Guard-Staffed WMD Civil Support Teams Slated for Increase
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 2004 The Defense Department plans to stand up more National Guard-staffed civil support teams trained to assist local authorities in the event of a weapons of mass destruction attack on the American homeland, a senior DoD official said Jan. 16.
There are currently 32 WMD civil support teams with the skills and equipment to detect chemical, biological, nuclear and explosive agents in support of emergency first responders in event of an attack, noted Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense.
McHale said Congress recently approved $88 million to field 11 more teams, as part of ongoing evaluations of the role of the Guard in homeland defense. DoD will field a total of 55 WMD civil support teams, he continued, each of which comprises 22 Army and Air National Guard members.
U.S. officials believe terrorist organizations like al Qaeda could very well attempt to use WMDs to attack the American populace, key infrastructure or defense industries, McHale pointed out. He said he envisions civilian law enforcement officials would work closely with the National Guard in the event of an attack threat on U.S. defense industry "to provide a physical layer of protection to that defense industrial base or to that plant in order to ensure its continuing operation."
In a worst-case scenario, McHale noted, a presidential order issued through the secretary of defense could deploy soldiers or Marines if civilian law enforcement agencies lacked the means to protect defense industries. But he emphasized that the chances of such a scenario actually occurring are "extremely remote."
The 1878 Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the active duty military from conducting domestic law enforcement operations, McHale explained. However, since the Guard comes under the control of the state governors, he said it has more leeway to assist law enforcement officials during an attack or other emergency.
McHale said if active duty troops are called in to protect the homeland, they wouldn't be performing law enforcement duties. Those active troops, he emphasized, would be involved "in a domestic warfighting mission to defeat a terrorist attack."
The National Guard, McHale asserted, has earned high marks following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and the ensuing global war against terrorism. "The performance of the National Guard in anticipating and training for homeland defense missions has been extraordinary," he said.
McHale pointed out that homeland defense is a natural fit for the Guard. "The National Guard was created to protect us here at home (and later) became our strategic reserve for warfighting overseas," explained McHale, a Marine Reserve colonel who volunteered for active duty during the 1991 Gulf War. "And now we're looping back to some of those earlier missions in terms of domestic protection."
And the Guard - like the active duty military -- is undergoing transformation to better meet the challenges of the 21st century. Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, has begun a "historic" transformation effort as part of that effort, McHale said.
"While remaining fully committed to the warfighting functions of the National Guard, Lt. Gen. Blum has recognized that some of the Guard's most important contributions to the nation will be in homeland defense," McHale explained.
Blum has begun a review of the National Guard's force structure, he noted, "to identify capabilities that may be deployed both overseas and at home, particularly with regard to WMD response.
"I think that kind of transformation effort will guarantee the Guard's relevance and importance to the nation for the next 50 years," McHale concluded.