Deep in the basement of the Eberhardt-Findley Building on Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs hangs a banner with a simple motto: “We have the watch.”
It is a constant reminder to the men and women who man our command center for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command (Northcom) that they have a sacred responsibility to defend our homeland and to protect the skies over the U.S. and Canada.
It reflects the vigilance with which all of us at this binational command approach our duties and commitment to our citizens.
More than 1,700 members of our local community work at NORAD and Northcom headquarters, including U.S. and Canadian military, Department of Defense civilians, contractors and representatives from more than 60 federal agencies.
Utilizing a collaborative approach based upon trusted partnerships, these individuals are committed to ensuring North America remains safe.
While NORAD and Northcom are separate commands, their missions are closely linked. NORAD is a binational U.S. and Canadian military command that conducts aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning in defense of North America. Northcom conducts the core mission of defense of the U.S. homeland, facilitates defense support to civil authorities following events such as Hurricane Sandy or the Waldo Canyon fire, and oversees U.S. military-to-military relationships with Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas.
Our citizens have a high expectation of our ability to defend and support them in the homeland, and rightfully so. That means being able to defeat an incoming ballistic missile from North Korea, Iran or anywhere else. And in the event of a natural or man-made disaster, it means leveraging the tremendous capability and capacity of the Department of Defense to support a lead agency, such as FEMA.
Hurricane Sandy offered us a glimpse of what a complex catastrophe spanning several states and regions could look like, when flooding and winds knocked out power, disrupted fuel and food distribution and pushed the limits of what local responders could handle themselves. But Sandy helped us to mature the new Dual Status Commander concept that allows a single officer to oversee both state National Guard and federal military response, enabling us to be even better prepared and ready to act swiftly and with unity of effort if the unthinkable happens in our homeland.
Our nation is facing an increasingly complex and dynamic global security environment, where the distinction between the home game and the away game is quickly diminishing. The capabilities of our potential adversaries are advancing and proliferating, creating greater vulnerability in the homeland than ever before, from cyber and ballistic missile defense to the disruption and defeat of transnational criminal organizations. We must outpace these threats.
Yet, while we are confronted with this emerging threat landscape, the current fiscal environment back in Washington adds uncertainty to the availability and development capabilities we need to manage risks in the future. Moreover, it is hitting hard at our most valuable resource: our people, particularly our civilian employees who may face furloughs. The longer this goes on, the more I fear it could erode our ability to conduct critical homeland defense missions.
As we look forward, despite these challenges, NORAD and Northcom remain ready and capable to defend against a full spectrum of threats. Today, and in the future, we are committed to deter, prevent and defeat aggression aimed at the United States and Canada, as two commands, oriented on one vision: to work with our trusted partners to defend North America, outpace and mitigate threats, maintain faith with our citizens, and support them in their times of greatest need.
Gen. Charles Jacoby commands U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command from a headquarters on Peterson Air Force Base.