New York unit brings Canadian Forces, Air National Guard troops together
While the North American Aerospace Defense Command celebrates its rich and historic 50 years, one unit will remain diligently watching the skies just as it did on 9-11.
Sept. 11, 2001 is still etched in the mind of Capt. Rob Hogarth, who is assigned to the New York Air National Guard’s Northeast Air Defense Sector.
Like other members of the unit, which is responsible for orchestrating the air defense of the eastern United States, Hogarth found himself at war on the morning of Sept. 11, as the Twin Towers fell and United Flight 93 crashed in a farmer’s field. He and other members of NEADS, as the Rome-based unit is known, did their utmost to secure the skies over America that day.
Hogarth, though, isn’t a member of the Air National Guard. He’s a member of the Canadian Forces, and one of 15 Canadians who play a key role in the operational air defense mission of NORAD.
“It was impossible to separate the actions of the Canadians and those of the Americans, because the Canadian Component is an integral part of NEADS, and we have been incorporated seamlessly into the team,” Hogarth wrote in article for a Canadian Air Force publication. “It was a tremendous honor and responsibility to have a nation put its faith in you, to trust you to keep them safe. I am very proud to have been called upon to defend that faith and to justify that trust. In every sense, the men and women of NEADS rose to the occasion.”
Since its inception, close cooperation between Canada and the United States has been a hallmark of NORAD, and Hogarth – now on his second tour at NEADS – exemplifies this partnership.
In November 2006, the mission of the joint American-Canadian unit doubled when the Southeast Air Defense Sector at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., was deactivated.
“Everyone in this unit worked tirelessly to ensure that the expansion of our air defense mission was seamless,” said Col. Clark Speicher, NEADS commander. “Transitioning from controlling 500,000 square miles to 1 million square miles of airspace would seem like a huge undertaking, yet the professionalism displayed by everyone in the unit ensured that this expansion was and remains continuously flawless. At NEADS, we have a no-fail mission, and everyone works to ensure that this is achieved.”
NEADS and the Canadian Component also reach out to the local community through speaking engagements, Color Guard details and annual events like the Canadian Component Mess Dinner.
“We encourage everyone in the unit, including the Canadians posted here, to support and contribute to the local community,” said Lt. Col. Wendy Rickards, the Canadian Component commander. “Our relationship with the community here has been strengthened by these positive actions and, in turn, community members have always remained extremely supportive of our unit and our mission.”
The combined efforts of local veterans, the City of Rome and members of the Canadian Component resulted in Rome becoming the first U.S. city to be presented a Canadian flag by the Canadian Forces, in a ceremony on May 21, 2005.
“In the course of planning the event, it became evident that it was a historical first,” said Capt. Chris Semchuk, a Canadian Forces member who is assigned to NEADS as a senior director aerospace controller. “No American city had ever been presented a Canadian Flag by the Canadian Forces and, after almost two years of planning, two Canadian flags were presented to Rome Mayor James Brown."
The Canadian Component commander at the time, Lt. Col François Malo, presented Brown with a Canadian flag – previously flown on the Peace Tower of Canada’s Parliament – mounted in a shadow box and accompanied by a copy of the Jan. 28, 1965, National Flag Royal Proclamation. The second flag was raised over Rome's city hall, where it still flies today.
Brown captured the significance of the event by stating that he was “honored to be a part of this event which was a first in both American and Canadian history.”
From its beginnings in World War II, Air Defense has been a continuous process of modernization. Of more than 12 air defense sectors that have been deactivated, NEADS is one of the only two operational sectors in the continental United States still in existence. The Western Air Defense Sector, operating out of McChord Air Force Base in Washington, is NEADS’ sister sector.
NEADS was the first sector to modernize from a manual Air Defense System to the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) System. The unit became operational in 1958 and set the standard for other sectors to follow, according to the unit’s history.
As part of an Air Force reorganization that started in 1993, NEADS was the first Air Defense Sector to transform from the regular Air Force to the Air National Guard. During that transition, Griffiss Air Force Base was also realigned into the Griffiss Business and Technology Park where NEADS is located.
During the Griffiss realignment, NEADS was transformed as well. The unit’s successful transformation set the transformation standard, and its lessons learned helped ensure a successful transition for the other sectors and First Air Force, Speicher said.
In addition to the Air National Guard and Canadian Forces military personnel assigned to NEADS, the unit’s staff includes federal civil service and civilian contractor personnel and active-duty members of the Air Force, Navy, Army and Coast Guard.