Small Wars Journal

Army North’s Task Force 51: Ready When It Counts

Thu, 08/09/2012 - 5:48pm

As we continue our series on the Defense Department’s CBRN Response Enterprise (CRE), we are in the second week of US Northern Command’s annual "Vibrant Response" exercise.  This exercise not only validates the abilities of our newest specialized response force, the Command and Control CBRN Response Element – Bravo (or C2CRE – B), but it also sustains the abilities of C2CRE – A, led by US Army North’s deployable command post, Task Force 51 (TF-51).  C2CRE – B is comprised entirely of Army National Guard forces, while C2CRE – A consists of both Active Duty and Army Reserve forces.   

 To shorten the response time to a CBRN incident, most of the federal response assets have been re-allocated to the state and regional level, leaving only 1500 personnel in the C2CREs.  However, the C2CREs would not be the first federal forces to respond to an incident: they could either reinforce the Defense CBRN Response Force (DCRF), or even respond to a separate incident.

The C2CREs are comprised of a 2-star headquarters and five task forces (operations, aviation, sustainment, special troops, and medical); plus one Initial Response Force (IRF) specializing in decontamination, technical search and extraction, and medical triage.  The IRF enables the C2CRE to immediately push life-saving capability while it receives additional forces. 

TF-51 is a rapidly-deployable 2-star headquarters for C2CRE-A and is capable of employing and sustaining specialized response forces, in support of civilian authorities after a CBRN incident.  In concert with Army Forces Command, TF-51 also oversees the readiness of its allocated C2CRE forces.  TF-51 can respond to any hazard, not just CBRN.  This demands a constant state of readiness, which the Army supports with the personnel, equipment, and training necessary to maintain a standing, all-hazards response headquarters focused on the homeland.  

Title 10 forces play a vital role in ensuring the nation’s security and safety at home.  However, due to the unique aspects of federal forces operating in the homeland, proper training is vital.  To this end, TF-51’s newly-assigned Soldiers attend a myriad of courses designed to ensure they are proficient in their new mission.  Shortly after their arrival to TF-51, all Soldiers receive extensive training in Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA)—totaling nearly 50 hours of instruction—in which they interact with representatives from different state and federal agencies.  Classroom training is reinforced through a yearlong series of exercises in concert with federal, state and local civilian authorities.

The Army is in need of consequence management experts within its ranks who understand operational art in a DSCA or a CBRN environment; applying the right response at the right time, and in the right place . . . and it starts with Army North and TF-51.  Through education, training and cooperation with our state and federal partners, this dynamic team stands ready to deploy and render assistance to our fellow citizens their time of need.