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U.S. Northern Command to Celebrate Fourth Birthday

By Chief Petty Officer Susan Hammond, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo., Sept. 29, 2006 – U.S. Northern Command, which works to deal with threats to the U.S. homeland, celebrates its fourth birthday Oct. 2.

NORTHCOM became operational Oct. 1, 2002, although the Defense Department began reviewing the need for a homeland defense combatant command within weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. At that time, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the heads of the military services signed a common letter stating that it was time to define what was needed for homeland defense and homeland security. In January 2002, the secretary of defense announced that a new command would be established; nine months later, NORTHCOM began operations at Peterson Air Force Base.

“(The command) had about 150 personnel at the stand-up,” said Dr. Thomas Fuller, historian for NORTHCOM and the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The two commands share headquarters facilities and many command components.

“Today we have over 1,200 personnel,” Fuller said. “The two-element mission remains the same.”

NORTHCOM’s mission is to conduct operations to deter, prevent and defeat threats and aggression aimed at the United States and, when necessary, to provide defense support of civil authorities.

“This is the first time the U.S. military has had a homeland defense commander since President George Washington,” said Michael B. Perini, director of public affairs for NORAD and NORTHCOM.

“In these four years, we’ve become a very recognizable group of dedicated men and women whose expertise is sought after,” Perini said. “Our exercise and training program is a benchmark for others. We have a new state-of-the art command center that allows us to communicate with 150 other centers and is a template for other organizations to emulate.

"We are getting a reputation for being a leader in c2 -- communication and coordination -- which is critically important for an organization like ours."

Civil service employees and uniformed members representing all service branches work at NORTHCOM’s headquarters. “Everybody has a role in the homeland defense mission by staying informed, being watchful and not being apathetic,” Perini said. “Terrorists continue to plan, and so U.S. NORTHCOM needs to continue to work in safeguarding our nation around the clock. We are entrusted with protecting Americans where they live and work.”

When the command began operations, it reached full operational capability inside a year and has continued to improve, Fuller said.

“Over the years we’ve built relationships with the multitude of interagency organizations that we have to interact with, most notably the Department of Homeland Security and all its sub-components like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Transportation Security Administration,” Fuller said.

Both elements of the NORTHCOM mission have been tested in the four short years of its existence. NORTHCOM supports interagency efforts to deter and defeat possible threats during “national security special events,” such as the G8 Summit, the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, United Nations meetings, the funeral of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, presidential inaugurations and state of the union addresses, as well as the Super Bowl.

This summer, NORTHCOM immediately detected missiles launched by North Korea and determined they posed no threat to the United States or its territories. When arrests were made in the United Kingdom of suspects in an alleged plot to blow up airliners bound for the United States, the command coordinated with Homeland Security, TSA and other federal agencies to ensure safe travel on aircraft.

In its role of defense support of civil authorities, NORTHCOM supported firefighting efforts in Washington this summer and in California in 2003, as well as FEMA’s efforts to provide relief in Florida to those impacted by Hurricane Charley in 2004.

The command became the most visible to the public, however, in September 2005, when NORTHCOM supported the Homeland Security Department, FEMA and other federal agencies in disaster relief efforts in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. More than 21,400 active-duty servicemembers supported effort along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“I believe we have some of our nation's best experts working homeland defense 24-7-365,” Perini said, “all services, active duty, Guard and reserve, civilian and contractors, who treat their responsibilities to keep the nation secure as a sacred honor.”

(Navy Chief Petty Officer Susan Hammond is assigned to U.S. Northern Command Public Affairs.)

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