As U.S. military forces have been called on to increasingly lend a hand during crises unrelated to war, the Department of Defense has created a new designation for National Guard members: Homeland Response Forces. These teams of about 600 guard soldiers and airmen will specialize in responding to domestic attacks and disasters. The first such units, in Washington and Ohio, will be on-line by the end of next month, with an additional eight regional units to be up and running in 2012, according to the DoD.
The biggest change the special units will bring about is the speed with which guard members will be able to respond, a Defense Department spokesman wrote in an e-mail. Military leaders expect the Homeland Response Forces to be able to respond to 90 percent of the country within 12 hours, according to DoD.
The units will specialize in responding to situations including domestic attacks using explosives, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons; providing emergency medical care and crisis management functions. The members will also provide emergency medical help, specializing in decontamination, rescue and evacuation and fill communication and logistics roles.
About a fourth of the members of every homeland response guard unit will be full-time, in comparison with about 9 percent of existing guard members, according to the DoD. The majority of National Guard members train two days a month along with a two-week annual training, but most guard units have a few full-time staff. Homeland response units will also have more training time allotted and access to more vehicles, including aircraft.
The military has been asked to intervene in the fallout following Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005; the earthquake in Haiti, response to the ongoing oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico – Chicago Alderman have even floated the idea of using National Guard troops to keep order in the city’s crime-ridden neighborhoods.
The Department of Defense established the U.S. Northern Command, or NORTHCOM, in 2002 as a home for homeland defense operations after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.