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DoD Briefing on Operation Unified Assistance, the Post-Tsunami Relief Effort

Presenters: Rear Adm. Victor Guillory, deputy commander of Naval Forces, Combined Support Force 536 and Tom Fry, Disaster Assistance Response Team, USAID
January 14, 2005

(Note:  The admiral and Mr. Fry appear via video conference from Utapao, Thailand.)

 

            BRYAN WHITMAN (Public Affairs, the Department of Defense):  Good morning.  Thank you for joining us today.

 

            The -- we have a special opportunity here today to be joined by some of the individuals that are responsible for the U.S. government effort, really, with respect to support to the -- U.S. support to the tsunami victims.  We have with us today from Utapao the deputy commander of the Combined Support Force, Rear Admiral Victor Guillory. Joining him is Mr. Tom Fry from the -- from USAID, the U.S. Agency for International Development.  And they're in Thailand, and while you  can't see them, they're in -- we have an audio connection with them. And they're both going to give you just a little update, and then we'll get into some questions here.  And we've got about 30 minutes.

 

            So, Admiral, I'm going to turn it over to you.  Can you hear us all right?

 

            ADM. GUILLORY:  I can hear you loud and clear, and I'm ready to continue, if this is a good time.

 

            Good morning.  I'm pleased to be with you.  Our efforts here continue to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the many people who were afflicted by the December 26th earthquake and tsunami.  As I speak to you today, we have over 15,000 sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines providing the people of the stricken region relief aid, as identified by the host nation.  Twenty-four U.S. naval ships and one Coast Guard vessel are currently in the region in support of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.  To date, Combined Support Force 536 has distributed 2,700,000 pounds of relief supplies.  Of note:  the USS Fort McHenry, a landing ship dock currently forward deployed from Sasebo, Japan, joined the force.  Fort McHenry has also provided relief assistance in December during the flood relief operations in the Philippines.

 

            Communications in coordination with the host nation, nongovernmental organizations, international agencies and other organizations continues to improve.

 

            Speaking on behalf of the sailors and Marines that represent the naval forces supporting this relief effort, we are proud to be part of this global effort to help the afflicted nations reach the road to recovery.

 

            Thank you.

 

            MR. FRY:  This is Tom Fry.  I'm with the U.S. Agency for International Development and I'm with a team here at Utapao with CSF- 536.  My job -- we've got a small team here called the Disaster Assistance Response Team.  Our job here is to make sure that the U.S. government's efforts are coordinated -- that both being on the military side and the civilian side.  USAID is responsible for coordinating the civilian side international disaster relief efforts and making sure that we, as the military would say, de-conflict any issues that do arise between the Department of Defense or the civilian side on issues that arise.

 

            I do want to mention that today, as of January 13th, U.S. government has pledged $350 million to the earthquake and tsunami relief efforts.  To date we've already committed almost $92 million, and that means money that we've already given over to U.N. organizations and nongovernmental organizations to begin and to work on and continue to work on the relief efforts in this area.

 

            And with that, I think I'll stop and leave the questions open to the admiral.

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Very good.

 

            If you would just identify yourself and your news organization, we'll go ahead and get started.

 

            Who would like to go first?  Go ahead, Bob.

 

            Q     This is Bob Burns from Associated Press.  I had a question for Mr. Fry, I think it --

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Correct.

 

            Q     Your last comment there about the money allocated to NGOs and U.N. organizations.  Is that the entirety of all the money that's been spent out of the $350 million?  And what will the rest of it be used for?

 

            MR. FRY:  Well, that $92 million is money, like I say, in the sense that we've already written checks to organizations to begin this work.  The rest of the $350 million will be allocated as organizations identify areas that need relief efforts.  And when those proposals come in, we review those, and then, depending on agreeing with them, we will then fund those agencies and organizations to continue this work.  Again, that's $92 million out of the 350 (million dollars).

 

            Q     Do you have any estimate of how long -- when you'll reach that point of having allocated 350 (million dollars)?

 

            MR. FRY:  No, I really don't, because some of that money will be looking -- a lot of that money went in the initial relief activities we've been doing.  We're now starting to look at the transition phase, so there will be other activities.  For example, right now both the military and working with very closely with CSF-536 resources, we have a combined assessment team out looking on the northwestern coast of Sumatra, looking at some of those areas for potential health issues that either currently exist or some preventative health issues that may arise.  And again, some of those monies would be earmarked for that once the assessment is done and we receive recommendations.  And at that point we would begin to look at funding using some of these other monies that have been pledged to fund some of those requirements.

 

            Q     Sabrina Fang with Tribune Broadcasting.  You were speaking, Admiral, about the health situation there.  Health officials are now concerned about malaria.  Can you tell us about the situation on the ground?

 

            MR. FRY:  Well, I guess maybe I'll take that one for the admiral. Again, this assessment team, malaria is a concern.  There are other issues that could be a concern.  That's why this assessment is a key part to look at what are the potentials out there and to begin to -- and again, some of the organizations that we've funded are ready, could be prepared to take some actions on a malaria outbreak.  Also, if there's a need and if it's identified, we could also put additional monies to organizations who work on those issues.

 

            And again, malaria is just a part of this.  There could be other diseases.  We are always very concerned, for example, about measles outbreaks, which can be very deadly, especially children under the age of five.  So when you have to put people into displaced persons camps, you want to make sure that there's a good measles vaccination program in place so that you don't have those types of outbreaks.  So it isn't just malaria that we're concerned about, it's preventative measures across the health spectrum.

 

            Q     This is Will Dunham with Reuters.  Mr. Fry, do you have a breakdown of how the $92 million has been spent?  And perhaps part of the breakdown, do you have how much has been spent in individual countries affected?

 

            MR. FRY: Yes, I do have that.  I don't know if you want to go into that here, but I could probably give you a website that would be very helpful.  You could just go to usaid.gov, and it will pop up with the tsunami.  You'll see that tsunami information.  And if you click on that, you will get right to what are called the fact sheets.  And the one I'm holding in my hand is from January 13th.  So that fact sheet will give you everything you'd like to know about the current situation, missing and dead, and then an update from each country that was affected, including, besides the three main ones that we've been working with, that being Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka, but there's also information about the Maldives, even Somalia, the little bit that's been done there, as well as a breakdown by organization, by amount, what type of relief activity they're doing.  So unless you've got a specific question on a country, that information -- it's very informative sheets, website.

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Okay, we're going to pull that right now, Tom, and we'll get that passed out to folks here in case they have some questions they want to follow up on that.

 

            Carl?

 

            Q     Perhaps for the admiral, perhaps for Mr. Fry.  Could you characterize the state of the tsunami aid efforts right now?  Is more hardware, for instance, ships, moving in?

 

            Are more ships moving into the area?  Are there more supplies in?  Are you in a situation now where you've reached the top of it and it's building down?  Or just sort of give an overview of it.

 

            ADM. GUILLORY:  This is Admiral Guillory, and I'll take a first shot at that one and turn it over to Mr. Fry.

 

            As a deputy commander of naval forces, we have tremendous capability sea-based in the region to provide support in the relief effort.  Over the last week, we have witnessed many ships from different nations also coming to the aid of the region and coordinating activities to provide relief to where it's needed.  So while the overall numbers continue to grow as countries respond and support the effort here or the combined effort, I think it would be premature to say we have reached the top.

 

            And I'll turn it over to Mr. Fry if he has any other comment.

 

            MR. FRY:  I guess my comment would be that any time you get a situation like this, there's always chaos at the beginning, when the relief effort begins.  I will say we're probably beyond the first initial emergency relief phase of this, to the point where I don't think we're seeing a lot of deaths that were directly related to the tidal wave itself.  I mean, I guess the term that I've heard is probably a good way to look at it:  we're into a convalescent type medical situation and preventative medicine type situation.

 

            I had the opportunity to go to Banda Aceh today, and I can tell you that there's a great international effort going on there.  On the ground while I was there was a Russian Ilyushin-76 with relief supplies, a Malaysian C-130 with relief supplies, helicopters from several different countries, a lot of activity going on there.  And, of course, in any of these situations there's always some confusion and some coordination issues to begin with.  But we met with U.N. organizations that are responsible for helping to work with the Indonesian government to coordinate the international relief effort and they're beginning -- or have actually over the past several days have had coordination meetings on a daily basis, sometimes several different types of coordination meetings going on.  And the results of those, of course, are a coordinated effort to meet the needs that are identified out there in the field, again, working with the Indonesian government, which still obviously has the lead and the responsibility for disaster relief.

 

            Q     Yes, Sandra Erwin with National Defense.  A question for Admiral Guillory.  Can you talk about the impact of the basing restrictions in Indonesia?  Is that forcing you to change plans in any way, and how are you dealing with that issue?

 

            ADM. GUILLORY:  Well, I'm not sure I would term it as basing restrictions.  The majority of our naval forces capabilities are sea based, and they are in the ideal position to provide relief, principally via helicopters, our rotary-wing asset, directly to the people that need it the most.

 

            As Mr. Fry was indicating just now, I believe that we're moving from a perhaps supply-based strategy of pushing immediate relief supplies to the people that need food, water and medicine, to more of a demand that represents the product of assessments, government and non-government organizations, and basically providing the sort of surgical delivery that is more in tune with where we are in the operations.

 

            But I would not term any basing restrictions as impacting the current combined effort at this point.

 

            Q     So there are no basing restrictions that you're aware of for the U.S. forces?

 

            ADM. GUILLORY:  There are no basing restrictions that impact naval forces providing support to the relief effort.  And again, the forces were sea-based in the very beginning and working closely with the host nation, I believe, or meeting the requirements of the host nation.

 

            Q     Thank you.

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Tom, we have just passed out the fact sheet that you referenced, and so everybody in this room now has that.

 

            Let's go over here.

 

            Q     This is Al Pessin from Voice of America.  Can you tell us what impact some of the other new rules that we've heard about have had?  For example, the requirement for Indonesian military escort outside the major cities in Aceh Province, the movement of the Abraham Lincoln farther offshore, and any sort of psychological or planning impact of the statement by the Indonesian vice president that he wants at least the foreign military contingents out by the end of March?

 

            ADM. GUILLORY:  This is Admiral Guillory, and I'll try to take that question.  I know there are multiple questions, so if I don't touch on all of them, please understand.  I'm new at this, and I am a -- I'm trying to get better over time.

 

            First of all, the Abraham Lincoln did move away from shore for a period of time, but that was to conduct fixed-wing flight operations. One would expect in what is routine operations, helicopter operations do not require the sea room, the maneuverability of a ship that can be done closer to the coast and normally what we do for the relief efforts.  Ships of that size require a great deal of sea room, however, to do a fixed-wing op.  And so that is the reason why they moved away from the coast for a period of time, again, a routine procedure.

 

            As far as the local Indonesian military requirements or discussions about requirements to have military representatives as we support the relief operations, we have been working from the very start with the host nation.  I have been, from my vantage, very impressed with how that cooperation has supported the relief effort.   So what we're doing is meeting the requirements of the host nation, working closely with the military, and I think the product of that effort is the relief supplies to people that need it most.

 

            Q     Can I follow up?

 

            Q     Well, yes, you say the Lincoln moved away for a time.  Does that mean it's moved back closer?

 

            ADM. GUILLORY:  Yeah, flight operations are normally six- to eight-hour cycles, but this is a short period of time to basically ensure flight deck crew training is conducted.  This is a short period of time, and I think the bottom line message is little or no impact to the relief operations.

 

            Q     (Off mike) -- location, can the helicopters still reach it from land?

 

            ADM. GUILLORY:  Absolutely.  And the procedures include launching helicopters, sending them into the beach to continue operations for those few hours, getting fuel from other ships in the area to continue those helicopter operations in support of relief efforts, and then returning to the Lincoln when she returns to the coastline.  And so again, I think it's transparent to the folks that need it -- need the assistance.

 

            Q     Can I just hear Mr. Fry's comment on the first part of the question about the requirement for escorts outside the major cities?

 

            MR. FRY:  Well, I did hear that.  I think that's being evaluated by the different nongovernmental organizations to see how that would affect their operations.  I guess my understanding is that there is some flexibility, but I think there's going to be further discussions of exactly what that means, maybe size of convoys and that sort of thing.

 

            Other than that I really don't have that much more information. I'm still a little coming up to speed on that from here.  And again, you have to understand that where we are at here we're not seeing all the tactical operations that are going on out there -- what I would say the movements of the convoys and supplies and that sort of thing. So I'm going to have to leave it at that.  I don't have a full answer for that.

 

            Q     Nick Childs, BBC.  Question for the admiral.  And forgive me if I'm behind the curve on this, but could you just update us whether it's been finalized precisely what the configuration and role of the hospital ship Mercy will be, because Admiral Fargo made the    comment that it was going to be used "imaginatively."  I wonder if you could flesh that out a bit.

 

            And also, early on, a lot was made of the maritime pre- positioning ships that were moving into the area, that they had cargo on board that would help with heavy lifting and those kind of relief efforts, and a large amount of water-generating capability.  Could you say how they're being used?  Are they now in position and up and running?

 

            ADM. GUILLORY:  Well, thank you.  Thank you for the question, and I'll try to answer in two parts here.  But again, please remind me if I miss the question.

 

            The first issue, on the hospital ship Mercy. Mercy is en route to this area as we speak.  I believe she should arrive here at the end of the month.  And I think imaginative from my perspective is that the medical expertise -- both government and non-government organizations' medical expertise are falling in on that ship to provide the capabilities that we think will be needed to meet the host nation requirements.  So while in other situations that ship would have been manned by strictly U.S. Navy medical personnel or U.S. forces, I think what we will see in this scenario is that that expertise will be expanded to capitalize on the tremendous amount of support and agencies that want to contribute to the relief operations.

 

            As far as the maritime pre-position ships -- very tremendously capable ships, as you said -- they are supporting the relief operations in many ways.  One, the -- those ships were pushed to this area of operation so that the commander would have those resources available, should the host nation require them.  In many cases, the full range of what those ships contain was not required.  But they have been helpful in other ways, to include providing support for our helicopters, and many of those ships have helicopter-landing pads. They are also being considered for providing water for some of the areas that were impacted.  So they are providing a tremendous resource, and they are supporting the relief effort.

 

            Q     Can I follow up on that?

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Sure.  Go ahead.

 

            Q     Why was there apparently now a decision not to send the e-meds, the airborne hospitals?

 

            ADM. GUILLORY:  I'm unaware of that decision or really a lot about that one.  But perhaps we can get back to you on some information.  I need to do some research on that.

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Let's go to the back here.

 

            Q     This is Carl Osgood with Executive Intelligence Review. This question is for Mr. Fry.  Can you tell us anything about what long-term perspective USAID might have in terms of reconstruction, particularly with infrastructure, such as roads and water, since there's a great deal of damage to those types of things.

 

            MR. FRY:  I can't tell you specifically.  I can tell you that there's -- throughout this activity, USAID has various sub-components, I guess you would say, offices within it.  The Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, which I'm working under right now as part of this team, has the initial responsibility for relief and recovery.  Other offices within USAID, especially the -- what we call the missions within these countries have the responsibility to look at some of the mid- and long-term issues for recovery and for development.  For example -- but that's not to say we're not looking at these already. For example, right now we've already funded some micro-enterprise type activities in some of these countries, which gets back to the term maybe you've heard before called livelihoods.  I mean, the fact that you can feed these people, the victims of this disaster can be cared for, for their injuries, they can be fed, water, and temporarily housed, and maybe then you can start to build a new -- their homes back.  But unless you can get them back doing their livelihoods, whether they're fishermen or farmers or whatever, that's one of the key factors.  And some of the initial activities that we're starting are to help get those economies going that have been injured, maybe not destroyed, but certainly injured by this disaster.

 

            For example -- and I'll give you one quick example that I heard today; that around the Banda Aceh airfield there is a lot of stuff, again, that was brought in.  But some of the -- with the unpackaging and with all the people that are living around the airport facility trying to support this activity, there's been a lot of garbage and things left over.  And now we're going to start to put people to work   with what's called "cash for work" -- to put some Indonesians that have been put out of work to help them get some money in their pockets and start the economy going, so they'll be able to go down to the market and continue to, again, be economic multipliers for that economy in that devastated region.

 

            So those are the kind of things we're doing, and again, looking also -- beginning to look at what are the long-term type development projects that will need to be in place.  Specifically I can't tell you which ones.  Those are still being looked at and evaluated.

 

            Q     Vicky O'Hara from National Public Radio.   When you have a relief effort like this that involves assets from so many different countries, who coordinates the command and control component?  Who plays traffic cop?

 

            MR. FRY:  That's -- I better take that one because that's one of the issues that -- one of the reasons I'm here.

 

            There's a -- definitely within the military there's always the command-and-control element, but within the relief organizations and within any, in a sense, coalition partners or other countries that come to coordinate these relief efforts, I think that's the magic word, coordination.  It's coordination, cooperation, consensus.  There is no one in charge except for the host nation.  They are in charge. They're ultimately responsible for this -- for coordinating -- I shouldn't say coordinating, but managing and telling us what to do and what their needs are, and if we can meet them we'll probably do that.

 

            One of the unique things about CSF-536 is there's other representatives from at least five or six different nations' militaries as well as U.N. representatives, and we meet several times a day to coordinate our efforts with the understanding that we realize we have to work together to solve these problems and there is really no grand relationship other than coordination.

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  We've got time for one or two more here.

 

            Go ahead, Will.

 

            Q     For the admiral.  Could you just tell us what Fort McHenry brings to the effort?

 

            ADM. GUILLORY:  Happy to do so.

 

            Fort McHenry, as I indicated, is a landing ship dock.  It's an amphibious ship that's normally part of an amphibious ready group or an expeditionary strike group.  It carries Marines and equipment and delivers them where they need to go.

 

            In this case, Fort McHenry was loaded out approximately three weeks ago in Okinawa, but configured to provide support for the relief effort.  So instead of the routine compliment of Marines and the type of equipment that Marines would normally have, the ship is loaded out with, for instance, Seabees, with reconstruction material, with additional helicopters, with the goal of providing that capability to the commander here should the host nation require it.  In many cases, that capability remains at sea and ready.  But the ship is configured, and I think it's an ideal platform available should the host nation require that capability.

 

            Q     Just a follow-up.  How many helicopters?  How many Seabees? How many Marines?  Could you quantify it?

 

            ADM. GUILLORY:  The ship currently has four CH-46 helicopters on board with associated maintenance equipment, and it has approximately 400 personnel, combination Marines and Seabees, and their equipment.

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Let's make this the last one here, Carl.

 

            Q     For both of you gentlemen.  It's Carl Rochelle with NBC. I'd like to revisit the security situation.  There have been some warnings issued by the State Department.  Are either of you aware of any incidents where any of the relief workers have been challenged or set upon by insurgents, rebels, thugs, anything like that?  Have there been any incidents you're aware of?

 

            MR. FRY:  Well, I will just say I am not aware of any.  That doesn't mean some did not occur, but I'm just not aware of any from my correspondence or discussion with our teams on the ground.

 

            Q     Admiral?

 

            ADM. GUILLORY:  On the naval forces aspect of it, I am unaware of any indications of anything other than people desiring the relief supplies.  No indication of any problems like that.  And the host nation has been very supportive of facilitating that relief effort.

 

            Q     Thank you.

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Admiral, we have an urgent last question.  So we'll take a second last question here.

 

            Q     The admiral made me think of this, because you mentioned a tremendous amount of U.S. military capability there, and I wonder how much of it's actually being used or do you have a lot more that is actually being used?

 

            ADM. GUILLORY:  Well, you know, again, as I indicated before, I'm learning at this.  A few months ago I was back in the Pentagon doing a different job, and I'm just proud to be part of this effort now and out here.

 

            There's a lot of capability out there and a lot of it is being used to support the relief effort, as it should be.  They're -- we are providing -- meeting the requirements of the host nation, and I think we have the right capability to do the job.  And that capability will be there for as long as it takes.

 

            Q     You don't have a lot more than you need?

 

            ADM. GUILLORY:  No, I would not say a lot more than we need.  We have the capability to do the job.   And no, I would not use that term, more than what we need.

 

            Q     Thank you.

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  All right.  Admiral Guillory and Mr. Fry, we want to again thank you for taking the time today to be with us.  We know that your efforts are going to continue for some time, and so we hope that we'll have you back talking to us sometime soon, to give us another update on exactly the U.S. government's efforts there to assist in this relief operation.  Thank you.

 

            ADM. GUILLORY:  Thank you. 

 

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