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American Forces Press Service

Mullen Praises Northern Command's Interagency Efforts

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., March 11, 2008 – U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command are models of interagency cooperation, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here yesterday.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said his visit here was a way to take the pulse of the two commands and see what leaders here think is important.

NORAD will mark 50 years as a joint U.S.-Canadian command in May. The command is responsible for aerospace warning and control and maritime warning. U.S. Northern Command is a more recent invention, coming into being in 2002. Its missions are homeland defense and civil support. Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr. commands of both organizations.

Northern Command interfaces with representatives from every state and territory in the United States and is the Defense Department command that plans for the defense of the homeland. The command also provides DoD support to state and local jurisdictions when governors request that support and the president approves it. While it was formed in response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it is also invaluable in dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters.

From its founding, the command has been an interagency forum. Representatives of more than 60 international, federal, state and nongovernmental agencies work within the command. This covers agencies from the Department of Homeland Security to the FBI to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It also includes Canadian allies from Canada Command, Transport Canada and Public Safety and Emergency Management Canada. The American Red Cross also works with NORTHCOM planners.

“That’s really powerful for integration and change down the road,” Mullen said during an interview.

The chairman told military and civilian employees at the command that he appreciated their service and their willingness to embrace change. He also said their work has been effective.

“We haven’t been attacked since 9-11, and they are a big part of that in ways that really make a difference,” he told reporters traveling with him. “They are working really hard to make sure that continues.”

The visit allowed him to understand more deeply the command’s challenges and to broadly discuss threats. The upcoming U.S. elections and the presidential inauguration in January 2009 will be times of vigilance. “Times of transitions -- whether it is individuals, small groups, big institutions or countries -- are typically very challenging,” he said. “Many of us are focused on making sure we have the right focus on the right issues during the transitions.”

One area that he learned about is the far north. The polar ice cap is shrinking, and this has opened passages in the northern seas. The command is examining this. Oil companies, cruise lines and shipping lines are all interested in the area. “The message I take away is to understand what really is going on up there,” Mullen said.

With the increase in economic activity in the far north, there will be security concerns, and with more ships, there are more chances for accidents, Mullen said. He explained that NORTHCOM officials are weighing many concerns: How are the countries poised for search and rescue? How do you handle environmental remediation? What type of navigationneeds are there?

The United States needs to understand how changes on the top of the world affect the security environment. “That was one of the items we discussed out here,” he said. “And that was different than I expected. But that’s why I come: to get information on their turf.”

NORTHCOM officials also work to thwart terrorism around the world. The command “has a robust intelligence capability, because many threats to America develop overseas,” the admiral said. “The command also has maturing relationships with agencies inside our country, the FBI for instance.”

These relationships are gold to the defense of America, he said. “So much of this world that we’re in right now is tied to partnerships, relationships, interoperability, information sharing,” he said. “A huge part of NORTHCOM’s portfolio is the maritime-awareness piece. How do you exchange information with Canada, with Mexico? How do you exchange information with commercial entities, the Navy to Coast Guard and vice versa?

“It’s a maturing capability we have, but we have a long way to go,” he continued. “It’s that information-sharing, collaboration piece that is just evident in so many parts of where I go and what I do, whether it’s here or in countries around the world.”

Mullen said missile defense is an important capability and one U.S. Northern Command is involved with. “The ballistic missile threat will continue to grow. We’re living in an era where that’s the case,” the chairman said. “I think having capability to defend against that in a timely way as the threat evolves is very important. And it can be just the United States, because in the long run, it’s not just the United States that is going to be threatened.”

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