with Rex Wamsley, Author of the Snow Leopard
Upon completing the third and final book of the Snow Leopard trilogy, Futures America conducted an interview with Rex Wamsley, the author of the trilogy, to help give the reader additional insight into his national security and national continuity background and the ‘why’ the books were written.
Futures America. Before we get too far into our interview, we first want to thank you for your service and for writing the books. Although they are fiction, they highlight a lot of what’s happening, or could be happening, in America today. We would also like to say you have led an interesting life and we are fortunate that you can share pieces of that with our readers throughout the books. Literally from the killing fields of Middle East, Africa, the Balkans, and even Central America you have been there. From your duty in NATO’s Rapid Reaction Force in Europe, to commanding our soldiers on the Iron Curtain when it came down in 1989, to training and evaluating our country’s largest joint military organizations, you have had a front row seat in our nation’s military’s operations. And for nearly ten years after 9/11 you were responsible for developing the plans and national security and continuity programs in Washington that helped keep us safe when so much of the rest of the world was being attacked. So, thank you again for all you have done and for sharing some if it with our readers.
Rex Wamsley. I enjoyed writing the books. I think they highlight some areas that are concerning for our country and point out the seriousness of certain threats and what they can mean if we don’t properly address them.
FA. Although the books are fiction, there seems to be a large amount of realism throughout them. Knowing your background, we thought it might be worthwhile to share this with your readers so they get a better understanding of why and how all of this came together. But before we get into the specifics of the books and why we think they are important for Americans today, we think it may be worthwhile to let them know more about your background, so they better understand why things appear in these books. The what’s behind this, if you will.
RW. Okay. I will do my best to answer whatever questions you have (smiling).
FA. As we look at your background and then try to put all of what is in the books into a realistic perspective, it may be helpful to first highlight some of what is included in the books. There are obviously the different terrorist threats, but there is also a backdrop, if you will, of human control and trafficking, and corruption in our nation’s capital. From your experience, how realistic are each of these themes, and could they happen or be happening, in our country today?
RW. First, remember the books, and the people and events in them, are fiction. But with the large amount of money flowing through our nation’s capital and the explosive growth of new technologies, we need to be aware and vigilant that something like this doesn’t or isn’t happening. The threat of terrorism in America is very real and the scenarios I presented are just several of many that could gravely impact our country. I don’t think people fully appreciate just how serious what we call ‘weapons of mass destruction’ can be. They certainly exist in the world and can be brought here and employed by terrorists if we aren’t vigilant and protective of our borders and people. What many Americans don’t understand is that there are people in this world who really don’t like us. They feel the America we know, live in, appreciate, and love is the absolute worst thing that has ever happened to the planet, and they are fully dedicated to destroying us and what we stand for. And they will gladly give up their lives to do that, they are just that serious about it.
FA. In your work in Washington, you had an opportunity to look at everything the federal government offices in our nation’s capital were supposed to do and were doing. Tell us a little about that.
RW. FEMA’s Office of National Security Coordination, and later, National Continuity Programs, after the formation of the Department of Homeland Security, is tasked with ensuring the governments of the United States can continue to function, support our Enduring Constitutional Government, under all conditions. My role as the Director of the Plans and National Continuity of Operations Office was to ensure that the nation had plans and procedures in place in every federal agency in Washington, and across the country, to do this. And to ensure the people executing those plans were trained and capable of doing what was in them. After we did that, we then shared this planning and training methodology with the state and local government levels, to assist them in doing this too. So, there was a planning component, to help ensure the plans existed and were properly written, a training component, so the people could execute what was in the plans, and an exercise component, that helped test their skills and abilities to do what was in the plans. And finally, there was an operational component, focused on ensuring that when emergencies and disasters occur across the country, the American people receive the assistance and support they require.
FA. With just everything happening in our nation’s capital alone, this seems like an overwhelming task. How would you even know where to begin?
RW. I was actually surprised when I got to Washington that the program I was asked to be in charge of largely didn’t exist. But it was a great opportunity to help make a difference for our country. So first we needed the authority to do what they were asking of us and that was achieved by the development of the Presidential Directive, National Security Presidential Directive 51/Homeland Security Directive 20, to do this. Then each federal agency was directed to prepare their national security, and later national continuity, plans to ensure they could accomplish this. Then all their staffs were trained on what was required in the plans and how to write them, and then everything and one, from the president’s office down, was exercised and evaluated to ensure they could do what was in the plans, their essential functions.
FA. With everything the federal government does, how did you determine what was their ‘essential’ functions?
RW. First, we looked at the most important things the federal government is required to do under the constitution. Surprisingly, all of this can be compressed down into just eight things that it must do in a national security emergency situation. But these are big and important things. Hence the names of the first two books of this trilogy. Then each federal agency had to identify the essential functions and tasks they have to do to support the national essential functions. From that, the planning, training, exercising, and operations flowed.
FA. So, your office was responsible for helping the entire federal government identify its essential functions and for then evaluating its ability to do them?
RW. Yes, and for reporting the results to the president on a green, yellow, and red ‘stop light’ chart, with a detailed report attached to it. We also conducted what we called after action reviews and prepared reports with and for all the federal agencies, similar to what we did in the military at the national training centers.
FA. And you developed federal directives and training courses on how to do all of this?
RW. We did. In addition to helping write the presidential directive, I directed those in my office to develop Federal Continuity Directives 1 and 2, and the Continuity of Operations Excellency Series of training classes – Levels I and II, Professional Continuity Practitioner and Master Professional Continuity Practitioner, that are now trained at the National Emergency Management Training Center in Emmitsburg, Maryland. For the states, territories, tribal and local government jurisdictions, I then had them develop Continuity Guidance Circulars 1 and 2. Tens of thousands of Americans and others have now attended and been certified by these courses and programs since we first developed them. This is now the foundation for the nation’s first essential function, Enduring Constitutional Government.
FA. Can you briefly explain the purpose of the Federal Continuity Directives and Continuity Guidance Circulars?
RW. Federal Continuity Directive 1 provides guidance for the development of continuity plans and programs for the Federal Executive Branch. Federal Continuity Directive 2 provides guidance for federal organizations to help them identify their essential functions. The Continuity Circulars provide similar guidance for the states, territories, tribal, and local government jurisdictions.
FA. For you, putting something like this together may have been straight forward, as you said, but for others of us, this would have been difficult to envision or do. So, we would like to look back on all you have done to allow you to do something like this. And in doing that, we found you have had a front row seat to much that has affected our nation and world today. So, let’s go back to the beginning. You mention in your books your connection to Nebraska. Tell us a little bit about that.
RW. I grew up on a cattle ranch in western Nebraska. On the southern end of what we call the sand hills. Our ranch had pastures in the sand hills and meadows along the north side of the North Platte River. It was a perfect life for a young person. In the 50s and 60s when I was growing up there were still a lot of older people who had grown up in and experienced what I would characterize as the old west. And there were veterans from the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War. Everyday interacting with these people was an amazing education, and fun. Since it was a working cattle ranch, I was exposed to all the things happening with that. We even had a bucking chute and roping arena for entertainment after work. Each day on the ranch was an interesting adventure.
FA. The military has played an important part in your life. How were your early years affected by growing up with people from this part of the country that had served in the World Wars and Korea?
RW. Looking back, especially with how America began to change in the late 60s, I was fortunate to have been associated with them and then. We were surrounded by heroes every day. Yet these people saw themselves as just ordinary Americans. My father had served in the Army during WWII, participating in five major campaigns across France and into Germany. He was at the Battle of the Bulge and linked up with the Russians on the Elbe. But he was not alone. Nearly all the men I knew then that were older had served.
FA. You say these men were different. Can you explain that?
RW. You could easily write a book just describing them, as they were just that amazing. Most that had served in the most difficult campaigns of those wars seldomly, if ever, talked about them. They were obviously proud of what they had done and accomplished, but they never bragged about it. In fact, you often didn’t even know how special these people really were or what they had done.
FA. Can you give us an example of that?
RW. There are so many, but one stands out in my mind, and it may help make the point. I mentioned that growing up on a cattle ranch in Nebraska was unique, and part of that was the people who worked there. One of them was a native American and one of the best people you could ever know and work with. And from the time I first met him, I was probably 12, he always treated me as an equal and a man. He never talked down to me and showed me how to do so many things. We worked together nearly every day and, like my father, he was a really positive influence on me. One day we were feeding the cows and it was snowing and really cold outside, and he said to me he had a really bad headache and had to sit in the pickup for a minute to warm up. I asked what was wrong and if I could do anything. He said he had a steel plate in his head and when it got cold it really hurt. I later found out he had served in the 82nd Airborne Division in WWII. He had made combat jumps into Italy during Operations Husky in Sicily and Avalanche in Salarno, and during D-Day, Operation Overlord, at Normandy. He was shot in the head after jumping into Netherlands during Operation Market Garden. That was why he had the metal plate in his head. He never mentioned any of this, but just did his job the best he could every day. He was really special, a true hero. It was my sincere privilege to have known and grown up working with him. And there were many others too.
FA. You graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Is there anything about that experience that you would like to share with your readers?
RW. For a young person who had never even flown on an airplane when I went there, it too was an interesting adventure.
FA. What would you say was the best part of your experience at West Point?
RW. The lasting friendships, and then seeing it in my rearview mirror (smiling).
RW. Yes, but I mean that in the most positive way. It’s obviously a great school, a national treasure, and it was my sincere privilege to be accepted and go there, but it was really hard work. From early morning formation, standing out in the snow at 0600 hours being inspected by the TAC, to boxing class, survival swimming, to the academics it was a challenge, every day. And the classes were hard. Nuclear physics, calculus – we called it the ‘green death’, thermodynamics, mechanics, solids, fluids, electrical engineering, and the list goes on and on. From morning to night, with mandatory lights out, it was challenging. We called it the uncollege. So, having all that behind you as you graduated and left, with the rest of your life stretching out in front of you, was really nice and a good thing.
FA. After West Point, where did you go?
RW. I had completed airborne training while I was a cadet, and after graduation went to and completed Ranger school. Then Armor Basic at Fort Knox and into line units, serving with Armor, Armored Cavalry, and Infantry units in the U.S. and overseas.
FA. Looking at all your military assignments, tell us a little about your early ones.
RW. That was a while ago. I entered the Army and West Point in 1969, during the Viet Nam War. Interestingly, much of the military equipment we used then is now in museums. My first tank platoon had M48A3C tanks. We then transitioned to M60A1 and then M60A2 tanks, with their 152mm guns and their Shillelagh missile systems, to M1s and M1A1 ‘Heavy Metal’ tanks later in my career. But the early years were focused on defending against the Soviets in Central Europe.
FA. Tell us a little about that.
RW. The U.S. Army had a significant presence in central Europe, Germany in particular, then. I served several tours there, nearly ten years actually. As a young Captain and company commander, I commanded what we called a covering force along the East German border, that included three major valley approaches leading south toward the city of Bamberg, Germany. Our job was to buy time to allow the other Germany based units and those coming in from the U.S. to prepare defensive positions in the Thuringian Forest area. Commanding soldiers in the different valleys with small mountains and forests in between was a challenge and required radio retrans communications to be set up on tops of the ridgelines, for example. I had my tank company of 17 tanks, four platoons of infantry, supporting artillery, engineers, air defenders, and all the other support troops to help do this.
FA. This to defend against the Russians or Soviets?
RW. Yes. The challenge was they had a lot of what we called armor killing systems. All of their combat vehicles were fitted with anti-tank capabilities that made defending against them very difficult. Beside the tens of thousands of tanks, their armored personnel carriers, or BMPs, also had tank killing capabilities. In those days, our infantry units just had the M113 armored personnel carriers with their 50 caliber machineguns, which were essentially worthless against enemy armor. So other than some wire-guided anti-tank systems, or TOWs, my tanks had to be prepared to kill the attacking armored formations, which was a challenge.
FA. After your time as a company commander in Germany, what then?
RW. After coming back from Germany, I was assigned as the Operations Officer for the Combined Arms Training Integration Office at Fort Leavenworth. As the name implies, it was responsible for helping ensure all of our Army’s different branches of service – Armor, Infantry, Artillery, Signal, Transportation, etc. – could and were working together, and we had different branches of the office that worked on training course integration and simulations and training devices that helped them do that. After that I was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division as Operations Officer for the Division’s armored cavalry squadron, the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, and then as Operations officer for its 2nd Brigade. My last assignment with the Big Red One, that was the nickname for the Division, was as the Chief of its G3, Operations, Training Division, that was responsible for coordinating all the training activities, including all the maneuver areas and weapons qualification ranges for the Division and installation at Fort Riley, Kansas.
FA: You also served in NATO. Tell us about that.
RW. It was with NATO’s Allied Mobile Force, based in Heidelberg, Germany.
FA. Who were they and what did they do?
RW. The Allied Mobile Force was NATO’s rapid reaction force. It was the only ground combat organization under the day-to-day command of the NATO Commander, as other military units remained under their national governments’ control until activated for operations under NATO command. It was made up primarily of parachute infantry and commando units from the U.S., Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Canada, Belgium, and the small country of Luxembourg. Its mission was to rapidly deploy to the more remote, peripheral areas of NATO, like Norway, Denmark, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, to give a multi-national presence on the borders of those countries if they were threatened. We had to be on the ground and ready for combat operations within 48 hours of activation. That may seem like a lot of time, but considering you had to get from your home, or where ever you were when alerted for deployment, to the headquarters and draw weapons and other equipment, get to the airfields, deploy – to remote places like northern Norway or eastern Turkey – and be on the ground, on the border and integrated with your NATO allies’ forces and ready to fight in that time. It was a challenge, but we routinely did it.
FA. How was working with our European allies?
RW. It was amazing. When I was there, the commanders of the Mobile Force were German and then Italian two-star, major generals, the Chief of Staff was from Belgium, the G-1 Personnel Officer from Canada, G-2 Intelligence Officer from Great Britain, G-3 Operations Officer from Germany, and G-4 Logistics Officer from the U.S. I was the Deputy G-3, Operations Officer. We deployed to all our contingency areas, from northern Norway, 400 kilometers north of the arctic circle, in winter, to eastern Turkey, to the then Soviet Caucasus border area with that country. And everywhere in between.
FA. When visiting your office, we noticed many plaques and other thank you things from the governments and military organizations you served with then. You received the Von Steuben Award from the German Military, the Leonidas Award from the Greek military and are an honorary member of the Greek’s Hellenic Army, awards from the Italian’s 4th Alpini (Mountain) Corps, and from the Queen’s Life Guards in Denmark, among the many others.
RW. I think all of them appreciated the work we did for them. The Leonidas Award was an interesting one. It was actually awarded at Thermopylae where the 300 Spartans were killed. When awarding it, General Torvas, the Operations Officer for Hellenic Army, said the words You are Leonidas, which was very humbling. But all of them have their own story I guess.
FA. You were commanding our troops patrolling the fences along the Iron Curtain when it came down in November 1989. Tell us a little about that.
RW. After serving in the Allied Mobile Force, I was assigned to the 11th Armored Cavalry, Blackhorse, Regiment in Fulda, Germany. Its mission was to patrol the Iron Curtain or inter-German border, and defend the critical Fulda Gap approaches if the Soviets were to attack from East Germany. When the Germans started going over the walls in Berlin, I was the Squadron Executive Officer, or second in command, of the Regiment’s soldiers stationed in Bad Hersfeld, Germany. My Squadron was actually patrolling the entire Regiment’s border trace, about 300 kilometers, on the day that happened, and the other Squadrons were in their kasernes or garrison. As fortune would have it, the Squadron Commander was out of the country on vacation, so I was in command in his absence.
FA. From our earlier conversation, it sounds like the fall of the Iron Curtain was somewhat a surprise.
RW. It was. Actually, the day they started going over the Berlin Wall, I was having a meeting with the troop commanders in my office and the border officer, whose job was to help track our forces patrolling the border and stay in contact with the Observation Posts and West German authorities responsible for policing the border, the Bundesgrenzschutz, walked in and said the Germans were going over the Berlin Wall. He had seen it on the German TV which we kept turned on to monitor what was happening locally along the border. We were obviously surprised and walked down and watched it happening on the television. I then called Regimental Headquarters in Fulda and asked them what they knew about this and it was a surprise to them too. After calling the OPs, and finding it quiet, we drove out to Observation Post Romeo, which was the closest one to our headquarters in Bad Hersfeld, and the Iron Curtain was actually quiet. That quickly changed over the next days, and after the East German Border Guards futilely tried to turn back the masses, we had over 800,000 East Germans pass through our sector in the first days after the fences slowly began to come down. For us Americans who had front row seats to this, we were treated as heroes. It was like the liberation of Paris, I suppose, for the German people.
FA. I imagine the Soviets weren’t too happy about it. What were they doing?
RW. To be honest, that was the big question at the time. They had hundreds of thousands of soldiers in East Germany and thousands of tanks and other armored vehicles. Just across from OP Romeo was the Soviet’s 45th Tank Division, if I remember correctly. So, we were a little apprehensive about them. That it could be the beginning of WWIII. But they stayed in garrison and the rest is history.
FA. So, what happened to them, the Soviets?
RW. This may seem strange to those that weren’t there, but one day they just disappeared and were gone. Loaded up all their tanks, BMP armored personnel carriers, artillery, and all the rest of it and left, disappeared back behind Poland, Belorussia, and the Ukraine. Gone. Like the wind, as they say.
FA. After all their sacrifices during WWII, the tens of millions of their people killed by the Germans and Nazis, they just left?
RW. Yes. There were obviously very powerful political forces going on in their world, but they willingly left, of their choice. And today, their allies in what was then the Warsaw Pact, are now our allies in NATO. So, it was a huge change in geo-political power in Europe. Now, with things once again happening in eastern Europe, it’s worth remembering where we came from to set up the current political situation there.
FA. And how did all of this end for the Americans patrolling the Iron Curtain? After all the headlines of this happening, it just dropped out of the news.
RW. Actually, very quietly. We were told we would be pulling our soldiers off the Iron Curtain on March 1, 1990, again, if I remember correctly. General Saint, the USAREUR (United States Army Europe) four-star Commander, who had previously commanded our Regiment, ordered it. At the time we thought some kind of ceremony or celebration might be appropriate, but he said not to do that. My squadron was once again patrolling the border, so on that date, when it got dark, we boarded up the Observation Posts and at 0200 in the morning we road marched, or moved, our vehicles off the OPs and back into the Kaserne. When the Germans went to work the next day, we were gone. They were obviously surprised, and a bit nervous, since the Americans had been there for nearly half a century, but that was how it ended. And, as Americans, I think there is a special message in this for us too. It takes a special people to do something like that.
FA. Any special remembrances of this? It was a significant change in our lifetimes.
RW. Just seeing the people faces, those who had been behind the Iron Curtain as they got to our side of the fences, was priceless. Freedom is something truly special. The horrific failure of the socialist east also stands out. Seeing what East Germany was like after having been under this type of failed government is something every American should see.
FA. We noticed a medal to you from the Soviets, with a large red star, flag and wreath on it. What was that about?
RW. (Smiling) At the time I received it, I was a little concerned, as I had just been decorated by someone who we had always thought of as our enemy, for as long as I could remember anyway. After the Iron Curtain, or border between the two Germanys, opened, the Soviet Commander of their Western Group of Forces, General Snetkov, was attending meetings with American and other NATO leaders in Frankfurt we were told, and each time he did, he had to pass through our positions on the border. When he crossed through the inter-German border, in his convoy of large black limousines, with the Soviet flags flying on the front of them, we always had 11th Armored Cavalry soldiers where he crossed into what was then West Germany. One day he stopped his caravan and asked to see the senior American in charge of the soldiers there. Since I was that officer, I went to see him. He then awarded me the medal. After he left, I remember looking at it and thinking, this probably isn’t a good thing.
FA. What did you do then?
RW. I called Regimental headquarters and reported what happened. The Regimental commander laughed and said it’s probably not something you want to put in your official military personnel file in Washington. Later I found it was a Soviet Guards Badge, issued to elite organizations in the Soviet Army. So, it was a nice gesture.
FA. After the fall of the Iron Curtain what did you do?
RW. On August 2nd, 1990 Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and our country’s attention shifted from Europe to the Middle East. The 11th Armored Cavalry was initially scheduled to go to the war, but that was later changed and they were left in Germany to watch the last of the Soviet’s depart East Germany. I was then reassigned to the U.S. Army’s Battle Command Training Program to help our forces prepare for that war – Desert Shield and then Desert Storm.
FA. What was your role there?
RW. I was assigned to Operations Group Bravo as what they called the Command and Control Subject Matter Expert. We then then war-gamed the battle, before actual ground combat operations to free Kuwait kicked off. It was a big and sophisticated operation. If you remember, there was much concern how the war would go as the Iraqis had been at war for many years with the Iranians, and the majority of our forces had not been in combat. Hussein had the fourth or fifth largest army in the world at that time. So, the preliminary work was important to help ensure everyone and thing was ready if the President gave the order to go.
FA. How accurate in terms of what finally happened, were the planning and wargames leading up to the war?
RW. There were some differences from the scenarios presented before the war, but our forces executed their plans very well. Before the actual ground combat began, the computer simulation system we used to help prepare for this indicated the war would be over in less than 100 hours with just over 100 casualties. No one believed it at the time, but when the President called the end of ground combat at 100 hours and there were just over a hundred American battle deaths, I think everyone was somewhat surprised by just how accurate the projections were.
FA. How did this outcome affect what you did after that war?
RW. After the success of Desert Storm, there was a feeling that our Battle Command Training Program, and its computer simulation system, could help prepare combatant commands – and perhaps even predict the outcome – for battles in other theaters of operation. Because of the seniority and high-level of command and control necessary for these large organizations, or Joint Task Forces, a new Operations Group, Delta, was felt to be needed and was formed.
FA. And you were selected to be the first commander of Operations Group Delta?
RW. I was.
FA. That was quite an honor.
RW. It was also a lot of work. But it was a privilege to form and be the first commander of the Operations Group focused on training and evaluating our nation’s Joint Task Forces, or then largest, all-service combat organizations. As part of our training and preparedness, we also helped them write and then evaluated their war plans.
FA. So, you helped train and then evaluate our different joint, multi-service organizations?
RW. We did. These included our potential Joint Task Force organizations in the U.S., including I Corps, III Corps, XVIII (Airborne) Corps, and elements of the U.S. Marine Corps; European based units comprised of elements of the old U.S. VII Corps, and also the British Army of the Rhine, as they transitioned to be NATO’s Rapid Reaction Corps for operations in the Balkans. We also trained and evaluated AFSOUTH (Allied Forces Southern Europe), the overall command organization for operations in the Balkans, and PACOM (Pacific Command) in Hawaii, among others. We had a standing mission that if the U.S. was standing up a JTF anywhere in the world, with an Army component, we were to go there and help them prepare their plans and then deploy with them to make sure all their joint operating systems were up and functioning.
FA. From what you told us earlier, at the conclusion of all the exercises, you were required to stand up in front of all the Generals, Admirals, and other senior leadership and facilitate the after-action review of what happened and why. And to assist them talk through any identified problems or issues to improve their plans and warfighting capabilities. How was doing that?
RW. I was responsible for facilitating what we called the after-action-reviews or post operation discussions, so I had to have a thorough knowledge of all of the things we were discussing, from ground, to air, to logistics operations. So, it was a never-ending education for me too. Often, if things didn’t go well in one of the exercises or real-world operations, I had to be able to look at why and discuss this with the senior leaders responsible. At times, this got uncomfortable, so you really had to have your facts and act together to be able to do that. Fortunately, we had what we called ‘senior observers’ or retired three and four-star generals, with a lot of combat experience, to help do this.
FA. As the Commander of Operations Group Delta, you also supported operations in the Middle East, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, and the Balkans, among others?
RW. We supported operations where ever large, joint and multinational military organizations with an Army component were operating. From helping them prepare their plans, to deploying with them to help make sure all the battle operating systems were properly functioning.
FA. Without going into all of these, let’s just briefly talk about one of them. What was your involvement in Rwanda, for example?
RW. Operation Support Hope was our country’s effort to provide relief for the refugees of the Rwandan genocide that had occurred in the spring of 1994. Nearly a million people had been killed in the genocidal conflict between the Tutsis and Hutus in that country. Most had been hacked to death with machetes, so it was a difficult mission as families were fractured, and many of the survivors, over two million, had been pushed into refugee camps in Zaire. The Joint Task Force was established in Stuttgart, Germany and deployed forces from there and other locations into central Africa to support that operation. At the time the JTF was stood up, nearly 20,000 of these refugees were dying everyday of diseases, primarily cholera.
FA. What was your role in this operation?
RW. My operations group became the J-5, or planning element, for the JTF and I was the chief planner.
FA. Tell us a little bit about it.
RW. As I mentioned, the JTF stood up in Stuttgart, Germany, as European Command was then responsible for that part of Africa. When my operations group arrived to assist the JTF, the Commander asked if I was there to evaluate or assist him. I said assist, and he said go up to the top deck of the building, go to the end of the hallway, read what’s on the door, and that’s what I want you to do. We carried our gear upstairs and walked down to the door where a sign on it said J-5, Plans. We walked into an empty room with a single phone setting in the middle of the floor that was ringing. When we picked it up, there was an air force officer on the other end wanting to know where we wanted to land the planes that were en route to Rwanda. Since it was an over 7,000 mile one-way flight for them from our European airfields and the U.S., that was kind of important. So welcome to JTF Rwanda.
FA. Supporting relief operations for something like this from Germany must have been very difficult.
RW. All JTFs, and other military operations for that matter, have to begin somewhere. After it was stood up, units and command and control organizations were forward deployed closer to the area of operation, in this case to a forward operating base near Entebbe, Uganda, as the President had not given permission to move into Rwanda, as the United States had not yet recognized the new Tutsi government that had come to power there. Support for the refugees was provided in the camps in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and through the airfields located there, like the one on Goma. There were over 1 ½ million refugees in Goma, Zaire and another 800,000 or more in Bukavu. Providing relief supplies for an operation of this magnitude is nearly impossible by air alone, so we had to coordinate with other governments along the east coast of Africa to do that as Rwanda is located near the center of the continent. Agreements were made with Kenya for the use of the port of Mombasa, and then it was a long several thousand-mile overland trek from there across Kenya, north around Lake Victoria, through Uganda, and then south into Zaire and Rwanda, through the gorillas in our midst area of Africa. The vehicles for the relief operation came from military equipment at prepositioned sites, ships, located off the coast of Africa.
FA. Amazing. We had no idea all of this happened. Then what?
RW. The earliest and most important problem was to stop the dying, as around 20,000 people were dying in the refugee camps nearly every day due to diseases, primarily cholera. Cholera is caused largely by unclean water, so there was an early need to get water purification units deployed and set up near the refugee camps in Zaire. The UN had the airhead all jammed up at Goma, so we had to assist them with air traffic control teams we deployed there, and then sent in water purification units and heavy equipment to help bury the many people who had died of disease. Since the President had directed there be no U.S. military people seen burying the dead, we had to contract for contractors to do this. We deployed engineer equipment from Germany to help with that, painted over the U.S. Army on the dozers, and they went to work.
FA. Were you able to stop all the people dying? And how long were you there?
RW. We did. After helping get all this set up and working, I was then notified by the Joint Staff in Washington, that I needed to redeploy back to the U.S., as the country was getting ready to invade Haiti to reestablish the civilian government there.
FA. Wasn’t that difficult as you were the planners for the Rwanda relief effort?
RW. That’s what I told the joint staffers, but they were adamant that I return, so most of the Operations Group Delta staff were left with the Rwanda JTF and I deployed back and worked with the military staffs back here in the states to get ready for the Haiti invasion, Operation Uphold Democracy. I initially deployed to Fort Drum to help them, the 10th (Mtn) Division, with their planning and then to Fort Bragg. We had done a large JTF exercise involving nearly all the units identified for the Haiti operation shortly before deploying to Africa, so I felt confident they would execute everything very well during this operation, which they did. They also did some really innovative things such as putting one of the Army Divisions on a super carrier, the USS Eisenhower. After the junta was deposed, my operations group was asked to train the United Nations Mission for Haiti organization (UNMIH) that was slated to replace the U.S. military organization in that country. We did that in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti.
FA. So, a US Army military organization, trained a United Nations organization?
RW. We helped. We were also told that it was the first time a UN mission had received training like this before they assumed their mission, so it was significant. To do that, we brought trainers from nations that had previously conducted UN operations around the world, and assisted them prepare the organizations that would be serving in Haiti. It was good training and it helped us establish a special relationship with the United Nations staff in New York. This was important, as many of our senior military operations and JTFs frequently interact with United Nations organizations overseas.
FA. We noticed your commendation award from the United Nations in your office. Then what?
RW. After completing the operation in Haiti, I was directed to look at some drug war problems that were happening on the southeastern part of Panama, along the Columbian border. In the Darien.
FA. So, you are now supporting the drug wars?
RW. Indirectly. After Noreiga was taken out of power in that country, the US and Panama had agreed to limit the Panamanian military in that country and the police forces were doing much of the mission previously done by the military. Unfortunately, they were ill equipped to deal with the more sophisticated and well-armed drug cartels that were moving drugs out of that area. Many of the people in these cartels had been trained and were supported by Cuba, so they were a problem. In the Darien they had essentially driven out the police forces, burned their stations and the schools, and were using the indigenous population to help them with their drug making and shipping. Southern Panama was also being used as a rest and recuperation area for the drug cartels operating out of Columbia to the south. The United States had an agreement with Panama to help guarantee that country’s territorial integrity, so I was deployed there to see what needed done to help do that.
FA. What did that entail?
RW. It was a fact-finding mission, to help us prepare our military for these kinds of operations. And while we were there I was asked to try to locate three American missionaries that had been seized by the drug cartel people there. So, we deployed to Panama City, linked up with other U.S. Army personnel there, mounted up the Blackhawks, and with extra fuel pods on the helicopters and the door gunners locked and loaded, headed south into the Darien. I was the commander of the expedition.
FA. Into the Darien?
RW. It’s an interesting part of the hemisphere. The Gulf of Panama is located on the Pacific side of that country, and as you fly toward the Darien you are actually flying southeast from the country’s capital. The Darien itself is a very rugged area, with mountains, triple canopy jungle, and triple canopy clouds hanging over it. It’s like something out of Jurassic Park, the land that time forgot, if you will. It’s often referred to as the Darien Gap, referring to the rugged roadless swathe of forest that’s the missing link in the Pan-American Highway. So just getting onto the ground there, through the clouds and massive trees and jungle, is a challenge. Once on the ground it’s hard to believe you are in the same hemisphere as the United States, or even in the same millennium, it’s just that different and the people that simple, even primitive.
FA. So, what happened while you were there?
RW. It was a fact-finding mission, so we traveled throughout the area to determine the level the cartels had infiltrated the area, and it was significant. The police stations and many of the schools had been burned, as we had been told. And the people were very afraid, first of us dropping out of the clouds in the blackhawks, and then that we would leave once they realized who we were. The United States had been a very powerful and visible influence in that part of the world for a long time, due to our involvement with the Panama Canal, and they evidently felt we were returning to help them with the drug cartels that were destroying their lives. But we weren’t returning, and that was a problem.
FA. Please explain that.
RW. First, seeing large helicopters loaded with armed soldiers dropping out of the clouds would probably make anyone afraid. Imagine that in your community. And these are very simple people that live in thatched roof, stick houses, in many cases. Once on the ground we would fan out, with our Panamanian police escorts, and secure the village. As we walked through the town it was earie, as the adults would just stand there and not move or look at you. You could just walk all around them and they would just stand there, not moving, terrified. Remember, they had been brutalized by the armed cartels, other foreigners, that had taken over their villages. The children on the other hand would laugh and follow us around and we would hand out candy and other little trinkets to them. Once the Panamanian police talked to the village leaders, and the adults realized who we were, everything changed. We were welcomed as heroes. There were small celebrations as they felt their bad times were behind them, but that was a problem, as we weren’t staying and the cartels were watching all of this from the surrounding jungle. After a few unfortunate incidents with our group, they, the cartel people, quickly decided they did not want a gunfight with us, but they also quickly figured out what we were about, and they knew they could return to the villages once we left, and any of those who had been too friendly with us would then pay a heavy price for that friendship. They would probably be killed, so we had to keep our distance from them to help save their lives. It was a sad thing, but that’s the way it goes in that part of the world. The illicit drug business is awful and there are victims of this in places most Americans never know about or see.
FA. Did you find the missionaries?
RW. No. We did talk to a village leader who told us he had seen them and that he had heard they had been taken south into Columbia, and that was outside our mission area, so unfortunately, we were not able to do that.
FA. Upon your return, what then?
RW. Other than out-briefing my leadership on what we would need to do to prepare our military for operations in that part of the world, if the President chose to send troops there, nothing, as the focus had shifted to the Balkans. The decision had been made to put troops into Bosnia to end the ethnic wars there. We had started preparations for this several times before, but nothing had come of it, but now it was going to happen, so we needed to get the forces ready to go. And it was a significant undertaking. With the Soviets pulling out of eastern Europe, NATO’s mission was shifting, along with the many forces who had supported that mission there.
FA. What was your role there?
RW. Preparing the major headquarters for a new kind of operation, in this case peacekeeping and enforcement. Let me digress for a moment. When planning any operation, the single most important thing you must consider is the end-state of where you want to be when it’s over. Meaning, setting on an objective with a tank battalion task force, or in control of a country, depending on where you sit in the chain of command. It’s a simple concept, but military and political leaders fail in this more times than not. So, the end state of our involvement in the Balkans was not to get our forces engaged in a war, but to achieve peace, and doing that required a significant mind-change in how the warfighters conducted business.
FA. Explain that.
RW. I can give you a simple example that may help. As part of our preparations for putting troops into the Balkans, my operations group was asked to conduct a warfighter type exercise for the AFSOUTH (Allied Forces Southern Europe) Headquarters in Naples, Italy, as they would be the senior NATO headquarters running operations in Bosnia. At the time AFSOUTH was commanded by a US Navy four-star admiral. So, having a US Army contingent come in to offer this kind of training was different, as the navy did not have something like us. But the NATO Commander, a US Army four-star, recommended he do it and it was a good thing for them, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Because of the ultimate success of operations there, it’s easy to forget the concerns many of our most senior political and military leaders had in putting military forces in that part of the world. And this wasn’t just an American concern, as we were just about to launch NATO into a whole new kind of mission, that also involved our allies. During WWII, Germany and its Axis allies had taken a pounding there from the insurgents and others operating in the Balkans, and their efforts to control that part of Europe had tied up numerous Divisions and tens of thousands of soldiers that were desperately needed by them in other parts of the war. So, there was much concern about going there.
FA. Some have said there were some other, even bigger ramifications, of this decision and your involvement. That the decision to move soldiers into the Balkans, Bosnia, through Hungary, instead of just from the ports along the Adriatic Sea, ultimately led to all the eastern European countries, that were previously part of the Soviet’s Warsaw Pact, or aligned with them, to join NATO. Hungary, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia, and so on.
RW. The world was changing, and if you keep focused on the end state you would like to achieve, it’s amazing what can be done. After the meeting and exercise with AFSOUTH, we were asked to train the British Army of the Rhine that would be assuming the mission as the headquarters for NATO’s new Rapid Reaction Corps that would be controlling operations in Bosnia, and then the US 1st Armored Division that would be the senior US contingent for that force. It turned out to be a very good operation with essentially no US casualties.
FA. So, this was you last big military operation. What changed? Why did you leave the military?
RW. After Bosnia, I didn’t see any real threats to our country. The Soviets were gone from Central Europe, Korea was quiet, Hussein was defeated and in his box in the Middle East, so it was a good time to go. As you might imagine, I had not been able to spend much, any, time with my family for years, with all the deployments, and my four sons were growing up without me.
FA. So, what did you do then?
RW. After returning to Nebraska, I went to work in our State’s Emergency Management Agency and was responsible for coordinating emergency planning and preparedness for the State’s two nuclear power plants
FA. What did that entail?
RW. The nuclear power plants are required to conduct annual planning and exercises to make sure they are operated safely, and that any people living around them can be evacuated if something should happen with them. After doing this for a period of time, the Director position for the State Emergency Management Agency’s Planning, Preparedness, Training and Exercise Divisions became available and I was asked to do this.
FA. That sounds somewhat similar to what you were doing in the military.
RW. It was, just on a civilian level. In Nebraska the State Emergency Management Agency is part of its Military Department, and the State Adjutant General is also the Emergency Management Director. So, there were some similarities to the military, but the focus was on supporting the civilian governments and their first responders, among others.
FA. Let’s discuss this a little bit, as it seems a lot of what you write about entails State and local governments and first responders; fire, law enforcement, emergency medical, and the role of local elected officials in all of this.
RW. Not unlike the military, local governments need emergency plans and training to help the different response organizations, and the elected officials, among others, to better understand what is required of them during emergencies and disasters and to help them synchronize their operations. All of these people have important roles to play in emergencies and disasters, and it helps them better understand what they are to do and who is responsible for other things. The plans also include contact information and operational procedures, including things like the emergency operations center and who should be there. Every county and city in our state was required to have a plan and then periodically exercise it to make sure they understood what was required and that they could do what was in it.
FA. That makes sense. So, did they all have plans and do this?
RW. When I first took over the job I was impressed that we had what appeared to be a plan for each of our 93 counties. They were all aligned on the shelf with the county’s name on the back of them. However, when I looked at the plans, every one of them was the same. They were just a boilerplate that had been developed from a generic plan given the state from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. I then took several of the plans to the counties and asked them if they did business this way. Their reply was they didn’t even know the plans existed and that they didn’t do business like what was in their plan, so we had a problem and some work to do. So, over the next several years we worked with all the counties and helped then write real plans for their jurisdictions. We did the same thing for our towns and cities. In the process of doing that I got to know a lot about how our responders operate, and also supported many emergencies and disasters across our state. When I left the job to go to work for FEMA, we had completely rewritten all 93 county plans, 402 city and village emergency plans and exercised most of them to make sure that what was in them really worked. So, it was a good thing for our state. While there I also established the State’s Basic and Advanced Emergency Management Certification, or training, courses, a program that helped professionalize what we were doing, and it was actually adopted by some other states across the country.
FA. What other kinds of things did this job entail?
RW. In addition to our normal emergency management mission, preparing for and responding to emergencies and disasters, I also had a major hazardous material training requirement. Nebraska is home for the nation’s two largest railroads, Union Pacific and Burlington Northern. It has some of the highest density of rail traffic in the US and the largest railcar switching facility in the world. So, a lot of hazardous materials move through the state on the rails and highways. So, we had to have our fire, law enforcement, and emergency medical people, among others, trained to deal with the full spectrum of these kinds of emergencies. I managed the grants for the state for these programs and provided funding to all the responder organizations for this. I was also responsible for developing the training courses to support this, as surprisingly, they didn’t exist like many of our other courses that were made available to us through FEMA’s National Training Center. This was a major effort for us. When we completed this, we later found we led the nation in total numbers of people trained to respond to hazardous materials incidents, even multiple times more than the states of California and New York, for example, that have many times the size of population as our state. With the help of Union Pacific, Burlington Northern, and Texas A&M University we also set up our own Hazardous Material Technician training program at our law enforcement training center. I attended and graduated from the courses to help make sure I better understood what was required of our responders.
FA. So, you are a hazardous materials technician?
RW. I completed the training, but it’s been a while, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable getting into a Class A suit and going into a hazardous material incident. But I know and appreciate what’s required and admire those who do this on a routine basis. While we are on the subject of training, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is responsible for managing the nation’s National Fire Academy and its many training programs. At the state emergency management agency level, we also had a special relationship with our fire departments and trainers. So, I was very involved with them and what they do and helped sponsor our annual state’s fire academy and conference, among other things. My office had a great relationship with our State Fire Marshall’s Training Division and staff.
FA. We noticed you were also the coordinator for your state’s counter terrorism joint task force. What did that entail?
RW. Our state emergency management agency also has a close relationship with all of the state’s law enforcement organizations. Besides helping train our State Patrol officers on things like hazardous materials, we helped provide grants and some specialty equipment to them and the other law enforcement organizations in the State, that was made available through FEMA (prior to the establishment of the US Department of Homeland Security). Also, all of our county sheriffs were either dual hatted as the county emergency management director or deputy director, if they had a full-time civilian emergency management director. So, when FEMA made funding available to train counter-terrorism teams, I was asked to coordinate this. We formed several teams to help train the state’s responders for this. We actually had pictures of people like Bin Laden in our training presentations long before his people attacked the World Trade Center towers.
FA. We again noticed the many certificates of appreciation and plaques from all the civilian governments and others in Nebraska. They also appointed you an Admiral in the Nebraska navy.
RW. It was a privilege serving the citizens of my state. While there, I also helped respond to numerous disasters and emergencies, from tornadoes, to floods, blizzards, train derailments and other hazardous materials incidents, to massive wildfires, that burned hundreds of thousands of acres of land in the northwestern part of the state. While doing this, I was fortunate to work with many of our state’s first responders and elected officials and this helped me better appreciate and understand what they do. Being an Admiral in the Nebraska navy is an honorary thing given by our governors. Nebraska obviously doesn’t have its own navy.
FA. How did you become a federal employee?
RW. After 9/11, FEMA established the position of National Security Coordinator in each of the ten FEMA regions. At that time there was no Department of Homeland Security and FEMA was responsible for much of what that department now does in this regard. After the position was established, the National Preparedness Division Director in the Region VII office in Kansas City asked me if I would be interested. I applied and was hired. The job entailed national security coordination, training, planning and preparedness for the four states in that region; Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska.
FA. So, you moved to Kansas City?
RW. I got an apartment there, but my family stayed in Nebraska. The boys were in high school and my wife had a good job after moving all over for nearly a quarter of a century while I was in the military. So, I commuted back and forth. I would drive down to KC early Monday morning and return late Friday evening, if we didn’t have something else going on there. It was about a 200-mile drive, one-way, so not something you wanted to do every day.
FA. What did that job entail?
RW. Initially, that was a good question, as there was little guidance. And for the first time in a long time, I didn’t have anyone but myself to supervise to do it, so that was nice. So, for lack of better guidance, I looked around at what I thought should be done after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and decided the best place to start would be to make sure the federal offices in the region had plans and procedures to deal with something like this and what had happened earlier at the Murrah building in Oklahoma City.
FA. So, you started going out to these offices to see what they were doing?
RW. That’s what I thought I should do, but there was a problem with this. No one knew where all of these offices were. Now I know that sounds a little crazy, but at the time there wasn’t a listing of all of these in anything we could find. You could easily locate some of the offices by going to the phone book and going on the internet with a specific search, but it seemed like I was just hitting the tip of the iceberg of what was out there. So, I went to the General Services Administration that also has a regional office in KC and asked if they had a listing of these, since they own or lease most of them for the government. The GSA Regional Director said he had all of them in his files, but they were in paper copy format. After talking with him and the FEMA mapping people in DC, I was told if GSA could load all that paper information in a specific format, they could geo-code it and place all of them on a map for me so I could see and find all of them. The GSA Director thought that was a great idea, so he dedicated some staff to the project and in a couple weeks the FEMA mapping office sent me back a big map that covered half of one of the walls in my office area. It was amazing just how many of these offices there were.
FA. Then what?
RW. Since there was just me to coordinate all of whatever we needed to do to make these offices safer, I looked around at who else may be able to help. And an organization that seemed promising was what was called the Federal Executive Boards. In reality their purpose over the years had been to help coordinate the Combined Federal Campaign, but they had a list of senior federal government leaders so I went over and talked with them about helping me with my national security mission. I found that the board only had a couple full-time federal employees who had been loaned to do the job on a rotating basis. But they were interested and it seemed to give the Federal Executive Board more of a real-world mission other than what they were doing with the Combined Federal Campaign, so we were off and running. They helped me contact and bring in all the senior federal leadership and I started to do training for them. We then set up an exercise design team and actually ran the first table-top exercise for a terrorist type event for any of the nation’s FEBs. After doing this for the Kansas City FEB, I did the same for the other large cities in the region, Saint Louis, Des Moines, Omaha/Lincoln and Wichita and then began work doing similar things with each of the State Emergency Management Agencies in my region.
FA. How did you end up in Washington?
RW. The FEMA National Security Director (this was before there was a DHS) had all the Regional National Security Coordinators come to a meeting in Philadelphia to see what we could and maybe should be doing. Each of us was tasked to give a briefing on what we had done and were planning to do. Since I was from Region VII, I was the seventh coordinator to give my presentation. After listening to all the others, I went up and put on my presentation showing all the federal offices on the map and what I was doing with the FEBs to train and prepare plans and exercises for all the federal offices, and also the state and local jurisdictions. When I finished the room was completely silent. That was little concerning for me, as everyone else had gotten a round of applause after they finished and I thought I had given a nice presentation. In reality, I was later told they were a bit stunned. As I sat down, the Deputy National Security Director, who was sitting next to me, took my arm and said, we need you in Washington right now. After the conference was over he and the Director pulled me aside and talked to me for over an hour and a half on why I needed to go to DC.
FA. So, you went?
RW. I didn’t agree to go right away, as I had no desire to go there at the time. My sons were in high school, my wife had a good job and some kind of stability for the first time in a long time. We loved our farms in Nebraska and I had avoided DC for my entire military career.
FA. So, what happened?
RW. They were persistent, and the other regional coordinators also called me and asked that I take the job as they said they needed someone like me to help them do what they were doing. So, I asked my wife what she thought about it and she said if the nation really needed me again, it was something she thought I could and should do for a few years to help them out.
FA. But you were there for nearly ten years?
RW. When I got there, things were a lot worse than even I thought could be possible. There were no plans, or trained planners to write them. The Division Director and Branch Chiefs had all been fired or left. The moral of the staff wasn’t good, and the previous National Security Director, who had also been fired, had refused to even let them, her planners, go to FEMA’s own emergency planning course at the FEMA National Training Center, as she wanted contractors to do the work.
FA. That sounds familiar to what’s in your books. So, there were no National Security Plans?
RW. When I went into my office there was a stack of what they called plans on my conference table. I was initially excited to see what they looked like, until I opened them. And they were like children’s coloring books. They weren’t plans. They did have some pretty pictures in them. As I was looking at them, the FEMA National Security Director walked into the room and asked me what I thought. I told him that they weren’t plans, that they were meaningless. He smiled and said he agreed, but what was on the table had cost the government over three million dollars in contractor costs. And so it began.
FA. Then what did you do? Getting plans done like this for a country the size of the United States seems a bit overwhelming.
RW. The first thing I needed to do was to get our FEMA national security planning staff trained on how to write the plans. Until that happened, the contractors were no use to us, so I told them (the contractors) to work on some other things we were doing in the office until I got the staff trained. FEMA has a good planner’s course at the National Training Center at Emmitsburg, so the first thing I did was to send all of them there. Once they had completed the training I then worked with them to improve their planning skills, and to come up with a good generic continuity of operations plan that would work for a federal department or agency. Once that was done we brought in the department and agency continuity of operations planners (these are the type of plans that are needed for ensuring continuity of government) and began their training. To help them with this, I had my staff and our contractors develop Federal Continuity Directive 1, that lays out what is required to ensure each of the federal departments and agencies could continue their essential functions under all conditions. Since the departments and agencies were also confused on what their essential functions were, we developed Federal Continuity Directive 2, which helped them identify these. We then established a national continuity of operations working group with representatives on it from every department and agency in Washington, DC. This helped us pass out information and answer questions from all the offices as they worked to develop their plans.
FA. So now you had all the federal departments and agencies developing continuity of operations plans and identifying their essential functions. Then what.
RW. Along with this we needed the authority from the President to make all the department and agencies do this and then be prepared to execute these plans. So, in parallel with the development of the Federal Continuity Directives, I helped develop, along with members of the White House staff, Presidential Decision Directive 51/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20, which was then signed by the President.
FA. Was all this work just being done in Washington or was other similar work being done in other locations?
RW. Similar things were now being done in all ten FEMA regions. Remember, we had our national security coordinators in each of the regions, so as we started the process in DC, they did the same thing with their departments and agencies in all their areas too. I had them reach out to all the nation’s federal executive boards like I had done previously in Region VII, and the support for this was amazing. From New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Denver, and Los Angeles, to Seattle, our nation’s largest cities began developing their plans too. As they did this, the states and other local jurisdictions were also brought in, so the effort began cascading across the country. The nice thing was the cost to do this was essentially nothing, as the people doing it were already government employees and just needed some guidance on what needed done and how.
FA. Who all got involved with developing and writing these plans?
RW. Initially it was the government employees that were responsible for conducting their essential functions. But as the plans evolved, especially as they cascaded down to the state and local levels, all the of those elected and appointed officials also became involved, along with all the first response and other supporting organizations; fire, law enforcement, emergency medical, and so on.
FA. So, there was now a planning process, but did all these people really understand what they needed to do? How did they learn that?
RW. As soon I began the planning process, I also established another branch of the office that began building training courses that would help people with this. We developed both resident courses to be taught at FEMA’s National Training Center at Emmitsburg, Maryland, and non-resident courses that people could complete on-line in their homes and offices. From this we established, and the FEMA Administrator approved, the Continuity of Operations Excellent Series of training courses: Level I, Professional Continuity Practitioner, and Level II, Master Professional Continuity Practitioner programs.
FA. And people from across the country started attending and completing this training?
RW. I recently looked again at the statistics for this training, and at of end of 2010, when I left DHS, 237,671 students had completed all or parts of this training. So, it quickly spread and was accepted across the country. I am sure many times this number have now competed it.
FA. So now the country had plans being developed and people being trained to execute them, did you feel this was all that was needed?
RW. No. We had to see if they understood and could do what was in the plans. So, I had my staff begin developing different types of exercises to allow them to do this. Some of these were discussion, table-top exercises, and others were more advanced, full-scale ones.
FA. So, these exercises were done in DC as well as the other major cities across the country?
RW. Yes. The first full-scale exercise for all the federal government departments and agencies in Washington, DC was conducted in 2004. This included a serious threat that required the President and all the senior department and agency secretaries and agency heads and their staffs to relocate from DC to other locations, and operate there with all their backed-up off-site records and capabilities. Successors to their positions had to be identified and available in case the secretaries or agency heads were not available or had been killed. This was also an evaluated exercise to help make sure all of them were capable of completing their essential functions from those off-site locations. Evaluators for the exercise came from a different agency than the ones being evaluated, so Commerce looked at Treasury, the Department of Homeland Security (that was now up and operational) looked at the Department of Defense, etc. At the conclusion of the exercise a stop-light chart of green (completely capable), yellow (capable with limitations), or red (not capable) was provided to the President on all the departments and agencies.
FA. So, you operationally assessed the entire federal government’s abilities to do their essential functions from other than their primary locations?
RW. Yes, and this was then done annually to make sure they could still so it.
FA. And after-action-reports were provided to all the departments and agencies on how they did?
RW. And the leadership of each was out-briefed on the good and bad things they had done, just like we had previously been doing in the military at our national training centers.
FA. Were similar exercises conducted in other cities?
RW. Many of the nation’s major cities had completed continuity exercises by the time I left DHS. From New York to Los Angeles, I think we had completed over a hundred of these by the time I left.
FA. And you got to see these too?
RW. Many of them. It was a really busy time, as you can imagine. Just to attend the meetings all day, and travel to the different cities and states. And then to get back in the office in the evening, with my in-box overflowing onto the desk with new training courses and draft exercise materials. But I had an excellent staff, and they were the ones who helped make all this possible. And the Regional National Security Coordinators, later called National Continuity Coordinators after FEMA was integrated into the new Department of Homeland Security, were amazing too. It was a good group of people to work with.
FA. But you were the person pushing much of this?
RW. I was very fortunate to work for the people I did, in both Republican and Democratic Presidential Administrations. They were all very supportive and gave me free reign to do what was needed. No one ever micro-managed me. Every day I would look at what needed done, and we would then do it. The actual cost to do all of this was minimal, and the payoff was impressive, not only for the departments and agencies, cities and state and local jurisdictions, but also the people of the country. So, it was all good.
FA. We noticed you also had certificates of appreciation and commendation from the US Courts. Since they are in the Judicial Branch, and you were in the Executive, what was your relationship with them?
RW. The Executive Branch has a special relationship with the Judicial, as U.S. Marshalls and others from the U.S. Department of Justice, help protect them and serve there. So, they were involved in all of our training and exercises, if they desired to participate, which they generally did.
FA. What about the Legislative Branch?
RW. They had a separate continuity staff too and were invited to participate as they desired.
FA. Once again, we noticed all the letters of commendations and plaques from the many different governments, cities, and states across the country. The pictures with the personalized notes from the different Presidents, the letter of commendation and appreciation from the Director of the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management, and the US Courts, among others. The World of Difference one, with the glass globe with the three hurricanes hitting the southern United States is different. What was that about?
RW. It was given by the Federal Executive Boards in Miami at a meeting I had with them following the big hurricanes of 2005, Katrina, Wilma, and Rita. They appreciated all the work I and my office had done to help them get through these difficult disasters and get the federal government operating again.
FA. I know there is so much more we could discuss with you, but I think your readers now have a better appreciation for your background for what goes in the books. Not many people can say they were able to stop 20,000 people from dying every day, in some far-off continent, or train and evaluate our nation’s Joint Task Forces and the many civilian government and response organizations that support our citizens and nation’s governments. So, thank you.
RW. I was privilege to do it.
FA. After all that, let’s talk about the books. There seems to be at least three themes running through all of them. There’s what I would call the human control piece, a kind of modern-day slavery and human trafficking; there’s obviously government corruption; and, finally there’s the terrorists. Why include all of this in the books?
RW. More than anything, the books were written to be educational. What can, or maybe is happening, and the implications if it does. With the amazing advances in technology, especially with microcomputers, the potential to do something like this is or will soon be reality. And the amount of money passing through the different departments and agencies in Washington is staggering, billions has now become trillions, and there are people who will do anything to get their hands on it.
FA. Thanks again for writing the books. We found them to be both thought-provoking and informative. I think that anyone who reads them will come away with a much better appreciation for what could happen in our country. They certainly aren’t the kind of books you just read and forget, and we think the country is much better off for your having shared them with us.
RW. It was fun writing them. And thanks for the interview. I haven’t thought about some of the things we discussed in a long time.