The Pallas Foundation for National Security Leadership recently hosted a conversation with Lieutenant General Laura Richardson, Commanding General of U.S. Army North (Fifth Army). The discussion addressed Lt. Gen. Richardson's leadership of Army North in responding to COVID-19 and other natural disasters, as well as their collaboration with various federal and state civilian agencies on the Southwest border mission. Check out our three takeaways from the discussion:
U.S. Army North has a variety of mission sets that are continuously evolving to meet current needs. Army North's missions are Homeland Defense, Defense Support to Civilian Agencies (DSCA) and Theater Security Cooperation. After the 2018 National Defense Strategy recognized that the homeland is no longer a sanctuary, Homeland Defense is their top priority. However, Army North spends a great deal of time on DSCA. Army North’s DSCA intervention is guided by the National Response Framework, part of the National Strategy for Homeland Security. The framework may trigger a Department of Defense response when local and federal agencies are overwhelmed during a disaster. Working closely with a lead federal agency, the military may then step in and provide support—like when Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas in 2019. With typical disaster response missions, the lead federal agency is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but Health and Human Services has served that role for the COVID response and the Department of Homeland Security (especially Customs and Border Patrol) are in lead for securing the Southwest border.
U.S. Army North has played a significant role in the COVID-19 response. In response to hospitals across the nation overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, Army North deployed over 4,500 different military medical personnel to fourteen states and the Navajo Nation, working in 71 hospitals in 51 cities. During their time in the hospitals, U.S. Army North created a standard for PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) usage that was implemented across all hospitals where military personnel were stationed to support, ensuring the providers were protected and didn't become COVID casualties themselves. With the end - hopefully - of the hospital mission, Army North has shifted to support 48 mass vaccination sites across the nation, serving so far in 25 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands with over 5,100 military personnel administering over 3.8 million vaccinations. Dual-status commanders from the Army and Air National Guard have been key to command and control of these efforts.
Core leadership values are crucial to orchestrating U.S. Army North’s responses to their varied problem sets, especially when new issues arise. As Lt. Gen. Richardson discussed her experience in handling the response to COVID-19, she reiterated the importance of being able to shift priorities quickly, especially when new challenges arose every day. The rapid determination of critical needs among competing priorities helped to ensure that the most urgent demands were met first. Communicating clear guidance and intent is also a tenet of Lt. Gen. Richardson’s leadership style. As her command expanded in response to the complications posed by the pandemic, ensuring that her intent was clear to decentralized personnel executing the operations was vital in ensuring that the missions were accomplished -- and having so many decentralized personnel required a diverse set of communication channels. The lessons learned from the unprecedented COVID-19 response will be invaluable for future missions, likely particularly with Homeland Defense, which will undoubtedly require a similar nationwide response capability.
Lieutenant General Laura Richardson is the Commanding General of United States Army North (Fifth Army), where she leads their efforts in homeland defense, support of civil authorities, and theater security cooperation. She has previously served as Deputy Commanding General, then Acting Commanding General, of the United States Army Forces Command. Lt. Gen. Richardson has served in various commands at Fort Hood and as Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications at Headquarters International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. She also served as commander of an assault helicopter battalion in the initial stages of the war in Iraq. She grew up in Colorado and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Aviation upon graduation from Metropolitan State College in Denver. She has commanded from the Company to Theater Army level. Her nomination for a fourth star and command of U.S. Southern Command is awaiting Senate confirmation.