Command of Fort Bliss' Joint Task Force North to change
El Paso Times, Texas
FORT BLISS, Texas — A military organization headquartered at Fort Bliss likes to keep a low profile and fly under the radar, despite its important work.
Joint Task Force North helps the nation's law enforcement agencies stem the flow of drugs and trains service members for future missions, Fort Bliss officials said.
It provides military support to federal law enforcement agencies in their efforts to battle illegal drug trafficking and the trans-national criminal organizations — including Mexican drug cartels — that conduct it.
JTF North, as it's commonly called, will also be getting a new commander soon.
"JTF North is a very important component to the overall Team Bliss environment," said its outgoing commander,
Brig. Gen. Mark R. Stammer. "Team Bliss is more than just the 1st Armored Division. We have the Brigade Modernization Command. We have the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command here. We are very much a part of it and a part of the community."
JTF North only gets involved when asked to by agencies within the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice.
JTF North support operations can also help state, local and tribal agencies who are partners with federal law enforcement.
The organization did 60 support missions last year and has done more than 6,000 since its inception in 1989.
Stammer, a 48-year-old South Dakota native, has been the commander at JTF North since September 2011.
He will leave March 1 when the organization has a change of command. Brig. Gen. Jon S. Lehr, 55, will take his spot.
Lehr, a native of Dover, Pa., is currently the deputy director of Strategic Planning and Policy for U.S. Pacific Command at Fort Smith in Hawaii.
Stammer, meanwhile, will become the acting senior commander at Fort Campbell, Ky., when the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) headquarters deploys to Afghanistan.
Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, commander of Fort Bliss and the 1st Armored Division, called Stammer a "great American" who along with his wife, Donna, have made a big impact by getting involved in the El Paso community.
"They will be missed," he said.
Joint Task Force North, meanwhile, plays an important role in what Fort Bliss does by bringing different branches of the armed services and different agencies together, Pittard said.
"It's part of the enduring nature of Fort Bliss," Pittard said.
Joint Task Force North was originally named Joint Task Force Six and was established at Fort Bliss in 1989. It has about 190 people in its headquarters, including service members from all branches and civilian employees.
It doesn't have any military units that are attached to it, however.
Instead, it seeks active-duty and reserve units from all branches and from all over the nation to volunteer to help provide support to law enforcement and their anti-drug efforts.
This can provide great real-world experience for service members that goes beyond what they would get at a training range, Stammer said.
"There is no scenario; the scenario is real life," he said. "It's all win-win. We provide a benefit to law-enforcement agencies so they can do their jobs better. The country benefits. The units that participate go off to their next mission better prepared to meet the uncertainties of that environment."
Joint Task Force North isn't meant to replace the Army's Training Centers in places like Fort Irwin, Calif., or Fort Polk, La.
"But it's a sure-fire complement to what is going on there," Stammer said.
Stammer said he rarely gives interviews and likes his organization to "fade back into the background."
Law enforcement is the "first line of defense and we assist them in doing their jobs better," he said. "I don't catch any bad guys or interdict any drugs. I'm helping these guys do it."
The task force can provide military support to anti-drug efforts anywhere in the continental United States, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but spends the vast majority of its time along the Southwest border, Stammer said.
"That's where our partners want us," Stammer said. "I draw my priorities from the Department of Homeland Security and their priorities are along the Southwest border."
Joint Task Force North may see its profile rise a bit in the coming months.
The incoming commander for Fort Bliss and the 1st Armored Division, Maj. Gen. Sean B. MacFarland, was the commander at JTF North from June 2008 to June 2010.
MacFarland will replace Pittard in a change of command set for late May. The Army hasn't announced where Pittard, an El Paso native, is headed.
"Having a commander of the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss who has been a former commander of JTF North will raise the bar on us a little bit," Stammer said. "He will be intimately familiar with our mission, our people, and what we bring to the community."
Stammer is confident that Lehr, his replacement, will keep Joint Task Force North operating smoothly and in the right direction.
"He's a tremendous soldier with a tremendous history," Stammer said. "He's a quiet guy who gets the job done."
Stammer and his wife, Donna, have moved 15 or 16 times during his Army career.
"Regardless of how many times, we've moved, I've always looked for the best in each of those locales," Stammer said. "El Paso, what an awesome city. We try to avoid the chain restaurants and get to the heart of it. There are a lot of nice people here and the city is great. And the weather is great, too."