By David VergunOctober 3, 2016
WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- While Soldiers every day are defending allies around the world, some are protecting Americans right here in the homeland. Col. Alfredo Najera is one of them and, for him, protecting Americans from harm is one of the most fulfilling assignments he's ever had.
The colonel is just one of 10 defense coordinating officers, or DCOs, for U.S. Army North. His area, Region IX, covers California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, Guam and the Mariana Islands, which makes him the Department of Defense's single point of contact for any civil support required in four States, a territory, and a commonwealth.
His responsibility is to coordinate civil support in response to high-level incidents that require DOD support above the state level, such as a natural or man-made disasters. A governor may call on the National Guard to respond to wildfires, for instance.
"But once the state runs out of assets, they come to DOD for support," Najera said.
Najera knows better than anyone that disasters can happen anywhere, at any time. This September, National Preparedness Month, Najera recommends that Soldiers and their families visit www.ready.gov.
The site explains what people can do in almost any emergency, from hurricanes to tornadoes to floods to the Zika Virus.
"Emergencies can happen when you least expect them to happen so it's better to be prepared," he said.
SOME CLOSE CALLS
Thus far, Najera has not had to provide DOD assistance in his region, but he knows of other DCOs elsewhere in the country who have, such as in response to the flooding in Louisiana and West Virginia over the summer. All current DCOs are Army officers who have served as brigade commanders and are experienced in dealing with issues on a strategic level.
During his time as a DCO there have been some close calls, he said. The closest one was a possible activation for potential hurricane damage in Hawaii, also over the summer. When it became apparent that Hawaii was in the path of the hurricane, he said, "We were standing personnel up."
Najera was also on standby to support the 2015 Super Bowl, which took place on his turf in Glendale, Arizona. He was prepared to call in DOD assets if something happened. Fortunately, nothing did.
Besides coordinating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Najera also works with the California Office of Emergency Services and local cities in the planning for earthquake response. Unpredictable events, like earthquakes, require planning so that, when they do occur, the response will be prompt and without delay, he said.
Najera's last assignment was a joint assignment at U.S. Africa Command, where he was director at the Joint Training, Readiness and Exercise Directorate. Prior to that position, he worked directly for the secretary of Defense as the acting executive secretary.
Now Najera is located in Oakland, California, where he works elbow-to-elbow with FEMA personnel. Together, they and other first-responder organizations hold exercises on a year-round basis to prepare for responding to catastrophic events.
The exercises test the coordinating capabilities among DOD and first-responder agencies. Exercise levels are as high as U.S. Army Northern Command down to the state and local levels.
"It's a great mission," Najera said, "helping our U.S. citizens at home when they need it the most."
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: Los Angeles. Oakland is the closest I've ever been stationed to home, since there are not too many Army opportunities to be stationed out here. So it's good to be back in my home state.
Q: What led you to join the Army?
A: I wanted a sense of adventure, like traveling and Army training. I got that plus education and other opportunities.
Q: What are your hobbies?
A: Running and baseball.
Q: What do you consider your biggest achievement in the Army?
A: Brigade and battalion command. Very few people get the privilege of command. They were good experiences.
Q: What advice can you give company-grade officers looking to make good in the Army?
A: Be really good at the job you're at and don't worry about your career path. Give 100 percent to the job you're doing, and you'll move forward.
Q: Can you name another Soldier you admired in your career?
A: Retired Maj. Gen. Alfred Valencuela, who was a colonel at the time, and I was a captain. He would ask me, "How are things going?" from time to time and, "How are you doing?" It's just simple things like showing genuine interest that can motivate Soldiers. But not everyone does that.