The Defense Point Man for Homeland Security
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 25, 2002 If trouble lies ahead, Pete Verga is a good guy to have around.
From 26 months in Vietnam during the war to handling precise negotiations with the Chinese over the return of the Navy P-3 Orion last year, Verga has played a big role in many of the issues confronting the United States.
He's at it again as the special assistant to the secretary of defense for homeland security. Verga directs the Defense Homeland Security Task Force and is responsible for conducting and managing studies to focus and upgrade the department's preparation for, and response to, acts of terror.
Homeland security is a national-level effort undertaken throughout the U.S. government to ensure that Americans are secure principally from acts of terrorism, Verga said.
The Defense Department looks at homeland security in three areas. The first, he said, is homeland defense. "This is application of DoD resources under extraordinary circumstances to counter terrorist threats within the United States," he said. "The best example of that is the combat air patrols we put up over the United States after Sept. 11."
The second area is civil support. This is the "traditional" role the military has in supporting other agencies. The department provides capabilities that those agencies do not have, usually in emergencies such as fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and so forth, Verga said.
The third part of homeland security is emergency preparedness. This is the support DoD provides on a temporary basis usually not an emergency like the Olympics or the annual wildfire season. The department also provides training for civilian communities so they can build up their capabilities.
Emergency preparedness also refers to being prepared for those circumstances in which the department might be called upon to provide support that very quickly exceeds civilian capacity.
"An example of that would be a weapon of mass destruction that detonates in a U.S. city," Verga said. "DoD likely could be called on to take the lead on a temporary basis, then when civil authorities are ready, DoD would revert to traditional civil support functions."
Verga said the biggest challenge has been the simultaneous tasks "setting up an organization while at same time working with Gov. (Tom) Ridge's office to help work out a national strategy."
Verga, a career Army officer who retired in 1994, was deputy undersecretary of defense for policy support before taking his current position. In his previous job, Verga helped spearhead DoD's successful Year 2000 effort and helped devise the department's industrial security policy. When a Chinese fighter rammed a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion, Verga helped negotiate the return of the plane. He is a career civilian member of the Senior Executive Service.
"You look for challenges and opportunities to make a contribution," he said. "I think everything I've done in the last couple of years, I've been able to do that, which is very rewarding."