By Rear Admiral Jeff Hughes
Former commander, Navy Recruiting Command
It has been two years since the attack on the Navy Recruiting Station and Navy Operational Support Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Over the years, the Navy has developed a robust anti-terrorism force protection (ATFP) program to support our afloat units and ashore forces on Navy installations, however, it took this tragic incident to highlight the vulnerability of protecting our Sailors in areas across the country that are outside the confines of a base. This is certainly of great concern to our Navy recruiting force. Our recruiters operate in hundreds of stations across the country that must be readily accessible to prospective applicants in the communities in which we serve. The increasing threat of homegrown violent extremists, foreign terrorist organizations, disgruntled applicants and criminals, however, required an immediate culture shift to ensure we mitigate this operational risk to our recruiters while still performing our no-fail mission to source the fleet.
The safety of our recruiters is commander’s business and was my responsibility. Since assuming command of Navy Recruiting Command (NRC) seven weeks after the Chattanooga attack, my number one priority was to enhance force protection in NRC. Serving in the Navy comes with a degree of operational risk, but we now fully appreciate that it exists in the CONUS area of responsibility. Thus, the Navy recruiting force has rapidly improved its vigilance and taken an active role in improving its operational posture.
As we developed our enhanced ATFP program, we made sweeping changes throughout the command, both at the headquarters and field levels, to include new policy, guidance, and training to enable us to operate in this challenging and complex environment. It all starts at the individual level, especially in a command with as much dispersion as we require. Every recruiter is markedly more attentive to their environment. They are better at sensing and reporting things that are suspicious or out of the ordinary. They all know and drill to their individual response plans that are nested inside of each station’s tailored emergency action plan. Each station team has fostered active relationships with their local law enforcement partners and included them in planning and exercises. I routinely observed individual recruiters and station leaders making sound force protection decisions when indications and warning dictated or when incidents actually occurred.
At the national and district command levels, we now have an effective command and control (C2) structure in place that enables rapid information flow throughout the tactical control for force protection (TACON for FP) and NRC chains of command. We instituted a robust security department at NRC headquarters that serves as a fusion point for information flow and coordination with numerous ATFP partners across the community of interest. These partnerships – U.S. Fleet Forces Command, the Commander Navy Installation Command Region staffs, Navy Criminal Investigative Service, the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), the other services and the federal/state/local law enforcement agencies – are critical to better sensing and anticipating the threat, and coordinating responses. Each district command HQ now has a dedicated anti-terrorism officer who is solely focused on all aspects of this problem set and a critical node in our C2 architecture, especially the partnerships at the district level.
We have also included physical security upgrades to better harden our facilities such as controlled access systems, means to obscure the ability for a potential threat to see inside a station while improving the ability of recruiters to see out and fielding ballistic protection shields.
This program is comprehensive, encompassing risk management, mitigation planning, training and exercises, assessments, resource management and program reviews. Some of the key tasks include threat assessment through risk determination, development of pre-planned responses and random anti-terrorism measures, regular security and ATFP exercise drills to test preparedness and response, and the detailed analysis and assessment of the full program to determine compliance with Department of Defense and Navy Anti-Terrorism requirements.
As with any effects chain, successfully deterring a threat with a credible response is certainly desired. That is what we strive to achieve with our armed sentry watchstanding team. The watchstanders are selectively screened recruiters who receive formal armed sentry and scenario-based use of force training, and are qualified in the employment of lethal and less-than-lethal measures for the equipment they carry. The concept of operations is that they stand watch in our recruiting stations in a random coverage pattern similar to that of air marshals on an airliner – people know the program exists, you just don’t know if one is on your flight. Our sentries are in uniform, but you may not know they are in a station. They receive regular sustainment training on a quarterly, semi-annual and annual basis to include academic and practical hands-on training and must continuously meet strict standards and expectations of their roles in this program.
The safety and security of our recruiting team is and will always be the command’s highest priority. This challenging threat environment is a reality and will likely perpetuate but we will also continue to evolve. We are rapidly learning, adapting and remaining always vigilant.