Tuesday, June 3, 2008

NORTHCOM The Martial Law Managers

NORTHCOM The Martial Law Managers

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Northern Command will stand up new units to respond to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive — CBRNE — attacks.

Currently, if such an attack proved more than local emergency crews could handle, governors could call in National Guard Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams.

And if more help were needed, one of 17 regional Guard CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Packages would come in.

Beginning in October, a federal military response will be available for the worst disasters: the CBRNE Consequence Management Response Force, or CCMRF (pronounced “sea-smurf”).

Three CCMRFs, each with about 4,500 troops from all branches, are in the making.

Each CCMRF will tap units that provide the capabilities most often called for in a CBRNE response, including airlift, medical, logistics and units specializing in biological or radiological identification and cleanup. Army Lt. Col. Rob Cunniff, head of NorthCom’s Future Operations, said CCMRFs are intended to provide “a flexible force” that can provide its various capabilities piecemeal or as a total force.

“This is a no-fail mission,” Cunniff said.

“There is high expectation in the public eye that if something happens, there needs to be a [Defense Department] response, and it needs to be quick.”

The forces will be made up of whatever units NorthCom identifies as having the capabilities needed to respond to CBRNE incidents. NorthCom “has no preference based on service or component,” Cunniff said.

That means service members interested in the homeland CBRNE mission can’t volunteer for CCMRF duty, but they can increase their likelihood of participation by joining a unit with CBRNE focus, such as the Air Force’s radiological assessment teams.

Cunniff did say that CCMRFs 2 and 3 will be composed mostly of Guard units.

And that could create some slight bureaucratic entanglement: If, for instance, a Texas Guardsman was part of an initial response to a chemical weapon attack in Dallas, he could be redirected if he also were part of a CCMRF called in later on the same attack.

He might still be doing the same task but be switched to federal status.

Training begins

Some units already tagged for CCMRF 1 — the team expected to be ready by October — trained as part of National Level Exercise 2-08, which involved a variety of local, state and federal disaster response agencies.

NorthCom officials were unable to provide a list of those units by press time.

The training was successful in terms of proving the units’ capabilities, Cunniff said, and was an early step toward the kind of CCMRF training NorthCom leadership envisions.

That training will start with individuals perfecting their “basic warrior skills,” such as wearing and maintaining protective gear, Cunniff said.

As a whole, CCMRF units will ideally take part in “an overarching combat training center-like experience where the entire capability would deploy, would be employed, would be in support of a primary agency, and would be doing this all on the ground,” he said.

CCMRF 2 is expected to be fully operational by the start of fiscal 2010, with CCMRF 3 ready by the start of fiscal 2011.

“We envision that [the CCMRFs] could be regionally based,” Cunniff said, perhaps one on each coast and one in the middle.

Once that’s determined, Cunniff said, NorthCom will have only one more decision to make: They’d like a better name for the CCMRFs.

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