Defense Media Network

Interview With Rear Adm. Kerry M. Metz, USN

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


Well, it’s not the worst place to have a headquarters, and if you’re going to, as our friend Adm. McRaven says, “make your bed” somewhere, “the Springs” is not the worst place.

Yes, it is not bad. It has some geographic desirability. We came out, and there were a few dedicated SOF professionals working in the J-3, working on special operations issues. We took those. We then layered some additional personnel that had been provided from SOCOM, and “stirred it around,” and got a small but capable group together, and started building the place we have today.

It sounds like you’ve got a fairly small but tight-knit group there?

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

Exercise Marlin Shield

SOCNORTH personnel conduct training lifting external helicopter loads during Exercise Marlin Shield. A strong collaborative partnership with The Bahamas is critical to both North America and hemispheric security. SOCNORTH photo

How do you and the rest of SOCNORTH fit in there, in terms of your roles and missions, for Adm. Bill Gortney [the present NORTHCOM commander] and the rest of the NORTHCOM staff?

Well, remember that NORTHCOM is a joint command. We have a large contingent of special operations forces, quite a few conventional military units, along with some contractors and civilians with various backgrounds. It’s interesting that you asked that question on how SOCNORTH fits in. The NORTHCOM commander, wearing his NORTHCOM hat, has a number of service components – an Army component, a Navy component, Air Force, Marines, and we’re his special operations component. We are also the only component that’s not “dual hatted” with some other set of responsibilities. For example, the U.S. Fleet Forces commander, Adm. [Phil] Davidson, is dual hatted as the NAVNORTH [U.S. Naval Forces Northern Command] Commander. Lt. Gen. [Rex C.] McMillian as commander, Marine Corps Forces Reserve, is dual hatted as the Marine Forces North commander. The 5th Army commander, Lt. Gen. [Perry] Wiggins, is dual hatted as the ARNORTH [commander], and Lt. Gen. [William H.] Etter, the 1st Air Force Commander, is also the AFNORTH commander. But, we are not. We have a combatant commander, who is Gen. [Joseph L.] Votel [now CENTCOM commander, and relieved by new SOCOM Commanding General Lt. Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas], and an operational commander who is Adm. [William E.] Gortney, and we are solely dedicated to working his problem set.

With all that said, do you have a significant Reserve and National Guard component in SOCNORTH as well?

We have a blend of everyone and every category you could think of. We have active duty, Reserve, National Guard, civilian contractors … everyone. And, as I tell each person that checks in with us when they arrive, the name on the front of the jersey is SOCNORTH, which is far more important than the name on the back, which is whatever particular service or component they come from. To a person, they embrace that. I know everyone here, which is one of the good things, but I could not point out by just looking at them which are Guard, or Reserve, or full time, or just here doing their drills.

Now, obviously you have to be a little more sensitive of realities like Posse Comitatus Act and domestic policy, because you are a homeland command. What are the day-to-day things you have to do to accommodate that reality of being a homeland command?

I think there’s a greater stress on the interagency portion of the portfolio. We spend a lot of time talking, working with, and discussing with our various interagency partners: FBI, DHS [Department of Homeland Security], CIA [Central Intelligence Agency], DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration], the State Department. All the other TSOCs do that to a lesser extent. We spend a good deal of time on it. What we are all trying to do in a collaborative manner is maintain a better preparedness and a better posture for the “just in case” events that are out there. There are things that go on all the time where a lead federal agency might have need to request support from DOD [the Department of Defense]. We could get into a longer discussion on Posse Comitatus, but some people often think that that prevents military personnel from doing anything in the homeland. That’s not true. There are certain categories of support the military can provide. A piece of equipment, advice… there are many things the U.S. military can do to support whoever the lead federal agency is, and you’re not in violation. It’s direct military participation in law enforcement that Posse Comitatus prevents.

… we’re always trying to mature the command. For example, when you stand something like SOCNORTH up, you normally have, “three of these and four of those and two of those.” And you gradually realize maybe I need three, three, and three, respectively. So, as you modify and figure out what it is you’re exactly going to do, you try to cross-level the load.

Now, all that said, SOCNORTH does not actually own any SOF units that you can call your own, correct?

Correct. Just like SOCCENT.

So, you are primarily given access to such units on a task and mission basis?

Yes. Just like SOCCENT. Now remember, SOCSOUTH has some forces that they own … as well as SOCPAC [Special Operations Command Pacific], SOCEUR [Special Operations Command Europe]. So for SOCNORTH, there’s a process for obtaining forces for a mission or task. It’s not as simple as just calling the boss. It’s a two-year process, all those training events and exercises are programmed in so that the supporting unit can prepare and plan. There’s a session of briefs; we brief them on what we need them to do, they brief us back on how they’re going to accomplish that. Intel updates, all that kind of stuff – it’s a habitual relationship that’s more formalized than an ad hoc request.

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