Sandy Response Reaffirms Value of Dual-status Commanders
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo., Jan. 11, 2013 The response to Superstorm Sandy reaffirmed the value of a new command structure that Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., the U.S. Northern Command commander, calls one of the most important initiatives to improve defense support of civilian authorities in more than a decade.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, left, talks with Army Brig. Gen. Michael Swezey, the designated dual-status commander for the joint task force that responded to the Hurricane Sandy disaster in New York, while visiting relief sites manned by active- and reserve-component forces under Swezey’s command operating in Breezy Point, N.Y., Nov. 11, 2012. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Ferdinand Detres
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
As Sandy was whirling its way toward the U.S. coastline in late October, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta responded to requests by several state governors in its anticipated path by appointing dual-status commanders in New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Maryland and Rhode Island.
The appointments gave these National Guard officers the authority to command both federal and state National Guard forces if they would serve as joint task force commanders during a Sandy response.
The dual-status commander concept represents a dramatic shift from past practices that dictated two distinct chains of command for forces responding to domestic disasters. Federal troops who operated under “Title 10” authority reported to one commander, and National Guard members serving under “Title 32,” or state active duty authority, to another.
Hurricane Katrina underscored the problems of those parallel tracks when it pounded the Gulf Coast in 2005. As some 70,000 military poured into the region to assist, their efforts were hampered because no single joint task force commander was calling the shots. This caused duplicated efforts, delays, and in some cases, gaps in the support provided.
Navy Adm. James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, created the concept while he served as Northcom commander, and has called it one of his proudest accomplishments.
Jacoby has embraced the concept as well. “It harnesses DOD support in a unified way and connects it intimately to the needs and power of our communities,” he told participants a domestic preparedness workshop last year.
The dual-status commander typically is a National Guard general officer who has authority over both Title 10 and Title 32/state active-duty troops. With a Title 10 deputy commander and staff members assigned to provide assistance, dual-status commanders report through both chains while supporting their respective state governors.
The concept made sense on paper, and was tested in several planned venues ranging from political conventions to a G8 Summit to a Boy Scout Jamboree, officials here said. The Defense Departmrnt had geared up to apply it last year during the Hurricane Irene response, but ended up not needing to, because no federal troops were needed.
Superstorm Sandy provided the first unplanned, no-notice implementation of the dual-status construct.
In the days before the storm made landfall, Northcom deployed its designated Title 10 deputy commanders, each accompanied by two planners, to embed with the dual-status commander in their designated state. Northcom also dispatched a team of experts in logistics, operations, law, public affairs and other disciplines to Harrisburg, Pa., ready to fan out as needed to provide specialized support.
It was a mission that Air Force Col. Paula Gregory and Army Col. Thomas Salo, along with other Northcom staff who had volunteered for the additional duty, had long prepared for. They had communicated with and made visits to their assigned states -- New York for Gregory and New Jersey for Salo -- and became familiar members of the state emergency response teams.
“We were past the ‘get-to-know-you’ stage,” Gregory said. “We were already at the ‘How do we get together and start working?’ stage.”
So when Army Brig. Gen. James Grant was activated as the joint task force commander for New Jersey, and Army Brig. Gen. Michael Swezey for New York, the commanders and their staffs knew they could rely on their Title 10 deputies to bring valued expertise to the table. This included a solid grounding in how to identify and tap into federal capabilities, but also understood the distinct lines between the type of assistance federal forces can provide and what the law prohibits, Salo said.
This understanding paid off, as Guardsman and active forces with a long history of working together under a single command in combat did so for the first time for an unplanned event in the United States, he said.
Salo said he was impressed at how easily active-duty soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., were able to meld with their Guard counterparts when they deployed to New Jersey to provide fuel support for civilian first responders. “They worked right alongside the National Guard guys in an integrated structure that started at the top and continued through the lower levels,” he said.
In New York, active-duty soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, as well as Army reservists, joined the New York National Guard in pumping water out of key infrastructure sites. “Everything was so seamless. It really was a total force, blended together to form a composite team,” Gregory said.
Activating dual-status commanders to coordinate active-duty, National Guard and reserve force recovery efforts improved the response dramatically, Gregory said. “Having that one person able to oversee both efforts that were happening within their states brought a lot of synergy into the overall effort and better support to the citizens that needed the help,” she said.
Gregory and Salo said they expect the dual-status commander concept to be fine-tuned as it’s applied to more response operations. “It’s been a great learning experience. A lot of lessons will come out of this about how you employ Title 10 [forces], how you use a dual-status command-led structure and response to large and complex catastrophes,” Salo said.
More needs to be done to balance a disaster response system designed to pull the resources it needs with supporting organizations anxious to push assistance, he said. And more education is needed across all ranks of the military, particularly among federal forces, to increase awareness about defense support of civil authorities, Gregory said.
“But the key thing we both agree on is, it works,” Salo said.
Salo called his experience as a Title 10 deputy commander a career highlight. After multiple overseas deployments during his 25 years of service, he said it was gratifying to be able to help his fellow Americans.
“This was a chance to do something at home, and it paid off in spades for me personally to be able to do that,” he said.