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Interview With Rear Adm. Kerry M. Metz, USN

Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command-North (SOCNORTH)

 

Rear Adm. Kerry M. Metz serves as the first commander of Special Operations Command North, a subordinate unified command of U.S. Special Operations Command under the operational control of U.S. Northern Command.

Commissioned via the Aviation Officer Candidate School in October 1984 and after a very brief time in aviation, Metz was assigned to the surface fleet, where he served on USS Enhance (MSO 437). Transferring to Naval Special Warfare, he completed Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training with Class 149 in April 1988. He served in both Naval Special Warfare and Joint Special Operations assignments. Previous commands include a Naval Special Warfare Task Unit, a Joint Task Force, Naval Special Warfare Group 11, and six Naval Special Warfare Reserve Units. His service overseas includes multiple deployments to Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Promoted to rear admiral in October 2011, he served first as the deputy commander and then as interim commander of Special Operations Command Central from September 2011 to July 2013.

Rear Adm. Metz holds a Bachelor of Science in business from the University of Colorado in Boulder and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Denver. He completed courses at the Air Command and Staff College, the Armed Forces Staff College, and the Defense Language Institute.

The Year in Special Operations: When we talk about U.S. Northern Command or NORTHCOM as it’s known, how big is it physically? What are its political boundaries and what kind of human terrain, in your mind, does it cover?

Rear Adm. Kerry M. Metz: NORTHCOM covers the continental United States, Alaska, Canada, the Bahamas, and Mexico. Northern Command stood up after 9/11, and is co-located fully integrated with the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). The only separation they have between the two staffs is in the J-3, the Operations Sections. NORTHCOM is responsible for homeland defense, security cooperation, and civil support.

Yes … just over 130 folks at initial operational capability. We should eventually grow to between 150 and 160 personnel.

Why does NORTHCOM, which is, in theory, a homeland command, need to have a special operations component command?

Well, I think there are a couple of things. Each geographical combatant command has a special operations command. NORTHCOM was the only one that didn’t have one. What the other special operations component commands do by linking together with the SOCOM Headquarters is they create a network. In order for NORTHCOM to leverage this network, they had to have some sort of way to link into it. So, it was decided between Adm. [William H.] McRaven, then the SOCOM commander, and Gen. [Charles H.] Jacoby, then the NORTHCOM commander, to ask the Secretary of Defense for permission to stand up a SOC, a special operations command, for Northern Command. That was approved by Secretary [Leon] Panetta, and we came into being.

So, in a very real way, when McRaven was promoting his idea of a “Global SOF Network,” this is NORTHCOM’s piece that allows them to plug in and be part of that network?

That’s exactly right. And they had lacked that piece since they stood up after 9/11. Not to say that there weren’t some dedicated civilians and military personnel working in the NORTHCOM J-3 [Operations] directorate to sort of coordinate, but it wasn’t a full-fledged command dedicated to that linkage.

SOCOM RBDF

U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Special Operations Command North, and the Royal Bahamian Defence Force (RBDF) were working together to execute Exercise Marlin Shield the first two weeks of May 2016. The exercise aims for the United States and the RBDF to actively practice interoperability and bilateral operations through maritime and land-based training at remote locations throughout The Bahamas. SOCNORTH photo

So beyond being the router connection between NORTHCOM and the rest of the network, do you have a portfolio of assignments, missions, and other things that you could talk about?

We do. Remember that SOCNORTH’s persistent and network presence enables us to provide rapid crisis response and unified action within the NORTHCOM theater. So, the portfolio that we’ve been assigned is to take the organize, train and equip, plan, sync, and employ functions of SOCOM and blend them with the NORTHCOM homeland defense, security cooperation, and civil support in a defending-the-homeland spectrum of mission sets. So for us here at SOCNORTH, it’s everything from counterterrorism to countering WMD to countering transnational organized crime, or helping our Mexican partners with that, [and] civil support, usually to the lead federal agency in our theater, in our case most often the FBI and then cooperative security. You know, you think of NORTHCOM as a homeland Geographic Combatant Command (GCC), but in reality it still has Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas and the maritime approaches to the homeland. So it requires pretty much the same thing as all the other GCCs, it’s just a little bit unique in that it has the homeland within its area of responsibility.

We’ve seen the rise of theater special operations command (TSOCs) as the centers of mass and gravity with regard to special operations forces (SOF) operations worldwide. What were your particular challenges and problems when you stood up this command?

Well, it was interesting. I had been the deputy commander, and then the interim commander, of Special Operations Command-Central (SOCCENT), the largest of all the TSOC commands. Adm. McRaven asked me if I would consider, as a follow-on to that, the job of standing up this one. And I did have the background in what a TSOC does in a varied, complex, and challenging environment. So my first question back to Adm. McRaven was, “Where is it going to be located?” I’m a Colorado native and, you know, Adm. McRaven is a Texan [now the Chancellor of the University of Texas system]. He said, “Well, it could be located in a lot of places. It could be San Antonio or El Paso,” and I was not all that enthused. Then he said, “I’m just kidding. Gen. Jacoby [then the NORTHCOM commander] has insisted that it be co-located at Peterson Air Force Base with the Headquarters of Northern Command.” Then, of course, I was a little more excited.

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John D. Gresham lives in Fairfax, Va. He is an author, researcher, game designer, photographer,...