MINNEAPOLIS (Army News Service, Aug. 16, 2007) - Defense Department agencies assisting with search and recovery operations at the site of the I-35W bridge collapse are continuing their efforts around-the-clock.

Recovery operations are ongoing as Navy divers conduct rigging operations with onsite contractors using heavy equipment to clear debris for access to remaining vehicles.

"Recovery operations will continue as part of a larger team effort, with safety being a paramount concern during debris removal and dive operations," said Army Col. Michael Chesney, defense coordinating officer and the on-scene commander for DoD forces involved in the recovery efforts. "We are here to help and provide support to the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office as long as we are requested."

The single point of contact for all DoD assets, the DCO facilitates requests for assistance from civil authorities following a declared disaster. There are 10 DCOs, all assigned to U.S. Army North at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Each DCO, with a Defense Coordinating Element, is collocated with a FEMA regional headquarters. The team supporting Minneapolis is the Chicago-based Region V, which is responsible for Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Col. Chesney said he is impressed with the spirit of cooperation between agencies participating in the recovery operations.

"As I observe the divers working in partnership with the contractors removing debris, it demonstrates the joint effort being put forth by everyone as we continue 24/7 recovery operations," he said.

County Sheriff Richard W. Stanek called the coordination between local, state and federal agencies "absolutely tremendous."

"When you bring in a military organization, you get quick, concise, crisp answers to questions," he said. "Whatever issue has come up, whatever the operation for the day or the evening has been, we've been able to communicate directly and strategize on how to get over any obstacles."

During an on-site visit last week, Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters praised the military's support.

"DoD has been incredibly responsive to anything that this community has needed," she said. "I think their response has really made the community appreciate how much America's military is there to support our nation, not only in a time of war but in a time of human need."

Army North provides defense support to civil authorities as the Army component of the U.S. Northern Command, the unified command on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., which is responsible for homeland defense and civil support. The DoD brings additional capabilities as part of a larger federal response when requested by the state and approved by the Secretary of Defense.