The Texas National Guard's 36th Infantry Division, headquartered at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, assumed command and control of the National Guard's Domestic All-Hazards Response Mission-West this week.
The new mission will require the division to synchronize the National Guard response to major hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires, should such a catastrophic event occur west of the Mississippi River.
There are two primary Domestic All-Hazards, or DAR, headquarters, DAR-East and DAR-West. Traditionally, command of each headquarters rotates annually between Army National Guard divisions. However, the 36th Infantry Division has been selected to lead DAR-West for the next two years.
"I believe we were asked to provide mission command because of our successful division headquarters deployment to Iraq and operating in Texas where we have proven we can handle a wide spectrum of hazards dealing with domestic support," said Lt. Col. Michael Houston, operations officer for the 36th Infantry Division and incoming DAR-W commander.
Soldiers with the 36th Infantry Division comprise the new DAR-W command team, and fall under the operational control of the National Guard Bureau, with consent of the state's adjutant general. Their region of control spans all states west of the Mississippi River, including Minnesota.
With such a large area of responsibility coordination with fellow guardsmen is necessary to ensure success.
"It is my intent to meet with command staff from all the division's in our area of operation in order to strengthen friendships and understand where their shortfalls might be," Houston said. "Our sister states know how to deal with natural disasters. Our job is not to get in the way of their operation or tell them how to do business. Our job is to simply analyze their mission needs and provide support packages to augment them and ensure success."
The 36th Infantry Division takes command from the Minnesota Army National Guard's 34th Infantry Division, which is known as the "Red Bulls" and is headquartered in Rosemound, Minn. The two units have trained together in preparation for the transition, including a simulated exercise responding to earthquakes in California.
"What I always reminded my team was that we could not treat the state of Minnesota any different than any other state," said Lt. Col. Paul Roecker, outgoing commander of DAR-W. "During my tenure we had to deal with tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri, and wildfires in Colorado. In each instance, we assisted in the development of force packages in case they were needed. This is a very diverse and challenging mission."
The domestic all-hazards response team concept was conceived following the events of Hurricane Katrina, Roecker said.
"After Katrina, the government started asking the question, 'Where did we fall short?' and what is our best resource to ensure something like Katrina does not happen again?" Roecker said. "It was decided that our best course of action would be to utilize our National Guard forces."
The DAR-W command cell will not be the only unit in the state that trains for homeland response.
Texas is also home to the Texas National Guard's Joint Task Force 71, a homeland response force known as "The Minuteman Brigade" that is headquartered in Austin, Texas. Their mission is to serve as the headquarters HRF in support of FEMA Region VI, which includes Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Utah. Their primarily focus is on responding to domestic attacks involving explosives, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons.
"The DAR mission is to respond to all hazards not covered under a homeland response force operation," said Roecker. "There could be a situation where JTF-71 would be a headquarters element, but that would be for their specific FEMA region."
While the DAR mission is new to the 36th Infantry Division, providing support for natural disasters and deploying National Guard assets into dangerous situations is not.
"Our challenge will be to shift from a Texas-centric domestic response to a western U.S. focus, but I have no reason to think our team will not succeed," Houston said. "All of our Soldiers have been handpicked based on their experience and proven performance. I have the utmost confidence in this team and our ability to succeed in this mission."
Article by Capt. Adam Musil, 36th ID