Everything DoD Does Is to Protect American Way of Life
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 29, 2002 "Everything the Department of Defense does is aimed at homeland security," said Peter F. Verga, DoD's special assistant for homeland security.
"What we're doing in Afghanistan and around the world to win the war on terrorism is specifically to provide security for the people of the United States," said Verga, who directs DoD's Homeland Security Task Force. His responsibilities include conducting and managing complex studies and analyses to establish policies and procedures to focus and upgrade DoD's preparation for, and response to, acts of terror.
"DoD's biggest and best contribution to homeland security is to win the war on terrorism," said Verga, a Vietnam veteran with four Bronze Star Medals, 21 Air Medals and the Purple Heart. "In addition to fighting this war on terrorism, we support other federal agencies under emergency circumstances to help them do their homeland security jobs better."
For example, he said, DoD sent about 1,600 guardsmen to help secure the borders with Canada and Mexico based on requests from the Treasury and Justice departments. The guardsmen augment the Border Patrol and Immigration and Naturalization Service personnel.
"This isn't DoD's primary mission; however, it contributes greatly to the war on terrorism," Verga said. Helping at border crossings and airports deviates from the things the National Guard normally assist with, such as forest fires, floods, hurricanes and other kinds of national disasters, he noted.
He said about 100,000 members of the reserve components are on active duty to help DoD meet its commitments to other agencies involved in homeland security. Agencies receiving DoD support include the Office of Homeland Security, Transportation Department, Federal Aviation Administration, and the newly stood-up Transportation Security Administration. The reserve components also are in the thick of force protection on DoD installations around the world, he said.
Before tackling jobs on the borders or at airports, guardsmen must go through training with the agencies they're going to be supporting, Verga explained. For example, guardsmen who are slated to work with the border patrol learn how to use a variety of equipment and detection methods, operations and safety procedures, systems familiarization, mission and duties such as conducting inspections, security procedures, traffic management and pedestrian management.
Those scheduled to assist the FAA at airports across the country receive training in legal and operations methods, efficient screening, safe handling of deadly and dangerous items, incident management, conflict resolution, screening techniques at armories, and on-the-job training at airports.
Such civil support for other federal agencies is usually done on a temporary and emergency basis for a limited period of time. DoD is usually reimbursed its expenses by the other agencies, Verga noted.
In this case, he continued, the guardsmen are expected to remain on active duty for about six months, which gives the agencies ample time to hire and train enough personnel to handle the job.
In most cases, guardsmen volunteer to work with the civilian agencies. "For example, they're helping with traffic control at border-crossing checkpoints and helping to inspect trucks as they come across the border," Verga noted. "They're making the process of getting people through the border run much quicker."
A little extra help from guardsmen can make a big difference inhow rapidly people get through the borders. States with international borders each have a task force responsible for ensuring soldiers show up on time, are dressed properly and use the normal reporting and discipline issues.
"The actual tasks and directions come from each of the linked federal agencies," Verga said. "Customs Service officials will decide what functions guardsmen will perform. They will be the ones who say, 'I want you to inspect that particular truck or please help us in this particular location.'"
If guardsmen discover something, or something goes awry, they must alert Customs Service or Immigration and Naturalization Serive agents, according to memorandums of agreement signed by the Treasury, Justice and Defense departments.
"In all cases, the National Guard soldiers will be working with a member of the agency that's responsible for handling a particular situation and enforcing the agency's rules and regulations," Verga noted. "The guardsmen are providing additional eyes, ears and manpower to help other agencies' personnel do their jobs. The ultimate responsibility remains with those agencies."
Consequently, officials decided that detailing guardsmen to the lead agencies was the best way to provide temporary and emergency support to those agencies. They also decided that guardsmen would work under the rules of the agency they're working with.
If a catastrophic event should occur, military medical facilities would play a major role as part of the National Disaster Medical System, Verga noted. The system includes the Public Health Service, Veterans Affairs medical centers and several private and public hospitals around the country.
"Military medical facilities are mobilized in cases of need for large-scale medical support, such as a disaster or a weapon of mass destruction -- chemical or biological weapons -- attack," he said. "We also have several medical teams that would be deployed from various locations if a local community's medical facilities are overwhelmed."
Verga recalled President Bush's recent creation of the Homeland Security Advisory System. The system, he said, is intended to provide a comprehensive, effective means to disseminate information regarding the risk of terrorist attacks to federal, state and local authorities and to the American people.
The system, he continued, provides a national framework for the many federal alert systems that are tailored to different sectors of society, such as transportation, defense, agriculture and weather.
It's just one recent initiative in a series that will improve coordination and communication among all levels of government and the American public in the fight against terrorism, Verga concluded.