From the field: The value of partnerships; why the Coast Guard is a unique branch of the military

>Today’s guest post comes from Cmdr. Richard Reinemann, Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan’s Deputy Sector Commander:

“Last week, Sector Lake Michigan led 350 members from over 30 federal, state and local agencies in conducting a full scale security exercise, the Heartland Initiative 2009, in Milwaukee, Wis., May 5.

The exercise scenario centered on a radiological hazard aboard a vessel at the Port of Milwaukee as well as many additional elements designed to fully test the multi-agency response to a terrorist threat. In addition to our port partners and representatives from the FBI, Transportation Security Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, Customs and Border Protection, we had 85 members of the Army Reserve’s 379th Chemical Brigade from Illinois, 30 members from the Wisconsin National Guard’s Civil Support Team and a couple of hundred of our closest state and local partners.

This exercise was the third and final phase of a year-long planning and training process.

(Left: Responders prepare to deploy as part of the Heartland Initiative 2009 Homeland Security Exercise at the Port of Milwaukee May 5. Photo courtesy Sector Lake Michigan)

Phase one started with a table top exercise and training in February for the Unified Command. The end state of this phase was the development of the Unified Command’s priorities and objectives (strategy) for the exercise.

Phase two was a functional Incident Command Post exercise in March involving 85 members of the Unified Command Staff. Their mission was to take the Unified Command’s Priorities and Objectives and create an Incident Action Plan (tactics) for the full scale exercise.

We were fortunate to have Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar, Adjutant General of the Wisconsin National Guard, visit the exercise. Brig. Gen. Dunbar, who is also the head of the Wis. Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Advisor to the Governor of Wisconsin, toured the exercise site from the water, he saw the Coast Guard security zone around the subject vessel being enforced by a mixture of Coast Guard, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and Milwaukee Police boats.

(Right: (l-r) Mark Owens, Director, City of Milwaukee Homeland Security; Rich Raminski, FBI Special Agent in Charge Milwaukee; Ed Rooney, TSA Milwaukee; Capt. Luann Barndt, Prospective Sector Lake Michigan Commander; Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar, Adjutant General, Wis. National Guard; Brig. Gen. Legwold, Director Joint Staff-Joint Force Headquarters, Wis. National Guard onboard Coast Guard Station Milwaukee’s Response Boat. Photo Courtesy Sector Lake Michigan.)

As he toured the site, he watched as the Coast Guard led the joint federal, state and local law enforcement boarding team as they conducted a boarding of subject vessel. When he commented on these joint efforts, I explained that the Coast Guard partners on a daily basis with these other agencies so these joint operations were not really new to us. Brig. Gen. Dunbar then commented that the Coast Guard is unique among all military services because of our robust partnerships.

Working with other public agencies and private entities is such a large part of our daily mission that I had never really thought about it before, but he was absolutely correct; we are unique. We not only share jurisdictions, we share assets, expertise and support with other agencies. Whether it’s a Coast Guard crew jointly enforcing a safety zone along side another law enforcement agency’s crew, or a CBP agent joining a Coast Guard boarding team to conduct a law enforcement boarding on a foreign flagged ship, or our relationships with the port and maritime industry, our partnerships are what make us truly unique.

We would not be able to meet our National Response Framework mandates, nor our country’s expectations, if we did not effectively partner with these other agencies. In my opinion, these partnerships, solidified through exercises and joint operations, are the key to effective homeland security.

Brig. Gen. Dunbar summed it up best when he stated ‘As you know, planning is essential to fulfilling our duties, but it is the relationships that will allow us to adjust to unforeseen contingencies.'”

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