- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Pentagon has established a new military headquarters with the mission of defending the nation’s capital and assisting civil authorities in responding to a terrorist attack here.

The Joint Forces Headquarters for the National Capital Region is based at Fort McNair, a small Army post in the District on the banks of the Anacostia River, whose fortifications did not stop the British from invading in 1814 and burning the White House and U.S. Capitol.

The idea of the new Joint Forces Headquarters is not to fend off foreign armies but to prevent if possible — and respond to, if not — surprise attacks by terrorists who are using nuclear, chemical, biological or other unconventional means, Army Maj. Gen. Galen B. Jackman said Monday.

“There are vulnerabilities in the nation’s capital,” he said without being specific.

One of those vulnerabilities is the proximity of the White House, the Capitol and other government buildings to commercial air traffic, as shown by the September 11 attack on the Pentagon.

Gen. Jackman is commander of the new headquarters. The deputy commander is Rear Adm. Jan Gaudio, who also is commandant of the Naval District of Washington, which provides support services to naval installations within a 100-mile radius of the Pentagon.

Gen. Jackman and Adm. Gaudio briefed reporters on Monday about the arrangement and the new operations center, where they can monitor a broad range of information from the FBI and other government agencies.

The new outfit also has a mobile command center — a $3.2 million truck chock-full of computer, telephone, TV and other communication to enable Gen. Jackman or others to travel to an emergency and remain in touch with the secretary of defense and other agencies.

The idea is to improve the military’s ability to coordinate a post-attack response, as well as complicate a potential attacker’s planning by varying the placement and visibility of security measures, Gen. Jackman said.

Before September 11, the military organizations in Washington focused largely on ceremonial activities such as presidential inaugurations and installation management.

Now they are being asked to focus also on homeland defense. Even the U.S. Army Band is now trained to provide administrative medical support in the event of an attack.

A wide range of military forces is based in the Washington area, but none in large numbers. The Army has its 3rd Infantry Regiment, the famed “Old Guard” best-known for sentry duty at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, and its 12th Aviation Battalion, which has 18 Black Hawk helicopters based at Fort Belvoir.

Also in the area is an Army engineer company with special training in rescuing people from collapsed buildings and a bomb-disposal unit at McNair that is trained to respond to nuclear, chemical, conventional and improvised explosive incidents anywhere in the capital region.

Gen. Jackman’s organization is subordinate to U.S. Northern Command, a military headquarters in Colorado set up after the September 11 attacks to coordinate land defense. Air defense is the responsibility of the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

The only area of the country with a joint force headquarters devoted specifically to its defense is Washington.

A ceremony today will mark the official activation of Joint Forces Headquarters for the National Capital Region, but it already has been put to work several times in recent months. It set up a joint task force to respond to the discovery of the deadly poison ricin February on Capitol Hill, for example.

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