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Special Defense Department Briefing with Commander of Joint Task Force Katrina

Presenters: Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, commander, Joint Task Force Katrina
September 01, 2005
Special Defense Department Briefing with Commander of Joint Task Force Katrina
(Via Satellite Telephone)
 
            MR. WHITMAN:  General Honoré, this is Bryan Whitman.  Can you hear me?
 
            GEN. HONORE:  Good morning, Mr. Whitman.  This is Lieutenant General Honoré, and I can hear you loud and clear, sir.
 
            MR. WHITMAN:  Very good.  Well, again, General, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
 
            For those of you here in the Pentagon, this is Army Lieutenant General Russel Honoré, who is the commander of the 1st Army at Ft. Gilliam (sic), Georgia, and he's the current commander, of course, of Joint Task Force Katrina.  And he's coming to us via satellite telephone from the Gulfport Regional Airport this morning, where he's going to give you a brief overview of what Defense Department support to state, local and federal officials have been that are involved in this relief effort, and then he is prepared to take a couple of your questions.  So we won't keep him long.  We know he's very busy, and we appreciate the time that he's given us.
 
            General Honoré, with that, I'll let you start.
 
            GEN. HONORÉ:  Good morning.
 
            Our mission is to establish the JTF and provide command and control of DOD assets in the joint operational area that's been affected and defined by the catastrophic event that's happened in Mississippi and in Louisiana, and as established by Northern Command for disaster relief efforts in association with the Hurricane Katrina.
 
            Our current situation is -- we're running our priority work in the JOA currently as established by the governor and Director Brown -- is to do search and rescue, as well as provide life-saving operations in the area of ensuring that people that need medical care get transported to hospitals, and to conduct sustainment operations to provide water and fuel -- or food to individuals that have been isolated and need to push supplies to them.  That has been our effort and continues to be our priority of work, as well as assist the Louisiana unified group -- the National Guard and FEMA and the other agencies -- in conducting the evacuation of individuals from New Orleans to the Astrodome in Houston.  We have assisted in their planning as well as providing assistance where possible in affecting that operation.
 
            And a current situation update, what's happening right now, is to continue our life-saving operations, focusing on doing search and rescue.  As you would know, starting in Mississippi from the area of the Gulf of Mississippi north to -- by three miles, most of the infrastructure is destroyed.  North of that line to I-20 in Mississippi, much is severely damaged in terms of infrastructure, homes and communications, and electricity.  So the efforts in Mississippi remain the same, and we continue to build the same capabilities to push food and water to distribution centers as well as to continue the search-and-rescue operation.  But I want to emphasize much of the Mississippi coastline was destroyed.  That being said, a major effort is required there.  It's a much larger area than Louisiana and a lot more isolated small communities that have to be re-supplied, and that's our major effort.
 
            In New Orleans, the primary threat to the people is the flooding, which prohibits surface transportation, with isolated communities that are surrounded with water up to five to six feet in many communities.  Thus, those people have been evacuated in most cases to the Superdome area, and many of them are on high streets, and there's a part of the population that took refuge in high buildings.  And we're in the process now of -- in support of Louisiana in the movement of people by bus from the vicinity of the Superdome to the Astrodome in Houston.
 
            We continue to build our capability.  I will first start with the landside.  The major effort is in support of the National Guard.  The National Guard force's current boots on the ground in Louisiana is 4,700, approximately.  And in Mississippi, the approximate number today is 2,700.
 
            By the end of the day, the boots on the ground in Louisiana, Louisiana National Guardsmen, will be approximately 7,400.  And by the end of the day in Mississippi, there will be approximately 6,000.  And by tomorrow, the boots on the ground of National Guardsmen in Louisiana will be approximately 8,600 and in Mississippi 9,500.  For our total strength over the next three days, we intend to have approximately 12,000 troops on the ground in Louisiana and 12,000 troops on the ground in Mississippi.  That capability is on the road as we speak, flowing to Mississippi and Louisiana.
 
            Our major effort, again, in Louisiana is to focus in and around the New Orleans area and the sub-communities in continuing to flow out the people that are ambulatory and those requiring medical care.  Between 1500 (3 p.m.) yesterday afternoon and midnight last, we had flown approximately 600 patients from the Superdome area to area hospitals for onward movement and care.  We're continuing that effort this morning.  We have increased our capability with helicopters.  We have -- two battalions from Fort Hood arrived yesterday that's in that effort.  That effort is being led by the United States Coast Guard and the Louisiana National Guard, who are coordinating the effort to synchronize the helicopters and their distribution of those patients, in support of the health and human service element that's a part of the Louisiana task force.
 
            That flow worked well, and as of last night, the evacuation of New Orleans begun, and it is continuing as we speak.  The governor of Louisiana, for -- whom I had a chance to met twice yesterday, as well as Director Brown, marshaled her school buses from throughout the state and sent them in and as a part of the transport means to take the citizens to Houston, Texas, to the Astrodome, as well as 500 buses from FEMA.  As of yesterday, we had part of those buses on hand, and they started moving citizens last evening.  And that operation will continue until we evacuate that population from New Orleans to the Astrodome.
 
            And that plan is working.  Security is being provided at that location by the mayor of New Orleans and the New Orleans police department, as well as the National Guard.
 
            I met twice with the mayor yesterday, and we collaborated with the state as well as with the unified command of FEMA and the other agencies in developing the plan and the beginning of the execution of that plan last night.  And we couldn't do this too soon.  As most of you have seen, it is a trying situation, at best.  And the enormity of the task is significant in the care of, feeding and providing water, and that need is being met by the tremendous efforts of our lead federal agency, FEMA.  It takes time as you might expect, and the numbers in New Orleans are roughly around 60,000 people.  And the majority of them -- a large number of them are at the Superdome, but people are still scattered in their communities in isolated areas.  That's our basic land and helicopter operation.
 
            We have significant naval presence.  The Bataan is present off the coast of Louisiana.  I have just ordered Bataan to move to Biloxi and to support the operations in Mississippi.  As I have additional helicopters that arrived yesterday from Fort Hood who will reinforce the operation in Louisiana, our challenge remains the Broad Street damage.  And again, it could be characterized in Mississippi as a large area with isolated pockets, and the equal challenge in New Orleans of a concentrated area that is flooded.  By in large, you have dry conditions in Mississippi, but the challenge is the dispersion.  In Louisiana, it's a concentration of people in a small area, and the streets are flooded.  So they have to seek refuge in high buildings and in the Superdome.  That operation is at its best a sustainment operation of sustaining life and taking care of the critically injured and wounded.
 
            The subject to your questions, I wanted to make sure that you understand that this is a total effort to include our air elements.  The United States Air Force is decisively engaged in providing assets in terms of strategic lifts, to bring in units, as well as capability, and those are flowing as we speak.  Our primary re-supply areas into Mississippi is the Gulfport Airport and Meridian, and in Louisiana it's the Belle Chasse Airport and the New Orleans International Airport.
 
            A significant operation by the United States Coast Guard in search and rescue as well as the Coast Guard, under Admiral Duncan, is providing the initial air command and control of the helicopters; that's doing the search and rescue and the evac of the citizens who are ill from the Superdome.
 
            And again, subject to your questions, I have about 10 minutes as I have to move to New Orleans and link up with the TAG (the Adjutant General) of Mississippi, the governor of the -- the mayor of New Orleans and the chief FEMA rep. in New Orleans to complete the coordination and to see how we can assist them more in the evacuation and the sustainment operations.  Over.
 
            MR. WHITMAN:  All right.  We'll get into a few questions here.  Let's start with Charlie.
 
            Q     General, just a couple of quick questions.  When you said 24,000 will be in Alabama -- I mean, Mississippi and Louisiana in the next three days, we understand that the total of about 30,000 will be in the four states including Alabama and Florida in the coming days, how many of those in Alabama and Mississippi will be military police?  And what are their rules of engagement for looters and that kind of thing?  We understand some helicopters were fired at today.
 
            GEN. HONORÉ:  To answer the first part of that question, they have remained under rules of engagement as established by the government of the states, and those rules are established and passed down through the TAG.  That is the process.  What is the specific rule in each state is -- what I've heard is to protect property and to protect yourself.  But at this point in time, that presence normally ward off the perpetrators, those who wish to conduct looting or other illicit operations.  But those are under state law, and that is the way that is being conducted at this time.
 
            And what was the second part of your question, sir?
 
            Q     Just two quick ones.  We understand that a total of about 30,000 Guard will be in the four states.  You say 24,000 in Mississippi and Louisiana.  How many of those in Mississippi and Louisiana will be police, military police?
 
            GEN. HONORÉ:  Sir, I don't have those numbers in front of me, but I will defer to my good friend Steve Blum (Lieut. Gen. Steven Blum – Chief, National Guard Bureau), who has that.  And I will follow up with you within a few minutes and get that to you. 
 
            But there is a major effort in Louisiana for security-type forces.  And I will tell you that the majority of them right now -- Louisiana has 4,700 of its own National Guard committed to that effort.  And the majority of the force flow -- there will be 1,400 additional security forces in Louisiana today, with an additional 1,400 tomorrow are on that force flow buildup, as I gave it to you.  But we will get that to you in detail within a few minutes, sir. 
 
            It's fair to say the majority of the forces going to Louisiana are security-type forces, sir. 
 
            MR. WHITMAN:  All right.  Let's go over here to Jamie and then over to -- (off mike).
 
            Q     General, Jamie McIntyre from CNN.  To what extent is this additional assistance you've outlined today a response to a request from the state governors in Louisiana, Mississippi?  And if so, can you tell us when specifically you got that request?
 
            GEN. HONORÉ:  Yes, sir.  The process starts, sir, in this particular event, with a request Friday of last week, as the approximate date for defense coordinating offices to be established in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.  Those were established in those states over Friday and Saturday.
 
            Q     Sir, I'm specifically interested in how soon after the hurricane hit and the extent of the damage became known did the governors request additional assistance above and beyond what they had requested before?
 
            GEN. HONORÉ:  Sir, that started to happen on Saturday, as the hurricane was approaching, and was executed with the movement of my headquarters on Sunday to Mississippi, where we established a joint -- JTF headquarters here in Mississippi with a forward cell of the 5th United States Army in Louisiana.  And on Sunday we established JTF-Katrina, with myself as the task force commander. 
 
            And since that time, we've continued to flow naval air and Army helicopter support and other assets, as requested by the governor, through FEMA.  And that is the process, and you know that works.  The governor identified a requirement.  It goes to FEMA.  That requirement is sent to Northern Command, my boss, Admiral Keating, as parallel to General McNeill at Forces Command.  And we have started to flow the forces to your region.  Over.
 
            MR. DI RITA:  You know -- it's Larry DiRita -- I think what people are interested in, if you know, is when specifically or if indeed did the governors specifically ask for additional security forces and when that might have been?  And if you don't know that, we'll try and find it, but that would be -- I think that's a little more refined aspect of what the reporter's asking for.
 
            GEN. HONORÉ:  Yeah, that was incremental.  The security force piece was executed through a process called EMAC.  That started on Sunday, a collaboration between the adjutant general and the National Guard Bureau to flow additional capabilities to Louisiana and to Mississippi.  That flow started approximately around Sunday.  Forces started moving once the eye of the hurricane had passed and we could start moving forces in and assist the states, Alabama pushed forces into Mississippi as well as forces from Texas started to flow into Louisiana, as well as other states.  But that's the approximate phase of the operation.  Again, that was executed through National Guard arrangements to move National Guard capability where it's needed.  And that is what is happening, an extension of that, now. 
 
            The DOD capability was based on requests that came from FEMA for additional ability to assist in search and rescue, and that was called a mission assignment.  Those started on Sunday.  And we were here on Sunday, and by Monday, the Bataan was present, as well as federal helicopters started arriving Monday to assist in the search and rescue and the sustainment operation, that that is the timeline as it was executed in the process. 
 
            Any more specifics on that?  Over.
 
            Q     No, that's fine. 
 
            MR. DI RITA:  (Off mike) -- General.  Thank you.
 
            MR. WHITMAN:  Tom?
 
            Q     General, you've described the National Guard role in security and law enforcement support.  Is there any planning for active duty troops to join that mission, or would that not be possible given legal restrictions?
 
            GEN. HONORÉ:  Well, I think that's a question you know the answer to.  (Laughs.)  But to tell you, we are in support of the National Guard.  They work the security mission as described by law in the Constitution under their governor, and we are currently providing support to them in enabling capabilities in air, capability in search and rescue, surface and air, as well as seaborne capability.  We have two LCACs (landing craft air cushioned), naval assault vehicles, coming in.  We'll put those in the littorals around New Orleans to help re-supply and to move people within the next 12 hours. 
 
            So we are providing a capability to assist them in the lifesaving as well as the sustainment operation of moving supplies and providing medical assistance.  We have two Air Force hospitals, one in Louisiana and one in Mississippi, that are established, and those are working for the states in support of those two efforts.  But that's a total effort.
 
            Over.
           
            MR. WHITMAN:  I think we have time for just one more.  Brian?
 
            Q    General, if my numbers are correct, there are more Louisiana and Mississippi Guard troops deployed overseas than there are actually mobilized in those states right now.  How, if at all, has that affected the speed of response to this disaster?
 
            GEN. HONORÉ:  Well, being one of the guys who helped train those troops, I must say that you're almost right in your numbers, sir.  The 155 Brigade from Mississippi deployed approximately 2,200 Mississippians, who are serving, as you know, proudly in -- forward on the battlefield now.  The remainder of that brigade came from other states.
 
            And in the case of the Louisiana brigade, the number's approximately the same, around 2,200 from Louisiana with -- that left Louisiana; 4,700 from the Louisiana National Guard that are employed in Louisiana as we speak.
 
            Over.
 
            Q     You know, I guess what I'm asking is, how -- having that many forces out of the States, does that in any way affect the ability to respond to the needs on the ground in the hurricane zone over the last few days?
 
            GEN. HONORÉ:  I would say the ability to build the forces here from the sistering states helped minimize that.  But it would be somewhat of a stretch on my part to say how much that has affected, based on the nature of the disaster as the way it struck.  Mississippi still has 2,700 of its citizen soldiers available for use in the state as we speak. 
 
            So when you look at how the Guard deploys inside the states, there were -- probably had some impact.  But that is why the entire DOD effort was to push stuff here, as well as General Blum, who was working contingencies with the TAGs.  All last week we were collaborating on developing options.  None of us, nobody was clairvoyant enough to foresee the damage that was going to be brought by this storm.  So it was off the worst-case scenario that any of us might have envisioned it happening. 
 
            And I think that being said, we have the force flow, and the capability will get stronger every day.  And there's nothing we can do but continue to work that and realize that there are a lot of people who need help, and our job is to try and bring that help to them working in support of the state agencies and the lead federal agency, FEMA.
 
            Over.
 
            MR. WHITMAN:  General, we've already gone by the time that you said that you had for this.  And I know you need to get off to a meeting.  So we'll bring this to a close.  We appreciate the time you've given us this morning, and we hope to be back in touch with you soon so that we can get further updates from you.  Thank you very much.
 
            GEN. HONORÉ:  Thank you.  Have a good day.
 
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