FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Dec. 17, 2012) -- Twenty-two National Guard generals and colonels, representing 18 states and the District of Columbia, attended the U.S. Army North-sponsored dual-status commanders' orientation course here, Dec. 9-13.

The course is designed to prepare the senior leaders on their roles as joint task force commanders in the event of large-scale disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy, or a large-scale earthquake.

The dual-status commander, or DSC, training course is a five-day event conducted twice a year to help prepare National Guard leaders, and other potential joint force commanders from across the country, to coordinate and integrate military and federal agencies during and after a disaster. The first part of the course was spent at the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command orientation course in Colorado Springs, Colo. Following that portion, the leaders underwent two days of training at Army North before culminating with the National Capitol Region Orientation Course in Washington, D.C.

When both the secretary of defense and the governor of an affected state agree, dual-status commanders can direct both federal active-duty forces and state National Guard forces in response to domestic incidents. The concept is intended to foster greater cooperation among federal and state assets during a disaster.

During the two day-conference at Army North, the commanders discussed the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Response Enterprise, the Vibrant Response exercises, and they delved into lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy.

Col. Ed Manning, Army North's defense coordinating officer for Region VII, spoke to the officers about the importance of their mission.

"A dual-status commander fills the gap in capability that is needed right away," he said. "This allows the state to continue with their response efforts."

Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, commanding general, U.S. Army North (Fifth Army), and senior commander, Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis, welcomed the participants to Fort Sam Houston and told them that this was an opportunity to get to know each other before something happens, which makes it easier to work together in times of emergency.

"The purpose of this meeting is so we all can meet and talk face-to-face," said Caldwell, "so you can meet with the Joint Force Land Component Command that will support you as a Title 10 commander. The JFLCC is here to support you and your state as needed.

"This is also an opportunity to give those who deploy forward from our headquarters a chance to meet all of you so if there is a crisis, we won't be meeting each other for the first time," he said.

Citing recent events such as Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, Caldwell said he felt it would be beneficial to have a dual-status commander identified before a crisis situation happened.

"If something is going to go down, or there is a planned event, the question is 'Do we want to go ahead and designate that person?' Yes, it enables all of us to know you are 'it' if the governor pulls the trigger and says we want to activate Title 10," he said.

Title 10 of the United States Code outlines the role of the armed forces in the U.S. and provides the legal basis for those roles, missions and organizations.

Caldwell went on to say that the fact that he had traveled to New York during the summer and met with the dual-status commander made working together during Hurricane Sandy easier.

"We, at Army North, totally get that you all work for your governor," Caldwell said. "We are here to support the DSCs and empower them to be successful. We are not trying to take over your operations. Our job is to support you if we are needed."

Maj. Gen. Charles Gailes, commanding general of U.S. Army North's Task Force 51, said the point of the conference was to answer any questions the DSCs may have now -- before an incident happens.

"Three years ago, I sat where you are sitting," said Gailes. "I left with questions, and I am still spanking myself for not asking (those) questions."

Perhaps one of the most daunting challenges many DSCs face is the fact that each state operates differently.

"We count on our defense coordinating officer to figure out how each state works so we can help them the most," said Charlie Canedy, chief of Army North's commander's initiative group.

Col. Jeffrey Burkett, a Nevada Air National Guard officer, agreed with Canedy and said he felt it would be beneficial if the states could standardize how they operate with their DCOs and that it would be easier for both U.S. Northern Command and Army North in providing support because it would lessen the learning curve.

"There is so much wasted time during the first 48 hours of an incident, when we position assets around the battlefield and are trying to learn who people are and how things work," said Col. Richard Francey, Army North's chief of staff. "This is why we are here."

Citing the recent relief efforts during Hurricane Sandy, Caldwell said he sometimes felt frustrated because he had assets that he wanted to give to the states but was unable to.

"This is not a competition," said Brig. Gen. Keith Jones, commander, 40th Infantry Division, California National Guard. "These are American citizens. We need to share and figure out the best way to organize and get there."

Caldwell closed the meeting by reminding those assembled that, ultimately, in times of domestic disasters, the military wants to help.

"There is no greater feeling for an American service member than to help an American citizen during their time of need," he said.