Wednesday I posted a piece indicating the need for NORTHCOM to coordinate any advanced response to the Ebola outbreak. Just a few short hours after that, Pres. Obama announces that he is ordering the National Guard and the Reserves to respond to Africa and assisting with Ebola efforts there.
This is interesting in many many ways, and many are a bit confused and concerned about this. I'm still mixed, not yet knowing which units will be selected and from where. My main concern is that a large group of these units have extensive deployments in their backgrounds already, and this just piles it on. But why these 'backup' units?
Several issues make this probably necessary- one, the Reserves now hold 67% of the Army's Combat Service Support units. Back in the late 1990's, Guard and Reserve units 'exchanged' roles; the Guard picked up more combat units, and the Reserves picked up CSS. Here in Colorado, the Guard ended up with a Field Artillery brigade, and the reserves have medical units and PsyOp units. The Guard also picked up a role supporting NORTHCOM headquarters- the first ones to have direct slots in a COCOM. The Reserves will have a huge role in providing MEDREP missions to Africa.
Another problem is that AFRICOM does not have any 'assigned' units like CENTCOM and EUCOM and NORTHCOM. One, it's too 'new', and two, its mission sets are not fully staffed out. While there are QRF units assigned out of Italy and Med areas, AFRICOM missions are usually supported from CONUS units, with fillers from CENTCOM and EUCOM; rarely PACOM might throw them a few bones. So, in order to fill out the mission planning, Reserve and Guard units are going to have to step in, for now.
Speaking of NORTHCOM, it looks more and more like they are going to have to step in to coordinate agencies with this preparedness in the U.S. As I mentioned, this is a fully-fleshed out role for NORTHCOM; we drilled responses to 'pandemic' situations on a weekly basis. Whether the pandemic situation was 'stand-alone' or part of a broader response (say, a terrorist attack occurs, and as a result of some mass movement, an outbreak occurs among that populace) we had to prepare to respond. We never knew whether the pandemic response was the 'key' event, or something else. Several times it was the only event; H1N1 was usually the trigger event, but the responses for Ebola and others would be very very similar. So NORTHCOM is quite prepared to coordinate this without going full-militia. So far, Texas (or any other state) hasn't declared any disaster response for Ebola, which would almost automatically flush NORTHCOM out and require response. (I must explain that Emergency Response Functions (ESFs) 6 and 8 were the main ones. This is in addition to the Defense Act of 2005 that allows the President powers in pandemic situations.)
One concern: how long of a lead is required to get the Reserves and Guard into theater? While they have response guys that can go within 72 hours or so, full units are going to take a minimum of 45 - 60 days to train-up for this. Do we have time for that?
One last consideration: dropping the 173d or the 18th ABN into the situation would NOT be likely; politically, sending our top-line first responders would look VERY bad. Not just for 'escalating' the situation, but, sending the message that Ebola is more of a concern than ISIS. Why would we send the 82d to Africa, but not Iraq to help?
This response to Ebola in Africa, as well as here, is going to get very interesting over the weekend.
BELOW POST UPDATE: 9:10am- President has named Ron Klain as the 'Ebola Czar.' I'm extremely curious why, since there are people in NORTHCOM, as well as those who have served there, that are eminently qualified and knowledgeable about this stuff. This is PURELY a political play to keep it off the headlines.