attack, RAID elements would work with federal, state and local authorities to assess conditions, detect contaminants and lend technical advice to local authorities. They also would facilitate the arrival of DoD or other federal agency assets.
"We don't know where such an occurrence might hit us -- God forbid that it should hit us," Lee said. "So what better personnel to have involved than people who are spread across the country geographically, who live and work and know the lay of the land in all our communities, towns and cities."
In addition to their hometown advantage, Lee said the reserve forces' long-time role in responding to natural disasters put them a step ahead. She pointed out they already have extensive experience in coordinating with federal, state and local agencies, identifying needs and mobilizing necessary personnel and equipment.
Additional training and coordination will be required to execute the new mission, but Lee said the basic response and coordination framework is already in place. As units come on line, exercises will be conducted to further refine the process.
"We feel we can take this on and do it properly and do it well," she said.
While the focus of the new program is on weapons of mass destruction, Lee said it will ultimately help reserve component forces more efficiently respond to natural disasters and could widen their scope of assistance.
Citing the specialized training and new equipment the forces will receive, she said it would also be useful in handling chemical or hazardous material spills or industrial accidents.
Lee calls the initiative a "major step" in the overall strategy to integrate Guard and Reserves into the total DoD mission.
"It's not the only element, but it's certainly a major element," she said. "There's probably no mission nowadays which is more important than this mission. So we're placing the Guard and Reserve at the forefront of one of the most important tasks that anybody could be asked to do in this country."
Lee is particularly excited about the program because it blends two of her top three priorities - Guard and Reserve integration and readiness -- with the third being quality of life.
"It's at the top of one of the most important areas the Guard and Reserve will ever become involved in," she said.
Lee hopes the program will further educate the public about the dangers of weapons of mass destruction and U.S. vulnerability to attack.
She pointed out that conventional attacks, such as the World Trade Center in New York City and Oklahoma City bombings, and the recent scare in Las Vegas involving anthrax vaccine, were warnings of what can happen.
Then there's Iraqi President Saddam Heussein, who Lee says is "an education every day of the week about what might happen here at home"
She called psychological preparation a "real tough one" to achieve.
"This kind of incident would be so devastating it's hard to ever quite prepare for it psychologically, to quite fathom what it could mean if it would happen," she said. "This is the kind of education we have to keep doing day after day, week after week."