In late March, The Gazette sat down with Army Gen. Charles “Chuck” Jacoby, commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base.
Jacoby is from Detroit and graduated in 1978 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
His job is twofold. As commander of U.S. Northern Command, Jacoby oversees all defense operations in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas. It is a job that has grown increasingly focused on the Defense Department’s response to national disasters.
During superstorm Sandy, that meant coordinating National Guard troops who went house to house to search for survivors while passing out food and water. During the Waldo Canyon fire, that meant overseeing C-130 tanker retardant drops, many of which were staffed by airmen from the 302nd Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit at Peterson Air Force Base.
He also heads NORAD, which is in charge of watching over the skies of North America for any unusual activity — whether that’s a plane in restricted airspace or an intercontinental ballistic missile bound for the United States.
The conversation is the fourth in a periodic series with some of the region’s top military commanders.
The Gazette: Northcom just had its 10-year anniversary. How has Northcom evolved over these 10 years?
Gen. Charles Jacoby: It was really interesting to kind of take stock at the 10-year anniversary, because as you walked in, you walked past the 9/11 memorial, you get the sense that the command is committed to the mission of defending the homeland.
But it was a very specific defense requirement that we defined when we first started. And since then, threats to the homeland have changed and evolved. Our enemies have adapted, and so has this command.
It may look very different to somebody that came back 10 years later, in the ways that we defend the homeland. But it is essentially true to itself, and its mission of defending the homeland.
One of the broader contexts now that you find the command is it’s not just the defense of a theoretical homeland, it’s also now meeting the expectations of the American and the Canadian people. And so that broader dimension really comes from the defense support to civil authorities’ role that’s evolved over time. And we do it with dozens of partners, like FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), like the Guard.
But what might not have been considered a core mission for the Department of Defense 15 years ago, we feel it as a core mission. And I think that the American people, in times of their need, expect it, as a core mission. So that’s very different.
Gazette: What lessons from superstorm Sandy and the Waldo Canyon fire are incorporated into the new homeland defense and defense support for civil authorities strategy released today (March 22)?
Jacoby: First of all, the new strategy is really the guidance that was rolled out by the president and the secretary (of defense) last year. And that’s the operative design, strategic design, that we’re working against right now. And it fundamentally acknowledges the top priority for defense of the homeland.
So we’re very satisfied with how the strategy acknowledges the importance of the homeland. We’re under continuous budget pressure, and there will be a debate over time on “Does this strategy need to evolve and be adapted as the budget affects programs, affects readiness et cetera, et cetera?”
That will be an ongoing discussion. And it probably will be a never ending discussion. ... It’s a constant balance of ends, ways, means, and risk that you’re willing to accept in other places. And we have gotten good acknowledgement of the importance of our mission. … That said, we will feel the impact of reductions in service readiness — Air Force readiness, Army readiness, Navy readiness. And you feel that in the training, the exercising, the equipping of the force to do the mission that we require in the homeland.
Gazette: With the budget cuts that are going on, with sequestration, what tangible effects are you seeing right now?
Jacoby: For this current budget year, sequestration didn’t start until 1 March, so half the budget is over already. The way it was designed is you have to take your cuts; so we’re taking a year’s worth of cuts in half a year’s period.
So the challenge right now is to stretch readiness across a year, and do the best we can with less.
The impacts are going to be felt in the immediate availability of forces. For instance, we won’t be able to do as many training events, as many exercises. I think, and I testified, that for Northcom and NORAD, we’ll be able to accommodate this stretch. But these are cascading effects. … I think we’ll be OK through (fiscal year) ’13. The president’s budget is not due until April. And then we’ll know for ’14, and there will be a big discussion, from Congress, on how they handle the ’14 budget, and then we’ll know more. But that’s the problem with sequestration, is that it’s essentially $50 some billion every year for 10 years unless they change this model. And that’s why you find commanders like myself concerned and we’re asking for time and flexibility and some certainty and let us deal with it.
Gazette: There’s been talk in the past for an allocated force. You talked about troop availability. Are there any plans to get your own Northcom force established?
Jacoby: We’re in a discussion with Department of Defense right now, and we’re getting good support on the idea of more force being allocated to the homeland mission. That’s kind of a technical term. It means that it’s a force that isn’t doing a mission for me every day, but it knows that it has a homeland mission. It has a training requirement. And so it’s not a pickup team.
And so you asked a good question that I never got around to answering, and that’s what were one of the lessons you learned from Sandy, and Waldo canyon and others. It’s really — we really don’t want totally a pickup team for the homeland. We want a force that has the right capabilities, and has a modicum of training and knows that it can be expected to be called on.
And so that’s a great lesson. We’re getting good support on thinking our way through that. Of course, it comes at a really bad time to put any bills on the table. I mean, there’s not much appetite for a new bill on the table. And there’s a number of things we have like that — like the Arctic mission and a few other things — potential bills.
Gazette: As far as Waldo, about a month ago you talked about looking at making the Air Force’s fleet of
C-130s more readily available. Where do we stand with that?
Jacoby: We’ve got a tabletop exercise that’s going to be hosted here in a couple weeks and it’s going to be attended by assistant secretaries and under secretaries across the interagency.
This is one of those things about Northcom, we’re not, we’re not really lead for this. But what we like to do is bring groups together and say, “We’ve got a common problem, and how do we solve this problem?”
So we’ve got great partners in the firefighting business. And I will tell you that we are going to work hard to make Department of Defense resources as responsive as we can, when asked, that we’re allowed to provide.
In the end as I look back on the fire issue right now, there’s as much work to be done in preparedness as there is response. …
We’re having increased severe weather events. So to sit back and not prepare for those doesn’t make sense — and then hope that the cavalry rides to the rescue. My job is to always ride to the rescue, and be on time with the cavalry. But, you know, Waldo Canyon fire, 65 mph winds, the way that thing brewed up, fuel load, vulnerability — you know, those are things that across the whole firefighting enterprise we have to look at. Not just the response, but the preparedness.
Same thing we’ve done in hurricanes, by the way, that’s been very effective is the preparedness model — how we train, how we position, how we are ready at the start of each hurricane season.
That’s one of the things we’re trying to achieve in these tabletop exercises. How do we prepare for the fire season? It’s not quite as well defined, the fire season, because right now we have some fire concerns.
Gazette: Is there anything else you wanted to talk about?
Jacoby: The country can rest assured that we’re going to wring every bit of readiness and capability out of the means that we’re provided to defend the country.