Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks underscored the imperative of maintaining a robust defense against threats to the homeland during a change of command ceremony yesterday at U.S. Northern Command headquarters at Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado.

Air Force Gen. Gregory M. Guillot assumed dual command of Northcom and the North American Aerospace Defense Command from Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck. 

Hicks noted that since its creation in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Northcom has served as the lynchpin for protecting North America against external threats. 

“This command was designed to draw from the full strength of our military service talent, capabilities and approaches — land, air, sea and cyberspace — at any given moment in time and history,” she said.  

“For more than 20 years now, you have stood the watch protecting our people and projecting power across domains and theaters in defense of our homeland,” she said. 

Hicks noted that that protection extends far beyond the threat of terrorism, encompassing humanitarian assistance and disaster response and facing down threats posed by Russia’s long-range aviation, North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles, and Russian and Chinese out-of-area maritime operations. 

“Not to mention the first kinetic engagement of a foreign object over North America since World War II when NORAD expertly led the safe shootdown and recovery of a [Chinese] high-altitude, surveillance balloon off the South Carolina coast” last year, she said. 

She added that under VanHerck’s command Northcom has also led the U.S. response to rising strategic competition in the Arctic Circle. The combatant command also led the Defense Department’s efforts to support federal, state, local and tribal partners during the COVID-19 pandemic and provide vital support for tens of thousands of Afghan nationals as they resettled in the U.S.   

“This is all proof that we are better prepared today to deter, detect and defeat any threats to the homeland and in no small part thanks to Gen. VanHerck’s leadership of NORAD, Northcom,” Hicks said. 

Hicks was joined by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., Canadian Defense Minister Bill Blair and Canadian Chief of the Defense Staff Army Gen. Wayne Eyre in underscoring the critical role of NORAD and Northcom. 

Brown said NORAD, which has since the cold war brought U.S. and Canadian forces together under a combined organization charged with aerospace and maritime warning for North America, continues to represent the deep partnership between the two nations. 

“Your presence here shows the world how deeply integrated our two countries are,” Brown said. “We’re integrated socially, economically, geopolitically, militarily, and we ultimately share responsibility for the security of our great continent. Like President [Ronald] Reagan said, we’re closer to family than anything else.” 

VanHerck, who is retiring after more than 36 years of service, thanked leaders from both countries for their continued support for the women and men who work to ensure the continent remains secure.  

“For the past three and a half years, I’ve had the privilege of waking up every day and serving the most incredible people accomplishing the most noble mission you can have: defending our homelands,” he said. “Thank you all for supporting them.” 

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