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DoD News Briefing - Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
October 03, 2000 1:30 PM EDT

Bacon: Okay, welcome. Following this briefing -- Mr. Lambros Papantoniou! I haven't seen you for a long while. Welcome.

Q: (Off mike.) Very busy month.

Bacon: Ah! Well, I'm sure that's true. (Laughter.) Following, in connection with Mr. Papantoniou's rare appearance here, we are going to have a background briefing following this briefing. A senior defense official will give a briefing on Secretary Cohen's forthcoming trip to Tunisia, Greece and the United Kingdom, where he will go for the informal NATO defense ministerial in Birmingham, England.

Second, tomorrow Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy de Leon will speak about the state of today's military and the challenges ahead in the new century and millennium. He'll give this address at the 49th Annual Defense Orientation Conference Association at noon at the Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel in Crystal City, and you are all invited to attend that tomorrow. Then he will, on Thursday, be speaking in Torrance, California, at the 7th Annual El Camino Foundation Business Round Table luncheon, and that is also open to the press, should you be in Torrance, California on Thursday.

But I hope you'll be here, because Secretary and Mrs. Cohen on Thursday will host the first annual Military Quality of Life Summit, which will be held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. General Shelton will also speak, as will Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue, and H. Ross Perot is the luncheon speaker at this. [Update: General Myers will attend and speak in lieu of General Shelton.]

This is a very interesting event that is designed to bring business together with the military to explore ways to improve job opportunities for military spouses and also for members of the military who are leaving the military and retiring and looking for jobs in the private sector.

Finally, the purpose is to explore private-sector solutions for housing, transportation and other quality of life issues. As you know, we've started a program to mobilize private capital to help us meet the large military housing backlog, and this will be one of the topics that's discussed at this first annual military quality of life summit on Thursday. That will go from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and it is open to the press.

Q: Did you say that Secretary Cohen is speaking there?

Bacon: Secretary Cohen is speaking. He's speaking at the very beginning, and he's also speaking at the end, I believe. He's speaking at 9:30, and his topic is "Reconnecting With America Through Corporate Partnerships." He and Tom Donohue, the president of the Chamber, are speaking on that. Actually, that's the only time he's speaking.

Under Secretary Slocombe will speak at 10:00 on "Security for Global Markets." Mr. Perot will speak at 11:30 on "Business-Military Connections." At 1:00, General Shelton will -- I'm sorry, General Myers will speak on "Military Life and Patriotic Sacrifices." And then the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Management Policy Al Maldon will speak at 1:15 on "Supporting the People who Support the Country." And at 3:00, there will be a wrap-up by Bernie Rostker, the under secretary for personnel management, personnel and readiness, and Ambassador Craig Johnston, who is the vice president of the Chamber, and they will talk on "Partnerships: the Art of the Possible."

So --

Q: General Shelton is not speaking at this?

Bacon: No. He's supposed to be there, but I guess he's not speaking. He'll probably be there at the beginning. [Update: General Shelton is not attending. General Myers will attend and speak in his place.]

Finally, as you know, the fiscal year ended on Saturday. And I'm happy to report that it was the safest year in the history of military aviation. And I've got some slides here that we're going to show you about this. Bryan Whitman, who's been in the federal service for a full 20 years, is working the controls even now. (Laughter.)

[ Slides used in this briefing are available on line at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Oct2000/g001003-D-0000C.html ]

First of all, safety is a constant concern to everybody in the military -- civilian and military. And Secretary Cohen said two years ago that "Safety is not something that we simply add to the task at hand; it must be an integral part of everything we do, both on and off duty."

And I think what you see from these figures is that the Class A accident rate -- that is an aircraft accident that causes more than a million dollars in damage, or causes a death -- per 100,000 hours of flight fell to an all-time low of 1.23 in fiscal year 2000, from 1.54 the year before.

Remarkably, fiscal year 1999 included Operation Allied Force, with 38,000 missions flown; two planes lost. And we still saw a decrease in fiscal 1999 from fiscal 1998.

Two important points -- three important points to make. One, we're at the lowest rate ever. Two, it's not low enough. We won't rest until we get it down to zero and keep it there. And three, as you can see, the rate has been steadily downward for the last 10 years. It does bounce a little from year to year, but it's been steadily downward. Some years it bounces up, other years it falls. But the trend is steadily downward.

The next slide gives a little more detail on the Class A aviation accident rate for the last two years. These slides will be available afterwards. They'll also be on the Internet .

On the far left, under "total", in the bottom left, you see that there were 70 accidents in fiscal year 1999, and 57 last year. That translates into the accident rates that you saw earlier -- 1.54 in fiscal '99; 1.23 in fiscal year 2000. And then you can see that the number of deaths, sadly, rose from 44 in fiscal 1999 to 58 in fiscal 2000. Two principal reasons for this are summarized in the line for the Marine Corps. As you can see, there was an increase there. One was 19 brave Marines died in the V-22 accident, which Lieutenant General McCorkle has spoken to you about at length, and then seven brave Marines died during a CH-46 accident when it was doing some exercise on an oil tower off the West Coast.

This number -- 58 -- is included in the total number of on duty accidental deaths in fiscal year 2000. And that's in the next slide. You can see that 113 people, including the 58 who died in aviation accidents, 113 died on duty in the year 2000, up very slightly from 108 the year before. Overall, the trend is down. Here again it bounces up, and as you can see, if there's an accident that involves several people, as the unfortunate Marine tragedies did, it can push the number up.

There were also last year 322 off duty deaths. Now, we're talking about both the active and Reserve force. This isn't just the active force here; it's active and Reserve.

Q: In all cases?

Bacon: In all cases, active and Reserve forces. So it's the total force.

On top of the 113 active duty deaths, there were 322 off duty deaths. These come from a variety of causes. It could be fires, it could be accidental shootings, drownings and boat accidents. But by far, the largest cause of off duty deaths -- next slide -- is private motor vehicle deaths. And you can see that number was 261. So of the 322 off duty deaths last year, 261 came from motor vehicle accidents. This, of course, mirrors a problem that we have throughout society, in civilian life as well as military life.

The important thing here is that this trend also is steadily downward, although it does bounce up and down from year to year. This reflects much greater attention to two things: one, less glorification of alcohol, less encouragement of drinking and more education about alcohol; and two, greater attention to safety, particularly before long weekends, as the one coming up -- Columbus Day -- this next weekend. Most units -- I think all units -- are supposed to give lectures or talks to their members, urging them not to take long, Herculean drives of 10, 14 hours at a time to rush home and get back in the three-day weekend, but to sleep on the side of the road or do other things to make the driving safer.

And then, finally, the last slide shows total military on- and off-duty accidental deaths in the year 2000. It was 435, up slightly from 429 the year before.

But far and away the largest cause of deaths, whether on-duty or off-duty, remained car accidents or vehicle accidents. Some of them are motorcycles, but most of them are vehicle accidents, car accidents.

Q: Are there some deaths that aren't included? I guess what, suicides, are not included, or what -- like what do you call an "accidental death"?

Bacon: I think suicides are included, yes.

Q: Murders?

Bacon: Well, I guess murder is an accident to the victim. So -- I believe murders are included. (To staff.) Aren't they? Are murders included?

Staff: Suicides are. I'm not --

Bacon: Suicides. We're not certain about murders. I don't know what the -- we'll look into that. But suicides are. [Clarification: suicides and murders are NOT included in these statistics.]

Q: There are some categories that aren't included that would be significant?

Bacon: We'll check on that. At any rate, that's the safety picture, and --

Q: Is the suicide rate up or down?

Bacon: I don't know what the suicide rate is this year. I'm not sure we have -- (to staff) -- do we have the suicide figures yet?

Staff: Yeah, we'll provide that.

Bacon: Okay. Is it up or down?

Staff: Slightly up. I believe it's slightly up.

Bacon: Slightly up? Okay.

We'll get you the suicide rates.

Q: Are UAVs included in the Class A --

Bacon: Sorry?

Q: Are UAVs included in Class A mishaps if they were totally destroyed?

Bacon: Yes, if they cost more than a million dollars, if -- I mean, if the UAV cost more than a million dollars, because this includes accidents that inflict damage of more than a million dollars to repair.

Q: Does it include things lost in operations such as Kosovo?

Bacon: Yes.

Q: Quite a number of them were lost.

Bacon: Yes.

Q: It looked like the Navy had a disastrous year in the midst of your great years for everybody else. Any explanation for --

Bacon: I don't know what the explanation is. I will say that the -- you can see that the -- by contrast, the Army had a fabulous year, compared to the year before --

Q: Could you put that chart back up?

Staff: (Off mike) -- last year -- (off mike).

Bacon: We're talking about the second chart -- talking about the second chart.

The Army had a fabulous year in 2000, compared to '99, fiscal '99. The Navy had a bad year. The Army was down two-thirds, the Navy was up about 100 percent.

So these figures jump around from service to service, from year to year. We're thankful that the trend is down over time, and that reflects a lot of good work. I don't know what explains the Navy figures.

Q: Why does the tiny Marine Corps consistently have higher rates than anybody else?

Bacon: I think some of it reflects the aging Harrier force, as much as anything else.

Yes.

Q: Another subject. Mr. Bacon, do you have anything to say on the record for the upcoming visit of Mr. Cohen to Greece?

Bacon: Well, it's going to be an important visit. It will mainly -- the centerpiece of the visit will be the Southeastern Europe Defense Ministerial, which is a project that Secretary Perry began and Secretary Cohen has continued.

This is an important gathering of the defense ministers of Southeastern Europe; an area that's been troubled by conflict and instability. We hope now that with the election results in Serbia that maybe it will calm down, but that remains to be seen.

But we've drawn together the defense ministers from Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, other countries; meet every year and talk about security issues in that region.

The other part will be a bilateral meeting with his Greek counterpart. And we'll discuss the whole range of issues that we share as NATO members and strong allies.

And as I said, a senior Defense official will give a more detailed briefing on that in the next 20 minutes.

Q: Do you expect that Serbia will be a centerpiece of the talks?

Bacon: Well, Serbia typically is an important element of the talks, but not necessarily a centerpiece.

I think the important thing about the Southeastern European Defense Ministerial is that they realize -- all the participants, including the United States, realize that we have to make plans for stability that transcend the problems in Serbia, or the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; that that is a very obvious cancer right now -- disturbing element.

But the countries are working together for stability, and I think one aspect of that are the improved relations between Greece and Turkey that have taken place over the last year, through hard work on the part of both the Greek and the Turkish officials.

Another part of that would be the entrance of Croatia into the Partnership for Peace and its willingness to work with NATO nations for greater stability in the region. The secretary's been to Bulgaria several times; they have become very interested in working with NATO countries for stability. They were very supportive of NATO during Operation Allied Force, as was Romania. So it extends beyond the situation in Serbia.

Yes.

Q: On the subject of Turkey, Congress is getting ready to take up a bill that deals with Turkish treatment of the Armenian minority. And there is some concern from the Turkish government, and I understand they're expressing this to the U.S. government -- I wonder if you've heard it -- that if the Congress passes this resolution, the people of Turkey, or at least the media in Turkey, might see fit to call for a closing of the base at Incirlik as a countermeasure to the United States' disapproval. Have you heard anything about that, or are you concerned about that?

Bacon: Well, we're working hard with Congress and with Turkey to achieve a resolution that's historically accurate and that does not cause our Turkish allies unnecessary concern, and those negotiations and discussions continue. I can't really comment on them. Obviously, we have a very important defense relationship with Turkey. It's important to us, and it's important to Turkey. And we're hoping that nothing will happen to jeopardize that solid relationship.

Yes. Chris.

Q: Anthrax; a hearing on the Hill today. Congressman Jack Metcalf was complaining during the course of the hearing that while he and other members of Congress have been hearing for several years now that no squalene was used in the anthrax vaccine, he said that the FDA is now saying that there are, in fact, trace amounts of squalene in the anthrax vaccine. And I'm wondering whether you would be able to clear that up at all, or shed some light on that.

Bacon: I believe that's a topic for the FDA to clear up. My understanding is that we have contacted the FDA, asked them this question. And we've been assured by them that they have not found squalene in vaccine released -- or, certified by the FDA. But obviously, the FDA will have to comment on what its findings are. But my understanding is they've assured us that there is not squalene in the vaccine.

Q: All right, and that's not trace amounts that might be naturally occurring trace amounts or anything of the kind, rather than just as an additive?

Bacon: I think you'll have to talk to the FDA about that. I told you what they've told us, and they should explain their own findings for themselves.

Q: All right, but it's, I mean, it's a vaccine that's being used by the Defense Department, so you are convinced, and you have been convinced for several years, that there is no squalene present in this vaccine, correct?

Bacon: I said that at the last briefing. We've been assured, again, by the FDA on that and as I said when this arose, I believe that Congressman Metcalf's allegations included vaccine used during the Gulf War. They went back; it went back nine years. The FDA has maintained that squalene is not in the anthrax vaccine.

Q: The FDA being the approving authority for the use of the vaccine, is that correct?

Bacon: Well, the anthrax vaccine has been used safely for 30 years. It was approved by use in 1970 by the FDA. It remains a safe vaccine. All the lots we have administered to the troops have been approved by the FDA for release. So they have reviewed them, and what they've told us is that they have not found squalene in those lots.

Q: And just to be clear, and I know that this has come up many times before over the years, but squalene also is not present in vaccines used during the Gulf War -- before the Gulf War or after the Gulf War and to this day, is that correct?

Bacon: I have been told -- I'm not an expert on vaccines, and certainly not on squalene -- but I've been told that squalene has not been used in vaccines for -- or certainly in the anthrax vaccine -- for a considerable period of time.

Yes, Pam?

Q: In the written stuff that they handed out at the anthrax hearing, on March 20th, actually, the FDA said they did new tests and they found "squalene content of the lots was determined to be in a level of low parts-per-billion and was comparable to levels determined in three other lots of the anthrax vaccine and the other biological products that were tested." Just FYI, they are saying that it's trace amounts.

Bacon: Did they release those lots, though?

Q: I don't -- it doesn't say that specifically, just --

Bacon: Well, obviously we'll have to check further with the FDA, but I think one of the things we have to find out is whether those lots were released.

Yes?

Q: They were randomly selected lots. It doesn't say if they were released.

Q: Do you have any update on the investigation into the death of the BioPort worker?

Bacon: We have the autopsy report; we're in the process of reviewing it. We don't have anything to report at this stage.

Q: "We have the autopsy report" meaning -- ?

Bacon: The Department of Defense. And I assume the FDA has it as well. We are going to do parallel investigations, the FDA and the Department of Defense.

Yes?

Q: How do you assess your military presence in the Balkans after the elections in Yugoslavia?

Bacon: How do I assess our military presence? We see no reason to change it at this stage.

Q: No?

Bacon: No.

Q: Thank you.

Bacon: Sure.

[Bacon returns to the podium several minutes later, just before a background briefing begins.]

Bacon: Okay, first before this reduced crowd, let me say that my -- apparently my briefing book had not caught up to the science on squalene. This is my understanding of a two-minute course on squalene. Squalene comes up in connection with the anthrax vaccine. Squalene is a naturally occurring substance. It's a hydrocarbon. I think its formula is C30H50. It can be left by fingerprints and a variety of other ways.

The issue -- there are two issues here: the first is, is there any squalene in the anthrax vaccine? A few minutes ago, I said the FDA had assured us that there wasn't. It turns out within the last month, the methods of discovering squalene have improved and we've moved to be able to discover it. We used to look in parts per million. Now we're able to discover it in parts per billion.

They have discovered minuscule -- two or three parts per billion -- my understanding is, in some lots of anthrax vaccine.

The second theory -- the second question is whether it's been added to the vaccine. And the answer to that is no. It has been and is no. The issue of whether squalene is added comes up because squalene could, under some circumstances, increase the abilities -- the body's ability to absorb the vaccine. So it's called an adjuvant.

But the FDA assures is that squalene has not been added to the anthrax vaccine that they use as an adjuvant to increase the body's ability to absorb the vaccine.

So I apologize for the misinformation. Now my briefing card reflects the science. We can detect it in small parts per billion.

Yes.

Q: Was it detected in anything that was distributed to the troops?

Bacon: That's what we're still trying to find out. What the FDA said to the congressional committee today was that they had discovered several parts per billion in some lots. What we don't know, whether those lots were administered to the troops.

But the important thing is that it was not added. If it's in there, it's in there as a naturally occuring substance. Carbon and -- hydrocarbons are very common substances in nature appearing in a variety of forms, obviously from oil to squalene. And -- but it's not something that's been added to the vaccine that we give our troops.

[ Background briefing begins.]

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