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Homeland Defense Chief Speaks of New Responsibilities

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 19, 2003 – The symbolism couldn't be better: The new Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense is located in the section of the Pentagon destroyed in the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

Paul McHale, the first assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, said it is appropriate that "we who work here are reminded every day that brave men and women died in close proximity to where we work now, and our obligation is to ensure it doesn't happen again."

A former congressman from Pennsylvania, McHale supervises all DoD homeland defense activities. The main focus is oversight of the new U.S. Northern Command, which is responsible for North America and the Caribbean. He also supervises homeland defense activities involving the U.S. Pacific, Transportation and Strategic commands.

"We have supervisory responsibility with regard to the services, most notably in their force protection anti-terrorism activities," he said during an interview. "Basically, if DoD is doing it and it relates to homeland defense, it's subject to the supervision of the new office."

McHale stressed U.S. Northern Command's defense mission. "It's not just consequence management," he said. "(The command) is involved very directly in the deterrence, prevention and defeat of an enemy attack."

McHale said the Congress, the president and the defense secretary fully expect Northern Command to defeat enemy attacks, "not merely respond in the event an enemy attack is tactically successful."

While the focus of the U.S. military must be to defeat hostile nation- states, the "fundamental lesson of Sept. 11 is we now must redesign our military forces to effectively defeat terrorist threats, including threats of weapons of mass destruction," he said. "It is that obligation which is paramount for NORTHCOM."

According to McHale, the Defense Department will closely coordinate homeland defense issues with the new Department of Homeland Security. McHale, a Marine reservist who was called up for the Persian Gulf War, said two categories of emergencies may require military support to a civilian agency. The first is when the military possesses a unique capability. A terrorist attack with weapons of mass destruction is an example of this, he said.

The second is if a catastrophe overwhelms civilian agencies. "DoD is prepared to respond if so ordered by president," McHale said. He noted the new emphasis on homeland security by local and state governments and the improving training and equipment local emergency responders have received may mean less likelihood of service members being used in this situation.

He stressed that in the United States, the military is almost always in a supporting role. "DoD will operate in support of a lead federal agency, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security," he said. "We would provide additional expertise and manpower, if directed by the president or secretary of defense."

McHale said service secretaries will remain responsible for force protection of stateside bases for the time being. He said that an alternative option would be to assign responsibility to Northern Command. "That is still under discussion," he said.

His office will also take over as executive agent for civil support for DoD. Army Secretary Thomas White currently holds the position. McHale said he anticipates that the current special assistant for military support will come to the new Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civil Support.

Since coming on board after his Senate confirmation in February, McHale has been on the road meeting with various homeland defense leaders within the department. He said the people he has met, the efforts he has seen and the careful thought that is going into the activity encourage him. And when he returns, he goes into a part of the Pentagon that was once smoking, smoldering wreckage.

"I think what it says to our enemies is, if you attack, we will defeat you; if, in the short term, your attack is successful, we will come back and we'll come back stronger," he said. "That message of determination and recommitment goes to the heart of the homeland defense mission."

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