New military command seeks civilian managers
The U.S. military’s new homeland defense command will need more than 100 new civilian managers skilled in dealing with weapons of mass destruction, the Defense Department recently told Congress.
The U.S. military's new homeland defense command will need more than 100 new civilian managers skilled in dealing with weapons of mass destruction and other related specialties, the Defense Department recently told Congress.
The U.S. Northern Command, scheduled to begin operations Oct. 1, originally planned to recruit civilian personnel from other agencies and military commands to help respond to a WMD attack and coordinate disaster recovery efforts.
In a message to lawmakers late last month, however, the Pentagon said the necessary skilled personnel may not be available in time from other commands to address what is intended to be one of the new outfit's primary missions-preparing for and responding to a chemical, biological or radiological attack on the United States.
"Civilian personnel in these skill areas may not be available from other combatant command headquarters' reductions in the near term, and USNORTHCOM [the Northern Command] cannot wait to fill these civilian billets," said a July 29 letter to congressional defense committees from the Pentagon office of legislative affairs. "In order to minimize adverse actions at other unified commands, a total of 118 new civilian billets are required to meet the planned full operational capability date of Oct. 1, 2003."
The Defense Department, in its fiscal 2003 budget request, has asked Congress for $41 million as part of the Defense Emergency Response Fund to pay for the new hires and to improve communications and training at the new command, to be located at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. So far the House has approved the request, while the Senate cut it by $14 million. The two bodies will iron out a final version of the defense bill when they return from the August recess.
The plea for a new team of civilians at the Northern Command underlines the priority given to the threat of chemical, biological and radiological weapons at what will be the first active-duty U.S. military command responsible for defense of the continental United States. Because the active-duty military is prohibited from operating inside U.S. borders, support to domestic authorities in the event of a catastrophic terrorist attack would rely heavily on the National Guard-the state militias-as well as Pentagon civilians with unique expertise in the field.
"The civilian workforce is vital to providing long-term technical skills and expertise in areas where the military cannot, such as consequence management, chemical/biological defense, law enforcement, weapons of mass destruction proliferation, disaster recovery and interagency coordination," according to the Pentagon's request.
The Northern Command, to be headed by Air Force Gen. Ralph Eberhart, is being designed with the WMD threat as a primary focus. A major benefit of the new command-which will also include the North American Air Defense Command but will not have combat forces permanently assigned to it-will be its ability to plan for and respond to catastrophes, particularly terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction, according to a senior Pentagon official.
"We will, in fact, have a command that has been planning on how to deal with that, knows what kind of resources and forces must be brought to bear on the problem, knows how to get them there and can handle the range of responses," Peter Verga, who directs the Pentagon's Homeland Security Task Force, said earlier this month.
For example, Northern Command will oversee 32 weapons of mass destruction civil support teams made up of the National Guard and located throughout the country. Eberhart told Congress in June that one of his first activities would be to determine if more teams are needed and whether they should be outfitted with additional skills and equipment.
Also set to fall under the Northern Command is the Joint Forces Headquarters Homeland Security, based in Norfolk, Va., and including 130 civilian and military personnel. Two subordinate units to the Joint Force Headquarters, the Joint Task Force Civil Support, based at Ft. Monroe, Va., and the military's counterdrug Joint Task Force-6, based at Ft. Bliss, Texas, will also be folded into the new homeland security command.
"The department opposes the Senate reduction for USNORTHCOM headquarters civilian manpower associated with the creation of the new command because USNORTHCOM has an immediate requirement for a cadre of highly experienced civilian personnel who possess certain skills and must be an exception," the Pentagon said in urging congressional action.