Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, said that when he took over the reins two years ago, he modified the Northcom mission statement to reflect this notion.
“I added the word ‘anticipate’ in there, and that really changed the culture of our command,” Renuart told an audience at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University here this week. “We anticipate each day what we might be asked to do.”
He said his commands monitor 35 to 40 daily “events” across the country that potentially could require assistance.
“If you wait to be a responder, you will always be late — you will always be playing catch-up. We can’t afford to do that in our country,” Renuart said.
Northcom, which was established about a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is responsible for an area of operations that includes the United States, Canada and Mexico. It serves as a “one-stop-shopping” point for military support in case of an attack on American soil.
Last week, Northcom served as one of the elements supporting the U.S. Secret Service in providing security for the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Barack Obama. Some 6,000 active-duty military and 9,300 National Guard members participated in the event that boasted between 2 and 3 million attendees.
“All of it required detailed planning across a variety of agencies to ensure that we had the right capability in the right place in the event we needed it,” the general said. “The good news is we didn’t.”
But one advantage of such preparation and anticipation is that Northcom personnel were able to administer medical treatment to some 300 people. “We happened to be in the right place,” Renuart said.
The general emphasized that Northcom fastidiously adheres to the rules outlined in the Posse Comitatus Act, a federal law that restricts the government from using the military for law enforcement.
“There are specific roles for the military, and specific roles when the military should not be involved,” he said. “Our art form is to navigate amongst those to ensure that we do respect the laws of our country, that we do respect the rights of individuals, and that we ensure that we only provide support to the agencies that are tasked by our Constitution to enforce the laws of our nation.”
Renuart added that cyber warfare — acts of aggression carried out over computers or the Internet — is making the definition of war more ambiguous.
“It’s harder to define what an act of war might be in the cyber world,” he said.