By By Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh
North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command
It’s cool outside as the sun drops and
families settle in for the night just as they do each day in the Pacific
Northwest. At the dinner table, slight vibrations are felt and seen as drinks
sway in their glasses -- a subtle sign of just another small tremor, one of
hundreds that occur yearly in this region. Just as quickly as it’s dismissed by
desensitized residents though, it shakes the ground again … this time not so subtly.
This is no small, normal tremor.
Unbeknownst to the residents, the
Cascadia Subduction Zone, a roughly 620 mile-long fault ranging from the U.S.-Canadian
border down to Northern California, has now ruptured and with it comes a shift
in the sea floor and a lifting of immense amounts of water soon to bear down on
the heavily populated coast. The results of this event will be catastrophic as
earthquakes and tsunamis combine to destroy buildings, homes and infrastructure
and block avenues for first responders wanting to help. The three days’ worth
of supplies emergency operations teams say to have on hand at all times is
looking like it may not be enough.
While this disaster isn’t real and it, or
ones like it, can’t be predicted, they can be planned for. This scenario is only one of numerous potentially
dangerous events emergency operations teams, first responders, and local, state
and federal governments routinely plan and train for.
As the combatant command (COCOM)
responsible for the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, North
American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command (NORAD and
USNORTHCOM), have a vested interest in operations designed to protect this area
of operations and the people included in it.
From an overarching, strategic level,
NORAD and USNORTHCOM members are familiar with planning and decision-making matrices,
but what sometimes lacks is the ability to see what is happening across the
command and day-to-day at the local, state and regional levels. This is a
disconnect Navy Fleet Master Chief Terrence Molidor, the command’s senior
enlisted leader, plans to remedy.
To accomplish this, nine senior enlisted
members, including Molidor, travelled to Joint Base Lewis McChord in Tacoma, WA,
from January 26 to 29 to gain insight to the daily workings at several agencies
with which NORAD and USNORTHCOM may interact during a major incident or
accident such as the Cascadia event.
"This trip was to designed to increase
the knowledge of command senior enlisted leaders on what happens outside the headquarters
-- how the day-to-day, tactical missions are accomplished," said Molidor, who’s
been in the senior enlisted position for more than two years. “While this group of senior leaders has
intricate knowledge on what their directorate brings to any event as well as
knowledge of the command mission from the headquarters perspective, they aren't
normally privy to what happens daily in places such as WADS (Western Air
Defense Sector), state emergency operations centers or tactical training Guard
The biggest take-aways for several of
the command's top enlisted was to see the extent of involvement the National
Guard plays at the grass-roots levels of operations and the amount of
responsibility granted to individuals.
"It was eye-opening to see how much
of a role (National) Guard members play in the overall NORAD and USNORTHCOM
mission," said newest senior enlisted leader to the command, Chief Master
Sgt. Marlene Hindman, USNORTHCOM J3 (Operations). "I also truly
appreciated hearing the questions posed by the other SELs on the trip, all
interested in how we can each better support our customers which, in a DSCA
(defense support of civil authority) event, are the states."
After watching how the National
Guardsmen at WADS monitor all aircraft tracks from the Mississippi River across
the country to the west coast, the team then met with leaders from both the
Washington and Oregon National Guards.
There they learned of the assets owned
by each organization as well as how they interact with not just each other, but
most of the first responders across their respective states. The Guard
representatives spoke about past events they participated in, to include
wildfires, for which 2015 was the worst in Washington’s history, and they
touted their preparations, having more than 1,500 members trained and certified
in wildfire firefighting in anticipation of the 2016 fire season.
Rounding out their first day of briefings,
they met with Washington Emergency Management leaders to see what that team brings
to the DSCA fight and how they fit into the overall National Response
Framework; the Department of Homeland Defense’s overall national response plan
for a multitude of potential natural and man-made disasters.
“We tell people to be self-sufficient
for 72 hours,” said T.J. Dargan, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Region X representative. “While we are
good at what we do, there are going to be times when we just can’t get to
people in need. Our director, Craig Fugate, has a saying … ‘Go big, go fast,’
and what he means by that is for us to do all we can as fast as we can to help
save lives and mitigate damages during a disaster.”
The need for supporting relationships
helps all involved to do just what Director Fugate asks.
It’s not just local and state response
that will assist in a major disaster such as the Cascadia event portrayed at
the beginning of the article, but federal assets as well, to include naval
forces, specifically those in the Navy Region Northwest area of operations.
The SEL team learned about two assets
that could fall under USNORTHCOM’s operational guidance in a DSCA event, touring
the nuclear submarine USS Pennsylvania and nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS
“It was amazing to see the scale of
response the Navy piece represents when it comes to DSCA missions,” said
Hindman. “That, combined with the
emergency operations centers’ preparation and plans for conducting operations
is truly impressive. As a career command
post Airman, I thought I had a good grasp on what’s involved, but this was an
eye-opening trip and I will definitely bring some lessons learned back to my
While the assets owned by the Navy
impressed the command’s top enlisted, it was the people, and more specifically,
the responsibility afforded those people that truly impressed them.
“It is eye-opening to see the commander,
as the top authority of the nuclear submarine, being responsible for everyone
on the boat as well as the possible launch of the world’s most feared weapons,”
said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick Kutac, the command’s commandant. “It was great to see how much the officers of
the boat depend on the enlisted corps to accomplish the mission and the amount
of authority and respect chiefs are given as they run their sections.”
As the trip closed and the team
travelled back to the airport, discussions of which agencies to see on the next
trip ensued as the SELs plan to build on the information they gathered during
the two days.
“I plan on doing more of these trips in
the future, possibly two a year,” said Molidor. “It was absolutely worth it to
travel here not just from my perspective, but I believe my fellow SELs achieved
the level of learning we intended with this trip.”