Navy ships, Army ground-based radar and missile systems and Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard aircraft have descended on Key West, Fla., for the field training portion of U.S. Northern Command's annual homeland defense exercise that kicked off this week.
Northcom's Vigilant Shield 12 exercise launched Nov. 1 and continues through Nov. 10, combining field and command post exercises to train Northcom and North American Aerospace Defense Command staffs in homeland defense and homeland security processes, Lt. Alain Blondin of the Canadian navy, a command spokesman, told American Forces Press Service.
"The scenario for the exercise is based on potential military threats to the United States and Canada that require extensive military planning to provide a range of military options to our national leadership," said Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., Northcom and NORAD commander, in a blog announcing the exercise.
Northcom's operations center at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., working in coordination with a joint deployable integrated air and missile defense system and elements of a logistics support facility dispatched to Naval Air Station Key West, are testing their capabilities against simulated enemy attacks, Blondin said.
Although most of the scenarios are classified, Blondin said, they will involve "the full spectrum of threats," including simulated terrorist attacks.
"It's an old Army truth that you have to train like you fight, and the exercise scenario will undoubtedly put us through our paces," Jacoby said. This exercise will not only train us for that worst-case situation, but it will also aid our planners in preparing for it."
"Homeland defense is our most important mission, and it's a sacred trust we share with the citizens of the United States and Canada," he said. "VS 12 will make us better and, most importantly, make our countries safer in the long run."
To increase the realism of the scenarios and test the ability of federal, state and international partners to provide a synchronized response to homeland threats, Vigilant Shield planners have piggybacked on other training exercises.
For example, routine training flights under way across the Washington, D.C., region are testing Northcom's and NORAD's ability to coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Aviation Administration, among other federal agencies.
This year's Vigilant Shield is being linked to two other concurrent exercises: Vigilant Guard Arizona and Determined Dragon. Vigilant Guard Arizona, a joint regional exercise sponsored by Northcom and the National Guard Bureau, is designed to improve military processes, procedures and coordination with state and local responders, officials said. Canada Command is conducting Determined Dragon to test the readiness of Canadian forces at the national level.
Jacoby emphasized the importance of a strong exercise program to maintain readiness, noting Winston Churchill's famous quote, "Everywhere men pray for peace, but prepare for war."
"I firmly believe that quote accurately reflects how the men and women of these commands go at their business each and every day, and that's why it's important as we look at a decreasing military budget to maintain and sustain critical training exercises like Vigilant Shield," he said. "Every time you exercise, you learn something new."
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
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