FORT SHAFTER - The Department of the Army (DA) awarded U.S. Army-Pacific (USARPAC) the Best Force Protection Program Award for 2008, recently, during the opening ceremony of the annual Army Antiterrorism Conference in Buena Vista, Fla.

The award was a culmination of a three-year DA force protection assessment that evaluates each Army Command, Army Service Component Command, and Direct Reporting Unit. Out of the six commands assessed in 2008, USARPAC took top honors.

"Because we are good at what we do, Hawaii's homeland defense is strengthened by our ability to respond if called upon," said Michael Hebblethwaite, chief antiterrorism division, operational protection directorate, USARPAC.

Hebblethwaite received an individual honor for his improvements to the force protection program.

The DA assessment evaluates functional areas such as antiterrorism, intelligence, physical security, law enforcement, military working dogs, information operations, information assurance, continuity of operations, and emergency management planning.

Hebblethwaite said USARPAC was recognized for two best practices.

"The first was the antiterrorism program, which tracks individual deployment from notification to return to home station," said Hebblethwaite. "That includes 24-hour tracking capability ... ensuring predeployment (and) antiterrorism-related training is complete.

"The second best practice," he added, "was the information assurance program that implemented a backup system for the notification and acknowledgement of information assurance vulnerability messages."

Hebblethwaite credits his noncommissioned officers (NCOs) for making the antiterrorism program a success.

"Three NCOs who have filled the position here over the past five years have really stepped up and performed as action officers," Hebblethwaite said.

He pointed to high-profile exercises such as Balikatan in the Philippines, Cobra Gold in Thailand, Pacific-wide Army conferences, and the United Nations assistance mission, which assisted the National Army of Indonesia in getting to Lebanon as United Nations peacekeepers.

The NCOs were responsible for developing and executing antiterrorism and force protection plans as the Combined Joint Task Force or Army force antiterrorism officers.

Hebblethwaite said he's proud of the way the USARPAC force protection program has progressed. While the award for the best force protection program is gratifying, the ability to look to the future and impact subordinate units is truly satisfying for Hebblethwaite.

"We've long recognized that we did not have the capabilities to properly assess subordinates, and even if we did, they did not have antiterrorism plans or policies to assess," said Hebblethwaite.

Although the team prepared for fiscal year 2010, it was able to tackle solutions and funding to hire an assessment team a year early. That assessment team is now working with unit antiterrorism officers to develop their plans and policies.

"We're able to do more than just provide another assessment of what we already know is not working. We help them fix it," he added.