By Captain Ray Benedict, USN
U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Fleet Anti-Terrorism / Force Protection Officer
It has been one year since the tragic attack on the recruiting station and Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC) in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Four Marines and one Sailor were killed that day; another Marine was injured. As we reflect on that day, it’s important to pay our condolences to the families, friends, fellow Marines and shipmates of those we have lost. It’s also important that we honor their lives by doing the best that we can to mitigate future harm to our people, platforms and installations. Since last July our efforts have been focused on enhancing force protection for off-installation activities, as well as the entire force.
Protection of the Navy’s most valuable asset, our people, has been and will continue to be the priority, and USFF in the role of Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) executive agent for Force Protection (FP) and Anti-Terrorism (AT), will continue working with other committed stakeholder commands, including Navy Installations Command, Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Forces, Navy Recruiting Command, OPNAV, Army Corps of Engineers, and Naval Facilities Engineering Command to ensure we address the constantly evolving security environment in which we live and operate.
To that end our efforts since the shooting have been focused on enhancing force protection for off-installation activities, as well as the entire force. Our actions, informed by the investigation, also address key areas directed by the Secretary of Defense’s memoranda of July 29 and Oct. 2, 2015, and include arming personnel, force protection enhancements for off-installation facilities, active shooter training, physical improvements and mass warning/notification systems that will enhance security and force protection and improve our ability to protect our personnel.
Today, all 71 off-installation NOSCs have qualified armed men or women standing the watch. Navy Recruiting Command has since developed plans and is in final preparation to arm watch standers at recruiting stations as well. The arming of personnel at these facilities provides both a deterrent value and a defensive capability against potential attacks.
To ensure our people are prepared to respond appropriately, quickly and with confidence to a security threat, training is critical. U.S. Fleet Forces Command issued guidance requiring all Navy personnel (active, Reserve, civilians, and contractors) in the USNORTHCOM AOR to receive active shooter training within 90 days of reporting for duty, with an annual refresher from then on. For personnel outside the continental United States, an annual active shooter training requirement was also established. Active shooter response training was also made a focus area for the annual anti-terrorism exercise Solid Curtain-Citadel Shield held in February 2016. This ensured that all Navy personnel in the United States met the annual training requirement.
After reviewing policies and doctrine, updates and changes have been made that specifically address anti-terrorism / force protection (AT/FP) issues as they relate to off-installation facilities. These improvements include the development of site-specific anti-terrorism plans and incident response plans for NOSCs and recruiting stations. Making sure senior leaders have the proper tools to manage the requirements of our off-installation units, which serve in and among our communities, is vital; therefore new training curricula were developed to address these organizations. NOSC and NRD commanders are now required to complete Anti-Terrorism Level III training prior to assuming command. Similarly, a specific off-installation Anti-Terrorism Level II course was developed for NOSC and NRD anti-terrorism officers which will be implemented this fiscal year. Importantly, Navy Recruiting Command also assigned designated security officers at each of the Navy’s 26 recruiting districts and two recruiting regions to oversee AT / FP programs and to help develop and implement individual response plans at their districts and stations.
Off-installation NOSCs and recruiting stations have also been thoroughly evaluated and priorities have been set to provide resources that would give our personnel time to execute individual response plans to escape an active shooter attack. Following a series of comprehensive security engineering planning assistance visits, $80 million was allocated for physical improvements at recruiting stations (across all services) to install access controls, visual identification systems and perform physical changes to some buildings. Fifteen million dollars was allocated this year for physical security improvements at NOSCs. Personnel from 70 of 1366 recruiting stations have been temporarily relocated due to physical egress constraints at their facilities. Navy Recruiting Command is working through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the landlords to make physical changes to those recruiting stations, and where not possible, the plan is to move to a new location or close the station. Critical in this relationship with Army Corps of Engineers and landlords is our ability to update physical facilities to emerging threats. The Navy is working with the Department of Defense Mission Assurance Coordination Board (MACB) to update the process for applying additional physical security features to existing leases, emphasizing a streamlined process that places time-critical decision-making authority at the lowest level commander within the chain of command.
Being able to notify our personnel throughout the command in the event of an active shooter or any emergency situation is vital. A mobile device-based mass notification system has now been adopted and deployed across all Navy recruiting stations to alert personnel and local law enforcement. Simultaneously, the Navy is continuing to advocate through the DoD MACB for the approval of a cross-service mass notification system for all personnel.
Finally, all off-installation facilities were directed to review their emergency action plans with local law enforcement and first responders and to train and rehearse these plans to respond effectively to potential threats … which was accomplished by both Reserve and recruiting facilities. Emergency management relationships and plans must be executable and exercised in order to effectively respond in a crisis. It is important to note that we remain incredibly grateful for the quick and effective action by the first responders in Chattanooga. The experience and lessons from that day have been used to press into action relationships between the Navy and first responders across the force.
Force protection is inherently part of everyone’s mission, and our way ahead requires all-hands embrace a force protection mindset, recognizing the increased threat to Department of the Navy personnel. Our anti-terrorism/force protection strategies must provide additional layers of security against active shooter threats. Barriers and advanced warning devices are key elements in extending the time necessary for individuals to have the opportunity to evade and escape a crisis. Through a dedicated and thorough review of all aspects of AT/FP, our Navy today operates with a higher sense of awareness of the threats in our environment and are better trained and equipped to mitigate the harm and damage from a similar attack to the one in Chattanooga.