Guard, Northcom Relationship So Good It’s Boring, Renuart Says
By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
Special to American Forces Press Service
BALTIMORE, Mar. 4, 2009 The commander of U.S. Northern Command said he got one question repeatedly during recent rounds at the U.S. Capitol.
Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart, commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, tells attendees at the National Guard's 2009 Domestic Operations Workshop in Baltimore on March 4, 2009, that Northcom and the National Guard are working together to protect and assist Americans. Air Force Maj. Gen. William H. Etter, director of domestic operations for the National Guard Bureau, is at left. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“Almost at every stop that I made, members of Congress asked me, ‘So, how’s your relationship with the National Guard?’” Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart said. “The good news in this is it’s getting, actually, pretty boring.”
Renuart, who also commands North American Aerospace Defense Command from headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., spoke at the National Guard’s 2009 Domestic Operations Workshop here today.
“We work in routine collaboration so much … that we just get the job done,” the general said of the relationship between Northcom and the National Guard. “It’s boring, because we’re working so well together.”
The National Guard is the nation’s oldest military force, its largest community-based force, and its first military responder. Northcom’s mission includes safeguarding the homeland.
Speaking on the 220th anniversary of the day the U.S. Constitution went into effect, Renuart said Americans don’t care what uniform anyone is wearing -- they want teamwork from the people who protect them and respond to natural and manmade crises.
“We’ve built a collaborative effort between Northcom and the National Guard Bureau that I’m proud to say is kind of boring,” Renuart said. “We won’t always be able to approach a problem the same way, but we will always approach a problem together.”
About 10 percent of Northcom’s full-time positions are filled by reserve-component servicemembers, with the majority in the Guard. “That’s the highest percentage of any of the combatant commands,” he said, and includes eight of his 16 flag officers, including Northcom’s deputy commander, Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, who previously was chief of the National Guard Bureau.
“I would like to add another 100-plus full-time National Guard positions in my headquarters,” Renuart said.
Renuart stressed a theme common to leaders since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005: collaboration among different federal, state and local agencies, and especially within the military.
“It requires us to have this community of interest -- a mega-community of sorts -- that allows us to pull together our local, our state, our federal, military, civilian, active and reserve-component experts to be able to provide unity of effort to ensure that your families, my families are protected,” Renuart said.
The National Guard’s Domestic Operations Workshop, which concludes March 6, brings together Guard leaders from across the United States and representatives from other agencies to discuss crisis response, policy, funding, capabilities, civil support, communications and numerous other issues.
“The combined team of teams, which is your joint state force headquarters, has been really successful across the country in preventing property loss, saving lives and minimizing human suffering,” Renuart said.
The impact of hurricanes, wildfires and ice storms has been lessened by the teamwork led by state joint force headquarters, he noted.
“We’ve seen some very significant events this year,” he said, referring to hurricanes Gustav and Ike and other 2008 challenges. Planning, coordination and teamwork have resulted in successful responses to crises, he said.
“It’s not luck,” the general said. “It’s the collective ‘we’ -- it’s not ‘me,’ it’s not ‘you,’ it’s all of us. … Combined planning, combined execution, integrated planning -- all of that is … where we want to continue to go.
“We’re finding new and better ways to continue to integrate,” he continued. “No arguments out there about who’s in charge, no arguments about what needs to be done. But the muscle to get that done doesn’t always just come from one source. ”
Key national players in response to major events include the National Guard, Northcom and other military components, and civil responders such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said.
“You really don’t want to hand out a business card at the scene of a disaster,” Renuart said. “While it has become almost trite, it is true: That’s not the place where you figure out how we work together, and the good news is our federal partners all understand that.”
Among further improvements Renuart suggested is integrating situational awareness tools used by different agencies so everyone has the best information and the same picture.
Among other practical aspects of the relationship between Northcom and the National Guard Bureau, the combatant command provides training for Guard personnel such as the Joint Task Force Commanders Course, and Northcom and the National Guard participate in national-level joint exercises.
“The people of our country don’t care who’s there,” Renuart said. “We want to make sure that the integration of our efforts doesn’t show a seam, but rather shows seamless support.”
Northcom and the National Guard Bureau are working together, Renuart said, and he noted the elevation last year of the office of chief of the National Guard Bureau to a four-star position with the appointment of Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley.
“We both understand that our two organizations have to be totally integrated, totally collaborative, totally transparent,” Renuart said.
“In the end,” he added, “the people of our country want to have the best capability possible to respond to them when they’re in need. We’ve got to team together to make sure that the citizens of our nation are protected, defended and cared for when disaster strikes.”
(Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves at the National Guard Bureau.)