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Northcom Calls Partnerships Central to Mission Success

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2013 – In one of his first acts after taking command of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command in August 2011, Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr. revised Northcom’s mission statement to reflect the importance of partnerships to its success.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby, Jr., commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, center, and his staff receive an update on weather conditions in the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy during a commander’s assessment meeting, Oct. 30, 2012. Jacoby said he recognizes strong partnerships as the foundation for the dual command’s missions, whether conducting homeland defense or operating in support of other federal agencies, as in disaster response preparation. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

“U.S. Northern Command partners to conduct homeland defense, civil support and security cooperation to defend and secure the United States and its interests,” the statement now reads.

The change represented far more than an administrative stroke of a pen, Coast Guard Capt. Dan Kenny, director of the dual commands’ interagency directorate, told American Forces Press Service.

It recognized, as Jacoby puts it, that relationships are Northcom’s “center of gravity.” They’re paramount to its homeland defense mission, for which the command takes the Defense Department lead. But they’re also vital to Northcom’s civil support and theater security cooperation missions, for which it plays a supporting role to other federal agencies, Kenny said.

“General Jacoby fully understands and appreciates that a lot of agencies are bringing tremendous capability to the fight, and that in many of our missions, we will be in a supporting role, with someone else in the lead,” he said. “And as a result, he is slowly but surely changing the culture within the command to foster these trusted partnerships and build enduring relationships with these agencies.”

At a time when every U.S. combatant command is embracing partnerships – international, interagency, private sector and nongovernmental – Northcom stands as a model, Kenny said.

Northcom had a bit of a head start when it was stood up 10 years ago, he noted. For more than a half century, its binational sister command, NORAD, has operated hand-in-hand with the Federal Aviation Administration, its Canadian counterpart and both countries’ intelligence organizations.

Today, more than 60 representatives of 50-plus agencies work full-time here in the Northcom/NORAD headquarters. They work closely with the staff, providing a direct, consistent liaison between their organizations and command operators and planners.

In addition, Northcom has its own liaisons embedded with the Homeland Security Department and other key agencies. U.S. Army North, Northcom’s Army component, stations a colonel at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters and all 10 FEMA regions.

The goal, Kenny said, is to promote closer communication, to stay on top of developing events and to ensure that when it’s time to act, every entity is ready to do so in a well-planned, coordinated way. “To be a good mission partner, you have to be able to have the right people with the right capability in the right place at the right time to support whatever federal agency is in the lead,” he said.

For the homeland defense mission, Northcom and NORAD work particularly closely with the FAA, Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The agencies share information and capabilities to monitor a fast-moving and ever-changing security environment, identify potential threats to the homeland, and, when necessary, to stop them before they inflict harm.

Jacoby calls this Northcom’s “no-fail mission,” one that exemplifies more than any other the need for trusted partnerships.

“It’s not just about having a partnership,” Kenny said. “It’s about trusting each other” to quickly identify and be willing to pass critical information, confident that it will be handled and acted on appropriately, all at a time when every minute counts.

But Northcom’s relationships are equally critical when it’s in a supporting role, Kenny said. This, he said, provides the foundation for an efficient, effective and coordinated federal effort.

To ensure the command is prepared to respond if called on in the event of an earthquake, hurricane or other disaster, officials here remain in lockstep with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which typically would be the lead federal agency. During disaster responses, Northcom typically operates hand in glove with the Army Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard, departments of Homeland Security, Transportation and Health and Human Services and other agencies supporting FEMA, Kenny said.

Similarly, Northcom’s theater security cooperation mission supports the State Department. This typically involves close coordination with HHS, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI, among others, Kenny said.

One notable exception is Northcom’s humanitarian assistance program, operated by its J9 interagency directorate. This effort, coordinated through the U.S. Embassies in Mexico and the Bahamas, involves building partner nation capacity in disaster response for Bahamian and Mexican first responders.

In this program, Northcom partners with U.S. agencies -- typically, FEMA and HHS -- to help the Bahamas and Mexico build its search-and-rescue and other disaster-response capabilities. Northcom recently tapped the U.S. Geological Survey, as well, which helped install a flood warning system in Northern Mexico.

Regardless of the mission, Kenny said, there’s a growing understanding at Northcom that partnerships provide the foundation for better, faster and more effective national responses. That recognition is being integrated into everything the command does, beginning with its initial planning efforts.

“We have really matured the process by which we build our plans with our partners,” Kenny said. “The effort has become much more collaborative in recent years. We invite our partners into the planning process very early to ensure the plan is shaped to fit into the overall federal response and our partners understand how we intend to support should the contingency happen. This effort has been very well received by our partners.”

This, Kenny said, strengthens the partnerships that underpin Northcom’s success. It also postures the command, he added, to live up to Jacoby’s vision: “With our trusted partners, we will defend North America by outpacing all threats, maintaining faith with our people and supporting them in their times of greatest need.” 

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