"Golden Guardian 2006" U.S. Army North Prepares for Disaster Response
by Scott R. Gourley
From ARMY Magazine, February 2007. Copyright 2007 by the Association of the U.S. Army. Limited reprint permission granted by AUSA.
It is a frightening possible scenario: a magnitude 7.9 earthquake striking the San Andreas Fault just south of San Francisco during the early morning hours. The consequences of such an event could quickly overwhelm local, state, and regional response assets. As the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) refines its assessments and projections, the Defense Coordinating Element (DCE) assigned to each regional FEMA office would be alerted. The DCOs and DCEs are part of U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) and served as an initial point of contact for military post-disaster support to civil authorities. In many cases, they can provide the necessary command-and-control structure.
Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) was established to provide command and control of DoD homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities. Although Forces Command (FORSCOM) was originally dual-hatted as the Army Service Component Command (ASCC) for USNORTHCOM, Army transformation planners identified the need for a dedicated ASCC element.
Previously, the United States was divided between Fifth Army in the West and First Army in the East. Within their regions, the two armies were responsible for training, readiness, mobilization of the Guard and Reserve and defense support to civil authorities. With Army transformation, however, First Army took over the training, readiness and mobilization missions for the entire United States. Fifth Army was drawn down and subsequently assigned to the new USNORTHCOM ASCC: U.S. Army North (Fifth Army).
With a personnel strength of just 511 (including 286 Department of the Army civilians), Army North's vision statement reads: "DoD's premier land-based homeland defense response force; a team of highly skilled professionals; interoperable and integrated with federal, state, tribal and local partners; relevant to America's security and civil support challenges of the 21st century." U.S. Army North achieved initial operations capability in September 2005 with full operations capability in October 2006. One month later the state of California conducted Exercise Golden Guardian, an emergency earthquake response drill, in which U.S. Army North tested its defense support to civil authorities.
While the California exercise featured events across the state that were monitored at the state's Emergency Operations Center in Sacramento, the Army element operated its parallel exercise nearby at the former McClellan Air Force Base.
"This is the first major exercise that we have participated in since we achieved full operational capability in October," explained Lt. Gen. Robert T. Clark, commanding general U.S. Army North. "We are now in the sustainment training mode. This exercise offers us an opportunity to do a few things. First, we can work the 'partnership business' with the senior emergency management officials in the state of California, the California National Guard, this FEMA region and other regional partners. Second, it gives us a chance to work an earthquake scenario. The earthquake scenario is a major scenario that we plan for and train against, as we anticipate the great natural disasters to which we may have to respond. Third, this is the first time we have actually deployed our Sentinel vehicle and our emergency response vehicle by strategic airlift. So, for the first time, we have really brought all of that together in this exercise."
"This is a state-led exercise," echoed Lt. Col. Paul Condon, chief of Exercise Division, G-7, U.S. Army North. "As part of our engagement plan we saw this as an opportunity to work with the state and our federal partners, should the need come up for our involvement. Several months back, when we saw this exercise being planned by the state, we started to get involved, attending their planning conferences, and then were invited to participate."
"We're also going through our own standard operating procedures," Condon continued. "We're a new organization, so we are writing and validating our entire kit bag of doctrine. We are, right now, the premier Army unit with this sole function. It's different from a warfighting mentality because we are here in response to a state or other agency's request for assistance with some capability that they don't possess. We're not in the lead. For the military that can be hard, but in this case you have to be cautious and cognizant of the other political things that are going on and the realities of operating within the continental United States."
"This is not just Army North," he added. "There are several participants here. Every time we go out and exercise, we not only want to build our relationship with the state or local agency but also internally within the USNORTHCOM umbrella of units."
Under the Golden Guardian scenario, the earthquake was monitored by Army North's operations center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Quickly realizing that the requested DoD assistance would likely exceed the command-and-control capabilities of the DCO/DCE, USNORTHCOM directed Army North to alert one of its two operational command posts (OCPs) for likely deployment to serve as the command-and-control element for a potential joint task force.
Each OCP includes approximately 66 personnel equipped with command-and-control capabilities optimized for the mandates of support to civil authorities. The November event targeted the deployment of OCP 1, commanded by Maj. Gen. Walter E. Zink II.
"I would say the OCP is Army North's engagement element for response," Gen. Zink said. "It can be tailored. The commanding general can send out a portion of it that we call a command assessment element (CAE) or we can send out the full OCP. Its purpose is almost always to provide support to the lead federal agency."
"Our mission includes the assessment of the needs of that agency in concert with the other players in the area of operations," Zink said. "We try to distill that information and provide it back to Army North and Northern Command. They then decide for our headquarters what role we will play in providing assistance to save lives, protect property, restore order and restore faith in government."
He added, "We partner with lots of people like the National Guard who have been doing a tremendous homeland defense mission since Lexington and Concord, but in terms of the Department of Defense, we believe we are the premier element to accomplish that mission. We have the ability to draw on a wide variety of resources. That's the benefit of having USNORTHCOM as our higher headquarters."
Among the unique exercise elements identified by Gen. Clark was the first-ever tactical air deployment of Army North's new emergency response vehicle, known as Sentinel. In fact, early OCP elements arrived by C-17 with two of their vehicles: a Suburban-based vehicle similar to those used by each of the 10 DCOs/DCEs and a brand new command-and-control vehicle called Sentinel.
Built on an International Truck chassis by Wolfcoach, Sentinel is optimized for the command-and-control mandates for civil support. Capabilities range from reach-back satellite video teleconferencing capabilities to a communications device that uses software to temporarily band normally incompatible radio frequencies. For example, aerial search-and-rescue assets on a military VHF frequency could be banded to talk with civilian police or fire responders operating on an 800 MHz frequency.
BELOW: The Sentinel allows the military to communicate with federal and state agencies, even though they use different communications frequencies, and a picture of the Suburban-based vehicle for C2 for the Operation Command Post personnel.
"One of the Army North training objectives was to physically deploy the OCP," observed Col. Condon. "We're using this as our first opportunity to air-load the Sentinel. That was a validation of our ability to deploy that vehicle in a short period of time using DoD assets."
"The real significance of these exercises is that Army North, really just a headquarters without assigned troops, gets the opportunity to deploy in its intended role, which is as a task force to be made joint with additional resources from other services," added Col. Kerry Larrabee, Chief of Staff for OCP 1. "This is a huge learning experience. Nobody here has a monopoly on how to do this right. We talked to the state yesterday and they admitted that they are learning just as much as we are, although a lot of them have a heck of a lot more experience and a lot more years in doing it. There's something new every time, and since they stood up the Department of Homeland Security, working together has been the focus. The more we can work together and learn more about how each other functions, the more responsive we will be if anything actually happens."
"This is the way training will go in the future, with every training event being a different scenario with a different focus," observed Gen. Clark. "Some will be homeland-defense-focused and others will feature a natural disaster. We have 15 different national planning scenarios that we train against, and that gives us plenty of substance for the development of our own training scenarios. Every year we will also participate in a couple of national-level exercises where NORTHCOM is our military lead. Those are exercises where the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security are major players."
"We are the Army's homeland defense force," he added. "We work under the operational control of USNORTHCOM and that's our number one priority. Our number two priority is civil support following a natural disaster. Of those two priorities, homeland defense is the most critical but probably not as likely as the civil support/disaster scenario, so we are prepared to do both. There are great similarities in the kinds of work we would have to do, but one is more likely than the other. When I say that we are the Army's homeland defense force, however, I want to be careful to distinguish between what we do and what the National Guard does. We are not the first response choice for an event that would occur in a state or in multiple states. In our system it's a bottom-up arrangement that runs through local responders, municipal responders, county responders and state responders-and that includes state National Guard. We come in during a natural disaster scenario when the governor asks the President for help and the state doesn't have certain capabilities to do the consequence management. That's when we come in as the Army piece of the DoD response, capable of doing joint operations and command and control of DoD forces."
Last Reviewed: May 18, 2012