General Describes Link Between Northcom, Guard
By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
National Guard Bureau
OXON HILL, Md., March 26, 2010 U.S. Northern Command and its sister command, North American Aerospace Defense Command, are inextricably linked to the National Guard, Northcom’s operations director said March 23.
Army Maj. Gen. Frank Grass, director of operations for U.S. Northern Command, addresses National Guard officers attending a domestic operations workshop at the National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., March 23, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see a day where NORAD and Northcom can be separated from the National Guard,” Army Maj. Gen. Frank Grass told National Guard leaders gathered for a weeklong domestic operations workshop held at the National Harbor here.
“It behooves us to stay very closely tied with the Guard,” Grass said, noting the National Guard “has been involved in every homeland mission,” to include the Hurricane Katrina disaster-relief operations.
As of March 22, 72,520 Army and Air Guard members were serving in federal Title 10 status and 6,082 more were serving in domestic missions such as homeland defense air sovereignty alert, counterdrug operations or in support of their governors.
“The Guard … is truly outstanding,” Grass said. “You lead the best men and women the Guard has ever produced. The best citizen-soldier or -airmen and women that serve across our land every day are led by the best [noncommissioned officers] and the best senior enlisted in the nation.”
Northcom has recognized the quality of National Guard NCOs; Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Allen Usry is the first National Guard NCO to serve as the senior enlisted leader at a combatant command.
Northcom is responsible for homeland defense, sustaining continuous situational awareness and readiness to protect the homeland against a range of symmetric and asymmetric threats in all domains. Its area of responsibility includes the continental United States, Alaska, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, French territory off the Canadian coast and three British overseas territories. The command strives to collaborate with the National Guard so that the two share a common operating picture, Grass said.
“We’re getting very good at that,” the general said. “Developing and building an understanding between capabilities and what the Guard has in the states is critical to us in that partnership. … Most of my job is spent watching what’s going on in the National Guard in the states.”
Northcom has a unique degree of the “jointness” sought throughout the Defense Department. A mix of National Guard, Reserve, Coast Guard, active-duty component, senior civilians and contractors fill the command’s ranks. The command partners with Canada and Mexico and with the Defense Department, as well as civilian and private agencies – more than 60 organizations.
These relationships paid dividends during the response to Haiti’s earthquake, Grass said.
“The … staff needs to be a mix of active, Guard and Reserve. It is the only place in my military career where you can bring together all components, all services … work together, and learn about this mission in the homeland,” Grass said. “Everybody in this nation … should know about defending the homeland, not just the National Guard.”
National Guard brigadier generals fill slots at Northcom while the command’s officers are away at schools or other temporary assignments.
“I can’t stress the importance of that [enough],” Grass said. “Not just for the Army and Air Guard members who come in and serve, … but also for our staff to truly get a picture and understanding of what a Guard soldier or airman does from day to day, across the map, both in their civilian job and in their service to the state.”
Northcom also hosts joint task force commander and staff courses heavily attended by National Guard leaders.
And the Guard plays a key role in supporting Northcom’s missions, including significant involvement in Operation Noble Eagle, a post-9/11 initiative to protect U.S. and Canadian airspace that has seen Air National Guard members and reservists fly more than 80 percent of its more than 55,000 missions.
“There is either an alert or scramble somewhere in the nation every day,” Grass said. “[Where] we used to look outward, now we look outward and inward.”
Colorado and Alaska National Guard units provide ballistic missile defense.
“If we had an incoming ballistic missile to the U.S., we would be prepared to shoot it down,” Grass said. “You can see how … the Guard is connected to our homeland defense mission.”
The Guard also provides much of the ground-based air defense system for the national capital region; it contributed to forces standing by to support the recent Winter Olympics; and it conducts joint exercises and workshops with Northcom.
The National Guard is the first domestic military responder, Grass said.
“Northcom does not get a mission until the governor asks the president for support,” he said. “The National Guard is always there under the governors’ control, … but when that one catastrophic event that hopefully never happens, you want that catastrophic insurance policy. When that one incident occurs that’s catastrophic, we’re prepared to come and support … the states and the National Guard.”