Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, September 9, 2002

New command takes shape

 •  A breakdown of U.S. military commands worldwide
 •  Profile: U.S. Northern Command chief

By Jon Sarche
Associated Press

DENVER — On the prairie east of Pikes Peak, the military is building its new homeland-defense command, a unified effort long under consideration but sped to completion after Sept. 11.

In Ozark, Ark., 3-year-old Dawson Tolbert joined his dad, Christopher, and members of 142nd Field Artillery, in a ceremony after they were activated for homeland defense.

Associated Press

A core staff of about 100 have worked this summer to establish the U.S. Northern Command in a building just inside the front gate at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, 60 miles south of Denver.

The unified command will have a $70 million annual budget and eventually will have about 500 employees. Military officials have declined to release many details until it opens Oct. 1.

Air Force Gen. Ralph "Ed" Eberhart, who was confirmed by the Senate in June as commander, declined to be interviewed. He has said the attacks showed that the military had to close seams in its job of defending the United States.

The first new unified military command in 10 years marks the first step in a dramatic military renovation that will shift responsibility for geographic areas and functions of the other nine unified commands.

Since shortly after the end of World War II, the military has divided the world into five geographic areas, each with an overall commander.

No single commander has been specifically responsible for the defense of the United States, Canada and Mexico until now, with the creation of the Northern Command. The new command also will be responsible for parts of the Caribbean and waters up to 500 miles off the North American coastline.

NorthCom, as it is nicknamed, will oversee homeland defense activities of the Coast Guard and the four other armed services, including certain counter-drug activities.

It also will provide support to civil authorities for natural disasters or domestic attacks and coordinate with the White House Office of Homeland Security.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced plans for the new command in April, saying it would help the Defense Department better deal with its domestic responsibilities and improve coordination with civil authorities.

NorthCom will improve military response capabilities domestically, but its main thrust will be to form response plans for attacks or disasters, said Randy Larsen, a retired Air Force colonel who heads the ANSER Institute for Homeland Security.

"The primary responsibility is the civilian sector," he said.

Larsen said NorthCom officials will coordinate with state and local governments.

"I think that mayors, governors and county executives should not be expecting too much out of the military," Larsen said. "It's not nearly the size it used to be and it's got enormous commitments overseas."

Larsen said the new command would help local and state governments in disaster response. For example, he said, the military's response to the 1995 bombing of the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City involved about 20 units, and it wasn't clear who was in charge.

NorthCom should be able to ensure plans are in place for such efforts, Larsen said.

"It will help us keep the edge we need to quickly adapt to the uncertainties that lie ahead," Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.

Eberhart serves as commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command, known as NORAD, and commander of U.S. Space Command. He will remain in command of NORAD, but gives up leadership of Space Command, which is merging with U.S. Strategic Command.

Long a home to military installations, Colorado Springs expects a range of benefits from the new command: an economic boost from its employees and civilian supporting industries and the prestige of being home to a high-profile arm of the Pentagon, said Will Temby, president of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.

He said the military's presence in the area has attracted numerous high-tech and aerospace companies.

"Particularly as we approach the anniversary on 9/11 and there's public assessments of where homeland defense is today vs. a year ago, ... the fact that this command gets stood up 19 days after that anniversary I think is going to bring some recognition," Temby said.