Military Support
to Civil Authorities—

the role of the Chemical Corps

By Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Hook


With America’s recent dominance in conventional warfare, there is an increased risk of unconventional attacks against the United States by those who are opposed to U.S. policies and actions. The U.S. military has always had a clear interest in protecting its power-projection assets located at bases and installations within the borders of the United States. However, this has become even more critical in light of continued reductions in the number of forward-deployed units. Additionally, our increased reliance on computer-based technologies has increased the United States’ vulnerability to covert attack. Also, international and domestic terrorism continues to be potential threats to both U.S. military assets and the civilian populace. This has prompted both Congress and the Executive Branch to place greater emphasis on military support to civilian authorities.

Specific areas commonly considered appropriate for military support include incidents involving information warfare (cyber-warfare), narco-terrorism, eco-terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD), as well as assistance during natural disasters. However, the Department of Defense (DoD) is a supporting agency in the federal interagency response to domestic emergencies, including those caused by terrorist’s use or potential use of WMD. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) is the statutory agent responsible for countering domestic terrorism. They are the federal lead agency for crisis management activities--those measures required to anticipate, prevent, and/or resolve a hostile situation. Similarly, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the federal lead agency for consequence management activities--those services and activities designed to mitigate damage, loss, hardship, or suffering resulting from man-made or natural catastrophe. In responding to incidents involving terrorists’ use of WMD, the Department of Defense will support the lead federal agencies (FBI or FEMA).

Among the challenges faced by agencies responsible for responding to these incidents is to develop an adequate definition of WMD. U.S. Code Title 50, Chapter 40, Section 2302, Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction, defines it as follows:

The term "weapon of mass destruction" means any weapon or device that is intended, or has the capability, to cause death or serious bodily injury to a significant number of people through the release, dissemination, or impact of (A) toxic or poisonous chemicals or their precursors; (B) a disease organism; or (C) radiation or radioactivity.

Yet another definition defines WMD as a deliberate or unintentional event involving a nuclear, chemical, radiological weapon or device, or large conventional explosive, that produces catastrophic loss of life or property. A large explosive event is also considered a WMD because initially the cause of the explosion has not been determined and the resulting damaged site may contain a radiological, biological, or chemical agent.

The U.S. military provides domestic support through Military Assistance to Civil Authorities (MACA). Support to civilian agencies can take several forms. At the state level, a governor can employ National Guard (either Army National Guard or Air National Guard) forces in state active-duty status in response to natural disasters, civil disturbances, and other extreme circumstances. If an incident results in requirements that exceed the state’s ability to respond, the governor may request assistance from the President of the United States, who can then order the employment of federal forces such as the Army and Army Reserve. DoD assets are deployed domestically through the Department of Justice, FBI, or FEMA only when DoD assistance is explicitly requested and approved by the President. Within the Joint Forces Command (formerly USACOM), the Joint Task Force--Civil Support (JTF-CS) has responsibility for planning and executing military assistance to civilian authorities in response to WMD incidents.

Where does the Chemical Corps fit into this picture? Some domestic emergencies, such as cyber-warfare, will require little or no support from chemical personnel or units. Other types of incidents, most notably WMD-related incidents, may require extensive support from chemical personnel and units. One type of unit that may be called upon for support is the National Guard Military Support Detachments, also known as Rapid Assessment and Initial Detection (RAID) teams. There are currently 10 RAID detachments, one in each FEMA region, manned by active-duty National Guard personnel, and 44 RAID (L) detachments made up of traditional National Guard soldiers.

These teams are designed to assess a suspected nuclear, biological, chemical, or radiological event in support of the local incident commander; advise civilian responders on sample and modeling results; and facilitate requests for assistance to expedite the arrival of additional state and federal assets. Although these detachments include chemical officers and 54B enlisted personnel, much of the equipment they are trained to use consists of nonstandard commercial off-the-shelf detectors and personnel protective equipment. The RAID detachments have a limited decontamination capability, so it is likely that additional support from Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard chemical units will be required in the event of a major WMD incident.

Other available response elements include Army Reserve BIDS companies, the Army’s Technical Escort Unit (TEU) and EOD detachments, the U.S. Marine Corps’ Chemical and Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF), as well as response personnel from U.S. Army Medical Command (MEDCOM), the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease (USAMRIID), U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense (USAMRICD), the Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine (CHPPM), and special medical response teams from the six Regional Medical Commands (RMC). If a WMD incident occurs in the Washington, D.C., National Capitol Region, a newly-formed National Capitol Response Force is designed to provide support to the civilian authorities.

A joint DoD response capability has been created by the formation of the Chemical Biological--Rapid Response Team (CB-RRT), organized under the command and control of the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command (SBCCOM). The CB-RRT, composed of members of all services as well as DoD employees, has the responsibility to coordinate and manage the DoD technical response to a CB terrorist incident. The team provides the capability to aid in detection, neutralization, containment, and disposal of WMD devices.

The entire spectrum of military assistance to civilian authorities will require support from logistics, engineer, NBC defense, military police, signal, airlift, maritime patrol, intelligence analysis, and other military units. The U.S. Army’s Maneuver Support Center (MANSCEN) was recently activated at Fort Leonard Wood in order to coordinate training for engineer, chemical, and military police personnel and units. This coordination, together with the development of integrated MACA doctrine, will be critical to ensuring that the military can provide timely, credible support to civilian authorities in the event of a domestic emergency. With the increased risk of a WMD attack on American soil, the Chemical Corps will be an important part of that support.


At the time this article was written, LTC Thomas Hook was the Deputy Assistant Commandant (ARNG) of the U.S. Army Chemical School, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He has served in numerous positions within the Chemical Corps including Platoon Leader and Operations Officer of the 69th Chemical Company, 1st Armored Division, Nurnberg, Germany; Chemical Officer, 1st AD Artillery, Company Commander of the 46th Chemical (SG) Company, 2nd Chemical Battalion, Fort Hood, Texas; Chief of Operations and Training, III Corps Chemical; NBC Threat Analyst, III Corps G-2; and Chemical Officer, 111th ASG (TXARNG), Austin, Texas. LTC Hook has also served as S3 and Executive Officer of the 249th MSB, 49th AD (TXARNG). He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy.