PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – A short ceremony inside U.S. Northern Command headquarters heralded the end of a seven-year era as one of the command’s premiere organizations was disestablished, May 9.
The USNORTHCOM Standing Joint Force Headquarters, the organization responsible for deploying the core of an emergency joint task force to contingencies across the country within six hours of mobilization, was folded into the USNORTHCOM Operations Directorate after seven years of operation as a separate directorate.
The move comes as the result of a Department of Defense look into making the combatant commands more efficient, said NC/SJFHQ director, Air Force Brig. Gen Kenneth Todorov. While other combatant commands lost their SJFHQs entirely, USNORTHCOM was allowed to keep the capability and the personnel associated with it.
“Our commander recognizes that the capabilities that SJFHQ brings are vital to the safety and security of the United States and Canada,” Todorov said. “Our core capability will be integrated into our USNORTHCOM Operations Directorate. We’ll be able to maintain the knowledge, expertise, and relationships made with federal and state partners by SJFHQ while increasing awareness and efficiency by being part of our J3.”
NC/SJFHQ’s mission was to provide the USNORTHCOM commander the ability to form the core of a joint task force or to augment multiple other organizations in order to conduct homeland defense or civil support operations during planned or crisis operations. When directed, the SJFHQ could rapidly deploy trained and tailored force packages to multiple locations within six hours and provide the core element of a stand-alone JTF or augment an existing JTF within the area of responsibility. During large incidents and disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina, Ike and Gustav, NC/SJFHQ could augment a regional Defense Coordinating Officer when they provide support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The organization has supported nearly every response to domestic national disasters since 2004 from Hurricane Katrina to floods in North Dakota. The organization has also supported national level security events such as the G-8 and G-20 conferences, the 2005 and 2009 presidential inaugurations and the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
Todorov said that while there would be changes, the organization’s core mission will remain unchanged.
“We’re taking a fresh look at the capabilities, all the while the overarching guidance from the commander is that we continue to do the great things that this organization has done for the last seven years,” Todorov said. “There will clearly be some changes to the organization, and they will go much deeper than a name change, but the bottom line is that the capabilities we bring to the homeland will not change.”
One of those capabilities is NC/SJFHQ’s most successful, the contingency dual status commander program. Designed to make defense support of civil authorities’ responses more effective, the contingency dual status commander program allows a single commander to command both state and federal forces during an operation. In the past, when a contingency would happen in a state, the National Guard would set up a joint task force and the federal forces would set up a parallel task force, and the two would coordinate. Under the new concept, a National Guard commander would lead both with an active duty officer acting as their deputy.
The most high-profile event run by NC/SJFHQ where a dual status commander was implemented was the 2010 National Scout Jamboree.
“It was the crown jewel of pre-planned events,” Todorov said proudly. “Brig. Gen. Bob Nolan was commissioned in the Virginia National Guard and was appointed a dual status commander, essentially responsible for running a small city seeing to the safety, protection and security of 50,000 people including numerous dignitaries. He pulled it off flawlessly. It’s one of our biggest success stories.”
Coast Guard Capt. Sam Creech, NC/SJFHQ Division East Chief, said the dual status commander program, along with the other vital services NC/SJFHQ has provided, will continue.
“The states are one of the USNORTHCOM commander’s main customers,” Creech said. “And the dual status commander is one of his most important tools supporting a state in a crisis. I think the focus on the dual status commander will remain a priority no matter what patch we have on our sleeves.”
Looking back on the organizations seven years as a directorate, Todorov said the people in NC/SJFHQ had much to be proud of.
“We’ve been a huge contributor to the command’s successes over the years,” he said. “Making sure our citizens are safe, well taken care of, that our environments and venues are safe when there’s a big event somewhere and in supporting our states, the state JTFs and the adjutants general. The people here are the most professional, talented, self-starting and knowledgeable group of professionals that I’ve ever been associated with.”
Creech said that although adjusting to the new circumstances can be difficult, the personnel who made up NC/SJFHQ will do what’s necessary to make sure the new organization is successful under the Operations Directorate.
“Change is hard for everyone,” he said. “This one is no different, but it is the right bell to answer, and we’re answering it in the right way.”