Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Homeland Task Force To Be Ready By Fall

Homeland Task Force To Be Ready By Fall

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RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The Pentagon will have its first specially trained task force designed to rapidly respond to a catastrophic attack against the United States ready by this fall, a top military commander said last week.

Gen. Victor “Gene” Renuart, chief of the U.S. Northern Command, said the brigade-sized unit will consist of military personnel who are trained to help local authorities respond to a chemical, biological or nuclear incident. The unit will have between 4,000 and 4,500 people and come from various bases and specialties across the country. When disaster strikes, those dedicated to the task force will come together to form the unit.

“Today we pull that together very quickly to respond,” Renuart said Thursday. “This unit will be trained to react in a very short period of time.”

Renuart, the top commander in charge of defending the homeland, is traveling through Europe this month to exchange information with NATO leaders on how military forces can fight homeland terrorism and respond to national disasters.

U.S. Northern Command, called NORTHCOM for short, was created in 2002 to oversee the Pentagon’s homeland defense efforts and support civil authorities. The creation of the rapid-response team comes after congressional leaders questioned heavily the military’s ability to react to a major attack against the United States.

The new NORTHCOM unit will include people with medical, logistics and airlift backgrounds. It also will have small decontamination teams to help local first responders on the scene of an attack.

The task force will not be stationed at one base but come from units across the country, Renuart said. But a key piece of the initiative is that those chosen for the unit will train together and know each other, “so they’re not exchanging business cards at a disaster,” Renuart said.

Along with having a unit to respond to a catastrophic attack or disaster, Renuart said he would like to see the command expand its use of unmanned aerial vehicles over the continental United States. He called the remotely controlled aircraft a “critical enabler” that has proved its worth by helping firefighters battle wildfires and border patrol agents protect the northern and southern borders. The Air Force used the Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft during the southern California wildfires last fall.

“That’s, I think, a growth area for us. It provides us with some really unique capability, and we’ll continue to work with partners to develop it,” he said.

During his meetings with NATO leaders this month, Renuart said he plans to share lessons learned from the U.S. military’s response to Hurricane Katrina and its efforts to prevent a terrorist attack on American soil.

“Each country approaches the terrorist threat in a different fashion,” said Renuart, a former 52nd Fighter Wing commander at Spangdahlem Air Base.

“Each country places a different emphasis on use of [the] military to respond when disaster strikes. So for us, it is learning how they view and how they approach it … but also sharing the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve created a much more improved, integrated process to plan for and then execute in the response to whatever the event may be — all hazards, threats.”

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