United States Northern Command

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United States Northern Command
Founded1 October 2002
(20 years, 11 months ago)[1]
Country United States
TypeUnified combatant command
RoleGeographic combatant command
Part ofUnited States Department of Defense
HeadquartersPeterson Space Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S.
Motto(s)"We have the watch"[2]
Joint Meritorious Unit Award
CommanderGeneral Glen D. VanHerck, USAF[3]
Deputy CommanderLieutenant General A. C. Roper, USA[4]
Senior Enlisted LeaderSergeant Major James K. Porterfield, USMC[5]
NATO Map Symbol[6][7]
NORTHCOM Area of Responsibility (in blue)

The United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM)[8] is one of eleven unified combatant commands of the United States Department of Defense. The command is tasked with providing military support for non-military authorities in the U.S., and protecting the territory and national interests of the United States within the continental United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, The Bahamas, and the air, land and sea approaches to these areas. It is the U.S. military command which, if applicable, would be the primary defender against an invasion of the U.S.

USNORTHCOM was created on 25 April 2002 when President George W. Bush approved a new Unified Command Plan, following the September 11 attacks. USNORTHCOM went operational on 1 October 2002.


USNORTHCOM was established on 25 April 2002 when President George W. Bush approved a new Unified Command Plan,[9][10] and attained initial operating capability on 1 October 2002.[11]


According to the UCP, Northern Command's mission is to:[12]

  • Conduct operations to deter, prevent, and defeat threats and aggression aimed at the United States, its territories, and interests within the assigned area of responsibility and,
  • As directed by the President or Secretary of Defense provide military assistance to non-military authorities including consequence management operations

Area of responsibility[edit]

USNORTHCOM's Area of Responsibility (AOR) includes air, land and sea approaches and encompasses the continental United States, Canada, Mexico and the surrounding water out to approximately 500 nautical miles (930 km). It also includes the Gulf of Mexico, the Straits of Florida, portions of the Caribbean region to include The Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.[13] The commander of USNORTHCOM is responsible for theater security cooperation with Canada, Mexico, and The Bahamas.[14] In May 2011, NORTHCOM was mobilized in the wake of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico[15] to provide air, ground, and logistical support.[16] In October 2014, NORTHCOM took administrative control of Alaskan Command.[17]

Organizational structure[edit]


NORAD-USNORTHCOM headquarters at the Eberhart-Findley Building on Peterson Space Force Base

Commander, U.S. Northern Command is concurrently Commander of the U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). The two are co-located at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado.[18] General Ralph Eberhart was the first CDRUSNORTHCOM.[19]

USNORTHCOM headquarters has approximately 1,200 uniformed and civilian staff.[20] In its first period of organising in 2002–03, one priority was to hire civilian staff which could help respond to a Weapons of Mass Destruction attack and to coordinate disaster recovery.[21]

Component commands[edit]

Emblem Command Acronym Commander Established Headquarters Subordinate Commands
ARNORTH Lt General John R. Evans Jr. 11 June 1946 JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, Texas
MARFORNORTH Lt General Brian W. Cavanaugh December 1933 Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia
NAVNORTH Admiral Daryl L. Caudle 1 January 1906 Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads, Virginia
1 AF (AFNORTH) Lt Gen Steven S. Nordhaus 1 November 2007 Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida
United States Army Cyber Command
Joint Force Headquarters–Cyber[27][28]
ARCYBER / JFHQ–C Lt General Maria B. Barrett 1 October 2010 Fort Gordon, Georgia

*These Subordinates fall under United States Army Intelligence and Security Command, however Operational Control (OPCON) is given to ARCYBER for cyber-related effects.

Subordinate unified commands[edit]

Emblem Command Acronym Commander Established Headquarters Subordinate Commands
Alaskan Command[29] ALCOM Lt General David S. Nahom, USAF 15 November 1945 Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska

There is no U.S. Navy component of ALCOM. The United States Coast Guard's 17th District works closely with ALCOM and de facto acts as its maritime component.

Special Operations Command North[30] SOCNORTH Major General Shawn R. Satterfield, ARNG 5 November 2013 Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado

Standing joint task force[edit]

Emblem Command Acronym Commander Established Headquarters
Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region JFHQ-NCR Major General Allan M. Pepin, USA 22 September 2004 Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington D.C.
Joint Task Force – Civil Support JTF-CS Colonel Timothy J. Sulzner, ARNG October 1999 Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia
Joint Task Force North JTF-North Major General Matthew D. Smith, ARNG November 1989 Fort Bliss, Texas


Attendees pay respects during the playing of the American national anthem at the NORAD-USNORTHCOM change of command ceremony on 23 May 2018.

The commander of United States Northern Command is a four-star general or admiral in the United States Armed Forces who serves as the head of all U.S. military forces within the command's geographical area of responsibility. The commander of U.S. Northern Command concurrently serves as the commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and is the head of all United States and Canadian joint aerospace military operational forces, stationed within the Northern American territories. The commander of U.S. Northern Command is nominated for appointment by the President of the United States and must be confirmed by the United States Senate. The commander of U.S. Northern Command typically serves for two years.

Note: The National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 stipulates that at least one deputy commander of USNORTHCOM be a National Guard general officer unless the commander is already such an officer.[31][32]

No. Commander Term Service branch
Portrait Name Took office Left office Term length
Ralph E. Eberhart
Eberhart, Ralph E.General
Ralph E. Eberhart
(born 1946)
22 October 20025 November 20042 years, 14 days
U.S. Air Force
Timothy J. Keating
Keating, Timothy J.Admiral
Timothy J. Keating
(born 1948)
5 November 200423 March 20072 years, 138 days
U.S. Navy
Victor E. Renuart Jr.
Renuart, Victor E. Jr.General
Victor E. Renuart Jr.
(born 1949)
23 March 200719 May 20103 years, 57 days
U.S. Air Force
James A. Winnefeld Jr.
Winnefeld, James A. Jr.Admiral
James A. Winnefeld Jr.
(born 1956)
19 May 20103 August 20111 year, 76 days
U.S. Navy
Charles H. Jacoby Jr.
Jacoby, Charles H. Jr.General
Charles H. Jacoby Jr.
(born 1954)
3 August 20115 December 20143 years, 124 days
U.S. Army
William E. Gortney
Gortney, William E.Admiral
William E. Gortney
(born 1955)
5 December 201413 May 20161 year, 160 days
U.S. Navy
Lori J. Robinson
Robinson, Lori J.General
Lori J. Robinson
(born 1958/1959)
13 May 201624 May 20182 years, 11 days
U.S. Air Force
Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy
O'Shaughnessy, Terrence J.General
Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy
(born 1964/1965)
24 May 201820 August 20202 years, 73 days
U.S. Air Force
Glen D. VanHerck
VanHerck, Glen D.General
Glen D. VanHerck
(born 1962)
20 August 2020Incumbent3 years, 31 days
U.S. Air Force

Planning and strategy[edit]

Northern Command has created several classified "concept plans" (e.g. "Defense Support of Civil Authorities") that are intended to address the 15 National Planning Scenarios that NORTHCOM must be prepared to respond to.[33]

However the GAO found that the national strategy to defend the United States is several years out of date.[34]

Domestic operations and training[edit]

NORTHCOM operates extensive domestic intelligence operations which both share and receive information from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and other agencies maintain offices at NORTHCOM and receive daily intelligence briefings.[35] The total of 14 agencies with representatives at NORTHCOM in December 2002 included the State Department, NASA, and the Federal Aviation Administration.[36]

Northern Command has completed several joint training exercises with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).[37]

In Exercise Vigilant Shield 2008, Northern Command, Pacific Command, the Department of Homeland Security, and numerous law enforcement agencies across the U.S. conducted exercises to test their "response abilities against a variety of potential threats".[37]

Related legislation[edit]

The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 and subsequent Department of Defense policy constrains any member of the United States Army, Air Force, Navy, or Marine Corps, and the National Guard under federal authority from domestically intervening in a law enforcement capacity on United States soil. Several exceptions to the law have been used in the past, including protecting the citizens' constitutional rights in the absence of state and/or local assistance, such as protecting the Little Rock Nine students in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957, and using the Insurrection Act to quell civil disorders, such as the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 lifted many restrictions placed on the military to support non-military authorities by the Posse Comitatus Act, however the United States Supreme Court ruled in June 2008 that significant portions of the MCA were unconstitutional. The "John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007" H.R. 5122 (2006) effectively nullified the limits of the Insurrection Act[38] when it was passed; however, the bill was amended in 2008.

On 1 October 2008, the 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team was assigned to U.S. Northern Command, marking the first time an active unit had been given a dedicated assignment to Northern Command. The force will be known for the first year as a CBRNE Consequence Management Response Force, and will serve as an on-call federal response force for terrorist attacks and other natural or manmade emergencies and disasters.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "NORTHCOM History" (PDF). NORTHCOM. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 March 2022.
  2. ^ "USNORTHCOM Vision". Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
  3. ^ "Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command". U.S. Northern Command. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  4. ^ "Vice Commander, U.S. Element, North American Aerospace Defense Command and Deputy Commander, U.S. Northern Command". U.S. Northern Command. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  5. ^ "Command Senior Enlisted Leader, North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command". U.S. Northern Command. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  6. ^ FM 1-02 Operational Terms and Graphics (PDF). US Army. 21 September 2004. pp. 5–37.
  7. ^ ADP 1-02 Terms and Military Symbols (PDF). US Army. 14 August 2018. pp. 4–8.
  8. ^ Informally known simply as "NORTHCOM" or "Northern Command")
  9. ^ Whitley, Joe D.; et al., eds. (2009). "Unified Combatant Commands and USNORTHCOM". Homeland security: legal and policy issues. American Bar Association. ISBN 978-1-60442-462-1.
  10. ^ Bolkcom, Christopher; et al. (2005). "Homeland Security: Establishment and Implementation of Northern Command". In Thaler, William M.; Bea, Keith (eds.). Emerging issues in homeland security. Nova Publishers. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-59454-139-1.
  11. ^ Cecchine, Gary, ed. (2004). Triage for civil support: using military medical assets to respond to terrorist attacks. RAND Corporation. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-8330-3661-2.
  12. ^ "The Beginning" (PDF). U.S. Northern Command. 31 December 2012. p. 4. U.S. Northern Command's mission is to deter, prevent and defeat threats and aggression aimed at the United States, its territories, and interests. Additionally, the command is charged with providing defense support for civil authorities when approved by the President or Secretary of Defense. U.S. Northern Command also provides military resources and support to federal, state and local authorities.
  13. ^ Jacoby, Charles. "2014 NC Posture Statement" (PDF). northcom.mil. Retrieved 18 April 2015.
  14. ^ U.S. Northern Command Public Affairs (22 October 2009). "About USNORTHCOM". USNORTHCOM website. Peterson Air Force Base, CO: U.S. Northern Command. Archived from the original on 16 August 2009. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
  15. ^ "USNORTHCOM responds to Deepwater Horizon oil spill". Northcom.mil. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
  16. ^ "Deepwater Horizon airspace activity now coordinated at 601st AOC". Northcom.mil. 13 July 2010. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
  17. ^ "NORTHCOM assumes oversight of Alaskan Command - Stripes".
  18. ^ Cutler, Thomas (2011). Navcivguide. Naval Institute Press. p. 59. ISBN 978-1-61251-019-4.
  19. ^ "U.S. Northern Command History". Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  20. ^ "U.S. Northern Command". Archived from the original on 16 August 2009. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  21. ^ "New military command seeks civilian managers". 15 August 2002.
  22. ^ "ARNORTH Organization".
  23. ^ "MARFORCOM Units".
  24. ^ "Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic, Marine Forces Command, Marine Forces Northern Command". marforcom.marines.mil.
  25. ^ "US Navy Fleet Forces Command".
  26. ^ "1st Air Force Units".
  27. ^ "ARCYBER Organization".
  28. ^ "USCYBERCOM History".
  29. ^ "Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson > Units > Alaskan Command".
  30. ^ "Special Operations Command North (SOCNORTH)".
  31. ^ http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?tab=main&bill=h110-4986 Pub.L. 110-181: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008
  32. ^ http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h110-4986 Pub.L. 110-181: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 full text
  33. ^ Wormuth, Christine E. & Witkowsky, Anne (2008). Managing the next domestic catastrophe: ready (or not)? : a beyond Goldwater-Nichols phase 4 report. CSIS. p. 47. ISBN 978-0-89206-534-9.
  34. ^ "DOD Needs to Address Gaps in Homeland Defense and Civil Support Guidance GAO-13-128, Oct 24, 2012."
  35. ^ Miller, Russell A. (2008). US national security, intelligence and democracy: from the Church Committee to the War on Terror. Taylor & Francis. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-415-44646-4.
  36. ^ Shenon and Schmitt NYT 2002.
  37. ^ a b Head, Michael & Mann, Scott (2009). Domestic deployment of the armed forces: military powers, law and human rights. Ashgate Publishing. p. 60. ISBN 978-0-7546-7346-0.
  38. ^ "Bush Moves Towards Martial Law, 26 October 2006". Towardfreedom.com. 26 October 2006. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
  39. ^ "Brigade homeland tours start 1 Oct". Army Times. 30 September 2008. Retrieved 19 May 2011.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]