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Fla. senior leader summit highlights disaster cooperation

By 1st Lt. Tahisha Coleman | Florida National Guard | Feb. 28, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Florida – The Florida National Guard hosted its annual Senior Leader Summit on Monday, drawing participation not only from leadership within the state but from top brass in the active duty Army and Air Force as well.

The theme for this year’s summit was “Enhancing Operations through Preparation and Engagement,” and focused on topics including strategic planning and disaster response.

Keynote speakers included Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, commanding general of United States Army North – Fifth United States Army; Lt. Gen. R. Scott Williams, commander, Air Forces Northern and Continental United States North American Aerospace Defense Command Region; and Brig. Gen. Wendul G. Hagler II, vice director of J-3/7 at the National Guard Bureau.

The senior leaders'remarks focused on the 2017 hurricane season, when Florida Guard members responded to four major named storms – Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and Tropical Storm Nate. The response operations during Hurricane Irma were widely noted as historic, involving a total force effort of a magnitude never before seen, incorporating National Guard, reserve and active duty forces.

The discussions included lessons learned, as well as the benefits of interagency operations and how working together will strengthen future disaster response operations in support of Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA).

“We gained insight from these leaders on the unique challenges their organizations faced during the 2017 hurricane season, and how they adapted processes to meet rapidly changing demands,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Calhoun, the adjutant general of Florida.

While it was agreed that successful integration is key to effective operations, the discussions highlighted certain challenges as well. Buchanan noted that the active component is conscious of the fact that they are a supporting element to DSCA operations, and that they must walk a fine line between leaning forward and waiting to be called upon.

“We strive for unity of effort, and finding the right balance between anticipation and patience,” he said.

According to Williams, one of the most important components of DSCA response efforts is building relationships with partner agencies prior to disaster striking, which was particularly relevant during the 2017 hurricane season.

“We established a temporary flight restriction to eliminate unnecessary air traffic within hours during hurricane relief efforts,” he said. “That sort of rapid coordination wouldn’t have been possible without our relationships with the FAA and several other partners.” 

Williams said the summit marked an opportunity to grow this camaraderie and cooperation between services and components, and to ensure that future operations are seamless and successful.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about safeguarding American lives and minimizing suffering,” said Williams.