NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. - Sharing a stage Wednesday at a domestic preparedness workshop that emphasizes partnerships, the chief of the National Guard Bureau and the combatant commander of U.S. Northern Command emphasized a whole-of-government, whole-of-community approach to responding to natural or manmade disasters.
"No one person or agency can do this alone - it takes a team to meet the deservedly high expectations of our citizens," Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby, Jr., commander of both USNORTHCOM and North American Aerospace Defense Command, told a joint audience that included representatives from NORTHCOM, the National Guard Bureau, all military components, National Guard state leaders, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and numerous other organizations.
"One of the most valuable things about the Guard is our ability to establish and maintain strong partnerships," said Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau. "Partnerships are what make the National Guard what we are - whether it's our partnership with our parent services, ... our partnership with foreign nations in the State Partnership Program ... or our partnership with local authorities and civilians in communities across the country.
"One of the strongest and most vital partnerships the National Guard has is with [USNORTHCOM]," he said.
Adequate response to domestic disasters involves teamwork among multiple federal, state and local agencies in support of civil authorities, Jacoby said. Robust command, control, communication and collaboration also are essential, he said. The right equipment, training and preparation are crucial, he said, noting that he and other senior leaders live daily with the knowledge that any moment could bring news of a no-notice catastrophe requiring a coordinated, rapid response.
"This is especially true with respect to no-notice events such as a major earthquake. Response then is completely a function of preparedness," Jacoby said.
The 2011 fiscal year was a busy one for domestic operations and National Guard support to civil authorities, McKinley said.
There were an unusually high 14 natural disasters exceeding $1 billion in impact and the Guard's Civil Support Teams undertook 2,428 missions, he said. Hurricane Irene alone caused 56 deaths, saw extensive damage along the Eastern Seaboard and 27 states contributed to the National Guard's response.
"This is a time for partnership," McKinley said. "As we prepare for the upcoming fire and hurricane seasons, we need to engage with state and local agencies to verify their projected requirements; we need to continue readiness exercises, training with our local, state and federal response partners. This will further ensure effective interoperability and efficient integration in response to major natural disasters."
Meanwhile, the National Guard's capabilities continue to increase, he said. One example: Five of the new Homeland Response Forces now are validated, with the remaining five scheduled for certification by the end of the year.
The fiscally constrained environment means military responders must work smarter, Jacoby said.
"You know the Department of Defense is going to get a little bit smaller, right?" he said. "We also know the threats to the homeland - especially in Defense support to civil authorities - will not [get smaller]."
Fiscal constraints notwithstanding, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said there will be no hollow force on his watch, Jacoby said. "When it comes to domestic preparedness for Title 10 units, the National Guard and Reserve, avoiding a hollow force in the homeland especially means sustaining realistic training, properly scaled exercises for our big domestic missions as well as the necessary force structure to get the job done.
"In an era of austerity, teaming is more important than ever," he said. "NORAD and USNORTHCOM have no more important DoD teammates than the National Guard.
"On the civil support side, all of us in this room are about supporting communities, and that is where our Guard members live."
The National Guard's community base is why Jacoby is a big fan of the Dual-Status Commander Program, he said.
The dual-status commander concept allows joint task force commanders responding to a domestic disaster to simultaneously command federal troops and National Guard forces in multiple duty statuses. Jacoby called the concept possibly the most important initiative taken in the area of Defense support to civil authorities in a decade.
"It harnesses DoD support in a unified way and connects it intimately to the needs and power of our communities," Jacoby said. "I am very proud that, given our first opportunity during Hurricane Irene, the memorandum of agreement signatures from governors began to flow quickly as Irene approached and four governors - North Carolina, New York, Rhode Island and New Hampshire - requested designation of an actual dual-status commander for Hurricane Irene, which Secretary Panetta approved quickly."
At least one dual-status commander has been trained for every state, territory and the District of Columbia and many have more than one, Jacoby said.
"Dual-status commanders are the keynote for the unification of military efforts," McKinley said. "Dual-status commanders provide a much-needed organizational structure for management of large National Guard and federal force packages supporting state and local authorities."
Among areas for improvement, Jacoby cited funding for Guard troops responding to domestic disasters.
"As a commander who has relied on National Guard units in combat, I am not happy when the Guard has to spend training dollars for disaster relief as they so nobly did during Irene," he said.
The generals spoke at the 2012 Domestic Preparedness Workshop here co-hosted by NORTHCOM and NGB, Feb. 22 to 24.