The past year featured a plethora of these "national security special events," or NSSEs, as designated by the Department of Homeland Security. These high-profile operations provided the National Guard many opportunities to showcase its new capabilities and fill needed leadership roles, according to Guard officials.
The Super Bowl, Group of Eight (G8) economic summit, funeral of Ronald Reagan and both political parties' national conventions all were designated as NSSEs, because of their high profiles and presence of political leadership. Guard tasks included preparing to react to weapons of mass destruction attacks, handling protesters and coordinating the movements of VIPs. Guard soldiers also staffed vehicle checkpoints, provided overwatch in helicopters and maintained a security cordon around sensitive sites. More importantly, however, the events have been instrumental in the push for Guard officers to take leading roles in planning and executing security operations.
However, forging ahead into new roles means shaking up entrenched operating procedures. "The rules have not caught up with the new environment. I hope one day they will," said Col. Peter Aylward, chief of the Guard Bureau's homeland defense division.
One watershed event was the G8 summit, during which the Guard played a major security role. Brig. Gen. Terry Nesbitt commanded Army and Air National Guard troops on state or active-duty status and soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are on federal, or Title 10, status. He is the first National Guard general to be in command of a variety of military forces under this structure.
Although the U.S. Secret Service was the lead agency for the G8 summit security, Nesbitt found himself in command of troops from a dozen state National Guards, as well as active military services. Military personnel provided the bulk of the 10,000 people involved in the operation.
"The National Guard helped develop the plan with the Secret Service. As a result of that, we got to shape the battlefield a lot," Nesbitt said. "It is being looked at, I think, as a model for future homeland defense and homeland security operations, so that same unity of command can be put in place."
Nesbitt operates under a domestic version of the Powell Doctrine, which prioritizes an over-abundance of capabilities to plan for the unexpected. "If you go in with just enough to get the job done, you won't," Nesbitt said. "During the execution phase, you have to be flexible to changes."
President George W. Bush and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue had to approve the idea of a single commander for military forces on state and federal duty for the G8 summit. When they picked a National Guard officer for the job, it provided a nod of support to the Guard's primacy in this new role.
But after months of planning, the legal status of some elements was still up in the air. For example, the purchase of non-lethal equipment for Guard units with federal dollars instead of state money occurred before permission was given, Nesbitt said. Authorization was given months after the summit ended. The episode highlights where the process needs improvement, preferably in the form of guidelines from the National Guard Bureau.
"The budgeting authority drives me bananas," Nesbitt said. "If we can't [clarify policy], why have a bureau?"
Assuming a leadership role also means coordinating agencies that are possessive of their jurisdictions. "There are still turf battles out there," said Nesbitt, who is now the director of domestic operations for the Guard Bureau, who led the military elements during this year's G8 summit. "There are people in agencies who won't talk to each other, but they will talk to us."
Nesbitt and Aylward agreed the Guard still needs coordination and early planning, ideally done via liaison cells that would stand-up more than a year before the event. Non-lethal packages are also needed to help deal with crowd control, they said.
The time and effort it takes to establish and coordinate joint task forces for high security events, with plenty of advance time to prepare, are instructional as the Guard tries to gain the capability to respond to terrorist attacks and other unplanned events. "We need to have this packaged so we can take it on the road," Aylward said.
Maintaining and using the National Guard in this capacity also is cheaper than having active military units trained and deployed, Aylward said. "The bill we had to pay for the G8 is miniscule compared to France and Canada, which hosted the conference previously," he said.
A home team advantage helps the Guard in this role, especially given that its members live and work where an event will be taking place. "It's that tactical local familiarity, of being able to know how to go across town quickly if they need to, that makes the Guard so useful," Nesbitt said.
National security events also are used to showcase and test-drive the newly formed civil response teams. There were three in New York City during the Republican National Convention, for example.
Another new discovery is the usefulness of public awareness efforts that include the legal community, attorney general's office and civil rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union. "That communication provided compromises that everybody could live with."