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The Associated Press October 25, 2005

Northcom commander: Hurricanes show need for active military response

By Jon Sarche

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The trio of hurricanes that wrought havoc in Texas and the Gulf Coast this fall shows the active-duty military could be put to good use filling in the gaps between civilian agencies, a senior commander said Tuesday.

Civilians and the National Guard should still have the lead role, but they should be able to call on the capabilities of active-duty troops, said Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of the U.S. Northern Command.

Keating's command, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base near Colorado Springs, was formed after 9/11 to coordinate the military response to terrorist attacks and natural disasters on American soil.

"There are those cases that are sufficiently broad that the capabilities resident in Department of Defense active-duty troops are best suited to provide the response that American people expect and are entitled to," Keating said.

Keating has proposed training and equipping an active-duty military force to help the National Guard respond to disasters. He said he spoke with President Bush about his ideas during Bush's visit to the Northern Command in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita last month.

Only the president or defense secretary would have the authority to order a domestic response by active-duty troops, he said.

Keating spoke at a conference of the National Homeland Defense Foundation, a Colorado Springs-based group that seeks to bring military, business and civilian officials together to improve security and defense.

The key will be determining the military's limitations under the Posse Comitatus Act, a law enacted after the Civil War to keep the military out of domestic law enforcement, experts said.

"(Government and military officials) have said part of the hang-up after Katrina was different lawyers from different pieces of the government had different ideas on the matter and spent several days arguing about it," said John Pike, director of the globalsecurity.org think tank.

"To my way of thinking, that's late in the game to be arguing over something so very essential," Pike said. "If it means allowing Northcom to pre-posture and pre-alert and pre-position assets, well, I am certainly prepared to listen to that one."

Pike said responding to natural disasters would provide valuable training.

"Training cannot have the pressure of a real-world operation, and training cannot have the chaos and bewilderment and perplexity of a real-world operation," he said.


Copyright 2005, The Associated Press