BELCAMP, Maryland – The U.S. Department of Defense’s premier all hazards command recognized two retired U.S. Army major generals with the Defender of Liberty Award at a ceremony at the Water’s Edge Event Center, Oct. 14.
The 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command selected retired Maj. Gen. John C. Doesburg as the 2020 Defender of Liberty and retired Maj. Gen. Keith R. Wendel as the 2021 Defender of Liberty.
The Defender of Liberty Award is presented to leaders who have made a significant impact on the U.S. military’s only multifunctional deployable CBRNE headquarters.
Retired Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Richard Cody was the first Army leader to receive the award in 2019. While serving as the deputy chief of staff of the Army for operations and plans, Cody authored the memo that led to the creation of 20th CBRNE Command.
Maj. Gen. Antonio V. Munera, the commanding general of 20th CBRNE Command, hosted the event that wrapped up a two-day commander’s conference. He thanked both generals for their role in mentoring him and establishing the one-of-a-kind command.
“I’m very excited because we get to induct not only one but two folks into the Defender of Liberty Award,” said Munera, who previously served as the 20th CBRNE Command plans officer when Wendel was the commanding general. “It’s rare that you can come back to a command and recognize two folks that were very instrumental in your life.”
Doesburg was not able to receive the award last year at a ceremony due to COVID-19 restrictions. Originally from Milwaukee, Doesburg was inducted in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps Hall of Fame in 2015.
A former commanding general of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command and the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command, Doesburg championed the establishment of the “Guardian Brigade” and later the 20th Support Command (CBRNE), which would be renamed the 20th CBRNE Command in 2013.
Doesburg said the command started out as a two-page PowerPoint presentation about a much needed headquarters for the U.S. Army's dispersed CBRNE units.
Today, the 20th CBRNE Command is home to 75 percent of the active U.S. Army’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear formations and Explosive Ordnance Disposal units as well as the 1st Area Medical Laboratory, CBRNE Analytical and Remediation Activity, three Nuclear Disablement Teams and five Weapons of Mass Destruction Coordination Teams. The 20th CBRNE Command has Soldiers and civilians stationed on 19 installations in 16 states who confront and defeat the world's most dangerous weapons and hazards.
Often called the “Godfather” of the command, Doesburg was also instrumental in getting the 20th CBRNE Command stationed on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, which is home to much of the technical reach back capability the deployable command relies on to conduct its high stakes missions. Located in the science, technology and security corridor of northeast Maryland, APG is the U.S. Army’s oldest proving ground.
Munera said that Aberdeen Proving Ground is exactly where the command should be to leverage the CBRN, science, technology, research, development, laboratories, destruction capabilities and CBRN acquisition expertise that reside on the installation.
“Having us here makes a lot of sense when you are looking for a very unique command with folks that know everything there is about CBRN and explosives hazards,” said Munera.
Doesburg continues to serve as a senior mentor for the command and recently supported Decisive Action Rotation 21-10 at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, California.
“Thank you all for who you are and what you do for our great nation,” said Doesburg.
The 2021 Defender of Liberty is retired Maj. Gen. Keith R. Wendel, the second commanding general of 20th CBRNE Command. Wendel shepherded the command from initial operational capability to full operational capability during his tenure.
“He was really the right commander in the right place at the right time,” said Munera, a native of Fairfax, Virginia. “You hear me talking about enabling lethality – and that is what we do – but a lot of that came from General Wendel and the way that he described what we do so that our maneuver and (Special Operations Forces) partners could understand.”
A retired U.S. Army infantry officer from Bridgewater, New Jersey, Wendel also led the Quadrennial Defense Review-mandated effort to transition the command into a Joint Task Force – Elimination Headquarters, capable of mission command of site exploitation and Weapons of Mass Destruction elimination missions. He also commanded three 20th CBRNE Command deployments to the U.S. Central Command area of operations.
Wendel said the 20th CBRNE Command helped to shield American troops from the many asymmetric threats that they faced in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“What started out as an idea became a necessity, especially for the EOD force, because it was all about taking care of Soldiers,” said Wendel. “I’m so thankful that I had an opportunity to be part of this command. It was one of the highlights of my career to take an idea that many had and try to operationalize it.”
The 20th CBRNE Command will mark its 17th anniversary on Oct. 16.