CCMRF and Use of Federal Armed Forces in Civil Support Operations

Article excerpt

Last year, the Secretary of Defense assigned the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, to U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) as part of the first dedicated chemical, biological, radiological and high-yield explosive (CBRNE) consequence man- agement response force (CCMRF). The Internet sprang to life with dire warnings of armed soldiers in full combat gear routinely patrolling our nation's streets. Alarmist predictions ran wild: Steely-eyed infantrymen, just off the plane from Iraq and Afghanistan, not only would be en- forcing domestic law but would slide rapidly down the slippery slope to the oppression of American citizens at the behest of an unchecked executive branch of government.

The cyber hue and cry illustrates the depth of the public's misunderstanding and the abundance of misinformation surrounding the federal military role in domestic civil support operations. Misunderstanding and misinformation about defense support of civil authorities (DSCA) in general, of CCMRF in particular, and of the legal authorities governing the domestic use of federal forces exist even within our Army, as illustrated in COL Craig Trebilcock's article "Resurrecting Posse Comitatus in the Post-9/11 World" in the May issue. Clearly, however, Posse Comitatus is quite alive and well, and reports of its impending demise are greatly exaggerated.

Support of Civil Authorities

In a revolutionary doctrinal change, Field Manual 3-0 Full Spectrum Operations incorporates civil support as an integral part of the Army's operational concept. Just as soldiers and leaders must understand offensive and defensive operations, an understanding of civil support operations is now imperative. We must eliminate the wrong perceptions of civil support operations, both in the public eye and within our own institution.

Our armed forces have a long history of supporting civil authorities. In the recent past, the Army conducted postal operations during the 1970 postal strike. In 1981, Army air traffic controllers staffed civilian control towers during the air traffic controllers' walkout. Federal forces supported state and local authorities during Hurricanes Andrew in 1992 and Katrina in 2005, and in many other natural disasters in the last decade. Navy divers assisted local, state and federal authorities during the Minnesota bridge collapse of 2007. Just last year, U.S. Army North (ARNORTH), NORTHCOM's joint force land component command, deployed a two-star task force to command and control federal military forces in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the state of Texas during Hurricane Ike.

NORTHCOM is the combatant command whose area of responsibility includes U.S. soil. Civil support is one of NORTHCOM's two major missions; homeland defense is the other. Although interrelated, the two missions are separate, and, unfortunately, the uninformed tend to confuse them.

Two seminal events, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, have heightened the importance of defense support of civil authorities and have underscored the requirement for the Department of Defense to be ready and able to support civil authorities. The establishment of NORTHCOM has greatly improved our ability to respond to domestic emergencies of all kinds, not only as a joint military force but as a nation. Civil support is no longer just an additional duty for the armed forces; it is now a critical continuous endeavor. For example, 10 full-time defense coordinating officers - active Army colonels assigned to ARNORTH - work daily with each of the 10 FEMA regions and coordinate regularly with other federal agencies, state emergency management officials and National Guard leaders.

The Legal/Policy Framework

The role of the federal military in DSCA is carefully defined and deliberately circumscribed by the Constitution, statutes and policy. As many have noted, one of the laws that limits the role of the federal military is the Posse Comitatus Act. …