In terms of size, the Colorado Army National Guard’s Northern Command Mobilization Element is tiny, comprising only 30 Soldiers. Though small, this unit, affectionately known as the “Colorado 30,” plays a critical role within U.S. Northern Command.
USNORTHCOM is the military lead for COVID-19 operations in the United States in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Inside its Crisis Action Center at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado, members of the COARNG Mobilization Element are working around the clock to coordinate federal resources to meet state requests to support the whole of government approach to confronting COVID-19.
The COARNG NORTHCOM Mobilization Element integrates qualified Army National Guard personnel into designated staff positions across USNORTHCOM to support the commander in training and exercises, peacetime crises, and designated homeland defense missions. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, USNORTHCOM has conducted its Defense Support of Civil Authorities mission by providing military support to local, state and federal agencies. A bulk of this support has come via FEMA-requested military medical and logistics personnel.
Every military component, whether Active, Reserve, or Guard, or a separate Department of Defense activity such as the Defense Logistics Agency, can be utilized in the homeland for disasters and emergencies. There are specialized capabilities within the DoD that can be requested, activated and deployed for a national, state or local need. The Colorado Mobilization Element, USNORTHCOM, most frequently performs DSCA operations.
“Whenever FEMA or another federal agency requires some military capability, we respond to that demand,” U.S. Army Master Sgt. Mark Poinsett said, the senior operations Non-commissioned Officer with the COARNG Mobilization Element. “We formulate a request for forces for Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen or Marines. The branch of service doesn’t matter; we want the best capability to fit the need.”
Poinsett has worked eight previous disaster response missions, including wildfires, floods, and hurricanes, but said this pandemic is unlike anything he has experienced.
“All 10 of the FEMA regions’ Defense Coordinating Officers and staff have activated,” he said. “In 2017 during hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma, we had five of the DCOs activated. This is the only time that all ten have been activated. To me, that indicates the seriousness of this situation.”
USNORTHCOM is one of the DoDs 11 unified combatant commands and began operations in October 2002. The COARNG Mobilization Element established in 2004 to augment the combatant command and has been incorporated into its command structure ever since.
“Our unit is unique,” U.S. Army Lt. Col. Andrew Diederich, commander , COARNG Mobilization Element said. “To my knowledge, no other U.S.-based combatant command has a National Guard unit like us so closely integrated. We are there specifically to assist NORTHCOM. We are not there as liaisons to the National Guard; we are there as members of the NORTHCOM staff in critical positions.”
Diederich explained that most of the Soldiers in his unit are traditional Colorado Army National Guardsmen, meaning they work part-time, typically during large-scale exercises, in addition to having civilian careers. Now the Soldiers are engaged again and are on duty to increase Active Duty capacity during the COVID-19 response “I feel like we have built tremendous capability,” Diederich said, who has served in multiple roles with the unit throughout his career. “We are the first people NORTHCOM sources for extra help because we send well-trained, high-quality officers, and NCOs. We’ve built long-term relationships, as the Guard tends to do, within NORTHCOM. We are familiar and reliable.”
Poinsett believes the training and experience that National Guard Soldiers brings is vital.
“We believe we’re making a difference,” Poinsett said. “If I told my wife that I had a quiet day at work, she would say, ‘Oh good.’ She knew that if I had a busy day, something bad was happening somewhere in the country.”
“I definitely haven’t had any quiet days in a while,” he said.