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The tangled web of homeland security

BOLLING AIR FORCE BASE, D.C. -- The Air Force District of Washington's new homeland security priorities in the National Capital Region will resemble a tangled web until the operational and communication layers are sorted out.

With the official stand-up of the Joint Task Force Headquarters-National Capital Region in October 2004 and the reactivation of the Air Force District of Washington at Bolling Jan. 1, the No. 1 priority of providing homeland defense for national security events in the NCR was set into place just in time for the 55th Presidential Inauguration and, most recently, for the State of the Union Address Wednesday.

"The important thing to remember during all national security events is that there are two elements of operations occurring simultaneously," said Capt. Tom Mahoney, from the AFDW directorate of operations. "One element of operations is ceremonial. The other one is homeland security."

For President George W. Bush's inauguration Jan. 20, the Air Component Coordination Element-NCR was established to serve as a key liaison between Joint Task Force-NCR (what JFHQ becomes during a national security event) and the Air Force component command to U.S. Northern Command, Northern Air Forces. For day-to-day operations, 1st Air Force at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., provides oversight of air defense in the continental United States.

Using a football game analogy to simplify how the ACCE is structured, the ACCE director acts as an agent to the quarterback (JFACC), facilitating headquarters-to-headquarters coordination of the "air game" within the NCR. The JFACC director maintains operational control of the ACCE who in turn communicates with the JFACC through their NCR boss -- the forward commander for the Air Force, or the offensive team captain for AFDW, if one continues the football analogy.

Translated into English, this means that AFDW and NORTHCOM leadership have established an effective way for the Air Force to support a joint operations center environment in the NCR without losing direct communication with its people or assets during a national security event. The joint force air component commander at JTF-NCR established the ACCE position to provide efficient planning, coordination, and execution of air support to Joint Forces Command.

"While any national security event is going on, intelligence information is flowing to and from several different agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Secret Service, NORTHCOM, the JOC and the Bolling command post at the same time," Captain Mahoney explained. "They have a collaborative sharing agreement for security information."

The ACCE director accepts decision-making authority delegated by the JFACC director through the forward commander for the Air Force. This senior leadership triad is responsible for making the decisions that impact the management, deployment and protection of all Air Force assets in the NCR for all NSEs during crises or disasters.

In crises or disasters, the ACCE can coordinate through the JFACC specified administrative tasks involving Air Force forces, resources, equipment, personnel management, logistics, training, readiness, mobilization and demobilization plus limited discipline under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.

While Col. Bruce W. Deane, AFDW chief of staff, served as the ACCE director during the inauguration and again for the SOTUA, Col. Duane A. Jones, the commander for AFDW and the 11th Wing, served as the commander for Air Force Forward Forces in and around the NCR.

Between the two Air Force leaders, AFDW's mission was strategically postured to provide dual support as a robust forward presence in the NCR and serve as a visible, passive deterrence for an NSE during the inauguration.

By coordinating with Colonel Deane, Colonel Jones used a limited number of forward-deployed Air Force resources while maintaining a robust reach-back of personnel from NORTHHAF-1AF staff and the combined air operations center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., had there been an actual emergency requiring air and space support.

In the event of an actual emergency, the AFDW commander can also call for immediate support from the Civil Air Patrol, as well as the Air Force National Security Emergency Preparedness Agency and many other federal agencies involved with providing security for national security events.

AFDW's stand-up is intended to be transparent during national security events. If you were not directly affected by its presence and had a good time attending or being a part of these national security events -- like the inaugural period and the SOTUA, then AFDW's mission was successful. The ACCE position provides the two-way mirror for the air staff to make its decisions, as well as a valuable, two-way communication/translation link between the other JOC service members and NORTHCOM-1AF. While people are enjoying these events, the main focus is to ensure everyone's safety and protection using joint homeland security force-protection measures.

During national security events, AFDW is tasked to keep capabilities on hand and ready with a reach-back in place in the event of an emergency. Adding the ACCE position to the JOC web has enhanced JTF-NCR's air-and-space-power capabilities during an event as well as more clearly defined AFDW's new mission as a contingency-support component rather than a law-enforcement element like the U.S. Secret Service.

Overall, the web is complex and multilayered, not tangled. It's also not very transparent to the enemy, either.

"You'll never be aware of what they (ACCE, JTF-NCR, NORTHCOM, etc.) are doing unless something bad happens," Captain Mahoney said.