America’s Army as First Responder

April 7, 2006

In the wake of the Katrina disaster, followed closely by Hurricane Rita, Americans can be forgiven for becoming uneasy about the capacity of its governing institutions to perform effectively in a large-scale disaster. Setting aside the political “blame game,” the crisis laid bare a number of institutional and leadership deficiencies in U.S. management of a major domestic crisis. Inevitably, these raise questions concerning the nation’s ability to deal not only with natural disasters but also with a major act of terrorism.

It is our view that the capacity for rapid and effective response is available to the nation but will require significant changes in both approaches and attitudes for this resource to be brought to bear effectively. Specifically, the nation should acknowledge the reality that the Army, composed of active forces, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve, has enormous de facto capability for dealing with emergencies and that such capability should be exploited to the fullest.

America’s Army is unique among all of the nation’s institutions, including the other armed services. It is deeply and broadly embedded throughout the fabric of the United States at local, state and federal levels. It has long-standing linkages and relationships that provide for direct The catastrophic nature of Hurricane Katrina in late summer 2005 confirmed once again that the standard “reactive” nature of federal assistance, while appropriate for most disasters, does not work during disasters of this scale. When local and state governments are functionally overwhelmed or incapacitated, the federal government must be prepared to respond proactively. It will need to anticipate state and local requirements, move commodities and assets into the area on its own initiative, and shore up or even help reconstitute critical state and local emergency management and response structures.1 Landpower Essay An Institute of Land Warfare Publication 2 continuing interaction with citizens and both governmental and nongovernmental organizations and leaders. Furthermore, it is a globally unified institution both organizationally and culturally. It can think and act locally, regionally and nationally.

We are not suggesting an “organizational fix,” nor do we believe that major improvements will require substantial new investment. The essential resources exist now. These include intangibles such as leadership and professionalism, along with the overarching values of service to nation and discipline that are ingrained in the U.S. military culture. Army values as expressed in “Duty, Honor, Country” are not adopted simply because they are attractive; they are functional organizational requirements for success in prevailing in warfare. Without them, organizational coherence and survival in combat would be impossible. It is this categorical imperative of values that transforms a part-time citizen-Soldier of the National Guard into a warrior when called to active duty. These same qualities are needed in a domestic crisis. They are very difficult to replicate through bureaucratic solutions combining diverse and ad hoc politically motivated—not competencedriven— individuals and organizations.

We will begin with a brief overview of how U.S. domestic forces are organized and their capacity for mobilizing efforts in concert with other authorities within the United States and interfacing with them in both planning and execution. We must also deal with existing impediments to fully effective and rapid operations, and how they can be overcome. Some are statutory, deriving from the federal nature of the republic. Others are needed improvements in capabilities through training, coordination and national reconsideration of an emerging domestic role of landpower in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.