New Kind of Commander to Combat Sandy Destruction

Defense Secretary Panetta activates new commanders forged from Katrina disaster.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, shown here in 2009, on Saturday appointed "dual status commanders" to many states along the Eastern Seaboard as the hurricane approaches.
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The Department of Defense has employed a new and rare tactic to combat the encroaching destructiveness of Hurricane Sandy, in an attempt to avoid the fallout from previous catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Saturday appointed "dual status commanders" to many states along the Eastern Seaboard as the hurricane approaches. These commanders, usually the rank of colonel or higher in their respective states' National Guard, may command both federal and state National Guard forces.

[READ: Sandy, Storm Surge Pose 'Worst Case Scenario']

The idea of dual status commanders was first put together in 2009 to prevent a repeat of the cumbersome bureaucracy that bogged down relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the deadliest and most destructive storm during the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. Active duty military members and National Guardsmen at the state level had previously reported to two different chains of command.

These commanders, specially trained in integrating federal and state resources, were first initiated for relief efforts for Hurricane Irene in August 2011. They have been used before, but only for planned events such as international summits.

As of Sunday afternoon, Panetta had worked with the governors of Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island to appoint dual status commanders. These states, along with Connecticut, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C., declared states of emergency by Sunday afternoon.

[PHOTOS: Sandy Pummels Caribbean]

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley on Sunday afternoon classified Sandy, expected to make landfall on the Eastern Seaboard on Monday, as a "killer storm," citing the 58 deaths in the Caribbean as of Saturday.

On Saturday, the Navy reversed its Friday order that all warships in Hampton Roads, Va. should head out to sea while Sandy moves through the East Coast. Now, it has ordered the ships stay in harbor, reports The Virginia Pilot. Twenty-one ships based in Norfolk, Va., were ordered to head out to sea by early Saturday morning, according to The Navy Times.

[READ: Megastorm Could Span 800 Miles]

About 1,500 have been mobilized to help with storm relief coordinated by the governors of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia.

"We are joined in a cooperative effort—to save lives, protect property, and support recovery efforts," said Gen. frank J. Grass, National Guard Bureau chief, according to a National Guard release.

"We are monitoring Hurricane Sandy closely and coordinating with our federal, state and local partners to ensure a coordinated and efficient response," he says. "Units across the National Guard are making the necessary preparations to respond to the needs of any states affected by Hurricane Sandy; rest assured the National Guard is poised and ready to provide proven responders and capabilities."

Paul D. Shinkman is a national security reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at

Corrected 10/28/2012: A previous version of this story stated 61,000 National Guard troops had been mobilized to aid in Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. 1,500 had been mobilized as of Oct. 27.