The responsibility is enormous and the need critical in light of last year’s attack on the U.S. by Islamic terrorists. As a result, Colorado Springs is home to Northern Command, charged with homeland defense – protecting all of the U.S., within 500 miles of its shorelines, U.S. territories, and Mexico from attack.

Northern Command opens for business at Peterson Air Force Base on Oct. 1, and is the first time a unified command has primary responsibility for military defense of the U.S. homeland. It is one of several changes in the nation’s military command structure. The changes are possibly the largest in more than 50 years, since the system was assembled in 1946.

The U.S. Senate recently confirmed the nomination of General Ed Eberhart to head the Northern Command. NorthCom was established as part of the nation’s Homeland Defense plan following last year’s terrorist attacks on the United States.

“It is an honor to be nominated as the first commander of U.S. Northern Command… our job will be to preserve the nation’s security be defending the American people where they live and work,” Eberhart said. “We will also prepare for the inevitability of uncertainty and surprise… this will be a team effort from start to finish… our servicemen and women are ready for the challenge.”

Eberhart is also head of the U.S. Space Command, which is moving to Offutt Air Force Base at Omaha, Nebraska; he also commands the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

Homeland security is a phrase not widely discussed before the terrorist attacks, but now everyone is talking about it. One person who knows exactly what it means is Army Major Barry E. Venable, of the NORAD Public Affairs Directorate.

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“Homeland security is an overarching term that includes homeland defense and the Department of Defense’s support of civilian authorities,” Venable said. “In homeland defense, the military has the lead, because the threat or adversary is from foreign military forces.

“In civil support, the military plays a supporting role to local, state or non-DOD federal agencies,” Venable added.

The choice of Colorado Springs as home to Northern Command came about after environmental assessments and reviews.

“It was based on several considerations: military effectiveness, existing facilities, location, force protection, infrastructure and costs,” Venable said.

While the role is huge, Northern Command has a relatively small $70 million annual budget. It could employ about 500 civilian and military workers.

Those troops are staying in Peterson Air Force Base housing while a new command center is being completed.

In gaining NorthCom, Colorado Springs lost U.S. Space Command, even though most people say it wasn’t a case of tit for tat. U.S. Senator Wayne Allard, R-Colorado, said early on that having U.S. Space Command in Colorado helped in winning NorthCom.

“This new command should have a very positive economic impact not only on the Colorado Springs economy, but the Colorado economy,” Allard said. “To what degree is yet to be determined, but Northcom in the coming years will become an extremely important command and will only be one of nine commands worldwide for the United States.”

At a recent briefing at the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, officials said it will take about one year for NorthCom to reach full strength. Meanwhile, it is full steam ahead.

“We’re running around with our hair on fire,” said Coast Guard Capt. Edward Carroll, deputy chief of staff at NorthCom. NorthCom will be staffed with soldiers from all branches of service.