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The United States Northern Command, or NORTHCOM, was created to enhance homeland security. It is part of the U.S. military, and considered a Unified Combatant Command, which is a part of the Department of Defense (Bolkcom, 2005; Cronen, 2009;). The task of NORTHCOM is to provide support for civil authorities through the use of the military. This is done throughout the United States, but also in other countries where the U.S. has a national interest. These countries include Mexico and Canada. The air, sea, and land approaches to these countries, as well as the air, sea, and land approaches to the lower 48 and other U.S. territories (such as Alaska) also fall under the protection of NORTHCOM (Cecchine, 2004; Wormuth & Witkowsky, 2008).
The creation of NORTHCOM officially came about in late April of 2002. Then-President George W. Bush created it as part of a Unified Command Plan that was designed and put in place in light of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 (Bolkcom, 2005). The official beginning of operations for NORTHCOM was October 1, 2002 (Bolkcom, 2005; Cecchine, 2004). At that point, the organization began its official mission and began working toward fulfilling all that it was designed to do. Some of the work that NORTHCOM has done over the years has changed, as well, because it has grown and learned as an organization. That has made it stronger and better, which has also allowed it to have more of an opportunity to truly protect the country and its residents.
Because of the Posse Comitatus Act, there is a limit to the powers that NORTHCOM has (Cutler, 2011; Miller, 2008). There are legal limitations as to what the military can do in order to support civilian law enforcement, for example, but there are a few exceptions to the rules, as well. National emergencies that are either man-made or natural are among those exceptions, as is the threat of nuclear warfare or power by another country or by a person or group within the United States. At that point the Air Forces Northern National Security Emergency Preparedness Directorate will come into play, and all other regulations will have to take a "back seat" while the emergency is dealt with accordingly (United, 2007; U.S., 2009; Whitley, 2009; Wormuth & Witkowsky, 2008).
The Creation of NORTHCOM
The tragic events of September 11, 2001 polarized the entire country and united the American people, even briefly, against terrorism. It was clear that something had to be done to allow more of a response from the military after a terrorism event, because the help and support would be needed. Since the country had not experienced anything like September 11th in a very long time, it was unprepared for the devastation that took place. It was not that there were not people available to help the injured and secure the area, but being able to use the military to restore order and help out the local law enforcement would have been a much better choice. There was some time to decide how that should be addressed, and then NORTHCOM was created by then-President Bush in order to ensure that people injured and displayed in the aftermath of future man-made and natural disasters would have more assistance in the form of the military.
NORTHCOM was not the only option considered, of course, but it was the one that made the most logical sense. The power of the President to use the military in this way is still very carefully controlled, because there is no need to provide the President with too much power over the military or anything else in the country (Whitley, 2009; Wormuth & Witkowsky, 2008). It is very important to have the military available, however, when there are serious and unexpected issues that occur. These kinds of issues would include terrorist activity like September 11, 2001, but also natural disasters such as the levy breaches that flooded New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The creation of NORTHCOM was very important to the American people, so that they could have some extra protection when things went wrong and they needed the government and law enforcement to help them and their communities.
Like any department created by the government, NORTHCOM has a mission. Based on the Unified Command Plan that was used to create it, the mission of NORTHCOM is to provide military assistance to civil authorities and law enforcement, including any operations undertake for the management of consequences of a natural or man-made disaster (National, 2004; Wormuth & Witkowsky, 2008). In order to do this, NORTHCOM has to be directed by either the Secretary of Defense or the President (Bolkcom, 2005. Additionally, the mission of NORTHCOM is to conduct operations that will prevent, deter, and defeat threats that are brought against the United States. If there is aggression that is aimed at the U.S., its interests, or its territories, NORTHCOM has the authority to step in and do something about that in order to defuse the situation (Bolkcom, 2005). That is a different part of the mission, and one that many people do not realize.
In other words, most people who are aware of NORTHCOM think of it only as a military operation or a defense operation that comes into play when something has happened and a disaster has already occurred. However, one thing that NORTHCOM does and that others often do not hear about and are not aware of is provide safety and security through the diffusing and deterring of threats. Some of the issues that appear in the news, when the public finds out about a major terrorist threat that was averted, are related to the work of NORTHCOM. Its mission is not complicated, but it is one that has to be taken very seriously because its mission is a large part of the way the country is protected. Without proper protection, the country is vulnerable to attacks such as September 11, 2001. The existence of NORTHCOM does not guarantee that there will never be another terrorist event in the United States, but it does go a long way toward protecting the American people from harm.
Strategy and Planning
There was much strategy and planning that went into NORTHCOM, and the organization still plans and strategizes frequently in order to remain steps ahead of those who would threaten the country. There are times when it is impossible to avoid a threat (such as one that is natural and not man-made). In those cases, individuals who are in harm's way will need as much protection as possible. Once the threat has passed, those same individuals will also need shelter, food, and the basics. They may need medical treatment, and it will be important to determine whether they need to reach out to loved ones who may be worried about them. All of those kinds of after-the-fact issues have to be part of the strategy and planning of NORTHCOM. There are currently 15 National Planning Scenarios (Cutler, 2011). NORTHCOM must be ready and able to respond to each one of them appropriately, whenever and wherever they occur. That can require a lot of planning and training.
Concept plans that are designed for defense support of civil authorities have been created by NORTHCOM (Cutler, 2011). These plans are classified, because it would be too easy for those plans to be thwarted or even completely derailed if they were well-known. The plans must remain out of the hands of terrorists, and even well-meaning civilians could pose a problem by trying to help and actually getting in the way. It is not hard to do more harm than good when one does not understand the real issues at hand. By having NORTHCOM's plans carefully protected, and by practicing and training often, it is possible for the government and law enforcement to work together to better protect the citizens of the United States. This is true for overarching plans that affect the entire United States, and for smaller plans that are more concentrated and focused on specific regions or cities.
The organizational structure of NORTHCOM is relatively uncomplicated. Currently, the home base is at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado (Bolkcom, 2005; Cutler, 2011). That is also the home base for NORAD, and the two share the base. Ralph Eberhart was the first NORTHCOM commander, but Charles H. Jacoby, Jr. currently holds that title. The headquarters for NORTHCOM have nearly 1,200 members, and that includes both those in uniform and those who are civilians, but few of them are permanently assigned to the base or to NORTHCOM itself (United, 2007; Wormuth & Witkowsky, 2008). Members from any and every military branch can be assigned to NORTHCOM, and that occurs on an as-needed basis to make sure the mission is completed (Whitley, 2009; Wormuth & Witkowsky, 2008). While that means that many different people have access to NORTHCOM information, very few have any access to anything that…[continue]
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