By Staff Sgt. Jim GreenhillMarch 4, 2009
BALTIMORE (March 4, 2009) - The commander of U.S. Northern Command said he got one question repeatedly during recent rounds at the U.S. Capitol.
"Almost at every stop that I made, members of Congress asked me, 'So, how's your relationship with the National Guard''" said Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, who is also commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command, which is headquartered with NORTHCOM at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"The good news in this is, it's getting, actually, pretty boring," Renuart told attendees at the National Guard's 2009 Domestic Operations Workshop here today. "We work in routine collaboration so much ... that we just get the job done. It's boring, because we're working so well together."
The National Guard is the nation's oldest military force, its largest community-based force and its first military responder. NORTHCOM's mission includes safeguarding the homeland.
Speaking on the 220th anniversary of the day the U.S. Constitution went into effect, Renuart said Americans don't care what uniform anyone is wearing - they want teamwork from the people who protect them and respond to natural and manmade crises.
"We've built a collaborative effort between NORTHCOM and the National Guard Bureau that I'm proud to say is kind of boring," Renuart said. "We won't always be able to approach a problem the same way, but we will always approach a problem together."
About 10 percent of NORTHCOM's full-time positions are filled by Guardsmen and Reservists, with the majority in the Guard. "That's the highest percentage of any of the combatant commands," he said, and includes eight of his 16 flag officers, including the deputy commander, Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, who was previously chief of the National Guard Bureau.
"I would like to add another 100-plus full-time National Guard positions in my headquarters," Renuart said.
Renuart stressed a theme common to leaders since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 - collaboration between different federal, state and local agencies, and especially within the military.
"It requires us to have this community of interest - a mega-community of sorts - that allows us to pull together our local, our state, our federal, military, civilian, active and Reserve component experts to be able to provide unity of effort to ensure that your families, my families are protected," Renuart said.
The National Guard's Domestic Operations Workshop, which concludes Friday, brings together Guard leaders from across the United States and representatives from other agencies to discuss crisis response, policy, funding, capabilities, civil support, communications and numerous other issues.
"The combined team of teams, which is your joint state force headquarters, has been really successful across the country in preventing property loss, saving lives and minimizing human suffering," he said.
The impact of hurricanes, wildfires and ice storms has been lessened by the teamwork led by state joint force headquarters, Renuart said.
"We've seen some very significant events this year," he said, referring to hurricanes Gustav and Ike and other 2008 challenges.
Planning, coordination and teamwork have resulted in successful responses to crises. "It's not luck," Renuart said. "It's the collective 'we' - it's not 'me,' it's not 'you,' it's all of us. ... Combined planning, combined execution, integrated planning - all of that is ... where we want to continue to go.
"We're finding new and better ways to continue to integrate. No arguments out there about who's in charge, no arguments about what needs to be done - but the muscle to get that done doesn't always just come from one source. "
Key national players in response to major events include the National Guard, NORTHCOM and other military components and civil responders such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said.
"You really don't want to hand out a business card at the scene of a disaster," Renuart said. "While it has become almost trite, it is true:
That's not the place where you figure out how we work together and the good news is, our federal partners all understand that."
Among further improvements Renuart suggested: Integrating situational awareness tools used by different agencies so everyone has the best information and the same picture.
Among other practical aspects of the relationship between NORTHCOM and the National Guard Bureau, the combatant command provides training for Guard personnel such as the Joint Task Force Commanders Course and NORTHCOM and the National Guard participate in national-level joint exercises.
"The people of our country don't care who's there," Renuart said. "We want to make sure that the integration of our efforts doesn't show a seam but rather shows seamless support."
NORTHCOM and NGB are working together, Renuart said, welcoming the elevation last year of the office of chief of the National Guard Bureau to a four-star position with the appointment of Gen. Craig McKinley. "We both understand that our two organizations have to be totally integrated, totally collaborative, totally transparent."
"In the end, the people of our country want to have the best capability possible to respond to them when they're in need," he said. "We've got to team together to make sure that the citizens of our nation are protected, defended and cared for when disaster strikes."
(Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves with the National Guard Bureau.)