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ASD PA Clarke Conference Call with Regional Media

Presenters: Victoria Clarke, ASD PA
October 25, 2001

Thursday, October 25, 2001

(Conference call with regional media.)

Voice: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to the regional media conference call. At this time, all lines are in a listen-only mode. Later we will conduct a question and answer session. Instructions will be given at that time. If you should require assistance during the call please press zero followed by the star and the operator will assist you. And as a reminder, this conference call is being recorded.

At this time I'd like to turn the conference over to your host, Ms. Torie Clarke. Please go ahead, ma'am.

Clarke: Thanks, Chris, and thanks everybody for joining us today. I think we've got most folks on. If others join us, so be it. I appreciate you taking the time to do this.

I really just have a few very brief opening remarks, if you will, and then I'll open it up to questions because you guys have got more interesting things going.

Secretary Rumsfeld just came out of doing one of his briefings today [ transcript ], as a matter of fact, and talked about a few things including trying to reemphasize or underscore some of our main points, if you will, and underscore that this is a very different kind of war. It is not just about military matters, it is also economic, diplomatic, financial, humanitarian, as well as the military. Not mentioned today but something he emphasizes repeatedly, we really consider this self-defense. The only way to defend our way of life is to go after the terrorists where they are and those who harbor and sponsor and finance them.

We always want to recognize the contribution of the Guard and Reserve to the war against terrorism. Just from the states that are represented on the call today I know we've got about 2200 Reserve and Guard units called up from Texas, from Florida it's a little over 1200, Georgia 901, Colorado 711, the total there is about 5200. They are making a huge contribution to the war -- one that we appreciate and we're always encouraging employers to be understanding and supportive of the effort.

And then one other matter that the secretary talked about today was actually on a different but related topic. He was talking about the ABM Treaty and the fact that we have set aside or stopped for the time being some tests that would bump up, some missile defense tests that would bump up against the ABM Treaty. We have said repeatedly we're not in the business of violating the ABM Treaty, we don't want to. But we believe, and the president has said repeatedly, that the ABM Treaty is a relic of the Cold War and we're going to need to move beyond it if we're going to prepare ourselves and be organized in a fashion to protect the American people and our friends and allies against these various asymmetrical threats. So he touched on that a little bit today.

That's about all I have. So Chris, if we could open it up, if anyone has questions or comments, I'd be happy to respond.

Voice: Yes, ma'am. Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press the one on your touch tone phone. You'll hear a tone indicating that you are placed in queue, and you can remove yourself from the queue at any time by pressing the pound key. If you're using a speakerphone, please pick up your handset prior to pressing numbers. Once again, if you do have a question, please press the one at this time.

Our first question of the day is from Mike Hedges from the Houston Chronicle. Please go ahead, sir.

Q: Ms. Clarke, we're concerned about how we find out information about some of these overseas postings. For example, I heard yesterday over at the Pentagon that some news organizations had gotten to Bahrain and from there are being taken out to the Peleliu, and that there's sort of a waiting list to get there now.

What's the process to find this out in a timely fashion so that if you do want to partake in this you can get someone in position in the Gulf and be on the list?

Clarke: Sure. And I had a meeting with about 40 or 45 bureau chiefs this morning [ transcript ] about those sorts of things, and we did get approval for media to embed on the Peleliu, which is Marine amphibious assault ship. The public affairs officer in the area with the 5th Fleet is Jeff Alderson, which is A-L-D-E-R-S-O-N. If you want a phone number, I can give you that now.

Q: Well, I can get that later. I guess more generally my question is, is there sort of a systematic way to find out when these availabilities are coming up from here so that you can do it ahead of time instead of finding out after the fact that it's happening? How are people finding this out in a timely fashion?

Clarke: A lot of the media have people in the region. Most of the activity has been coming out of Bahrain. When you see anything off the Carl Vinson, or you see something off the Enterprise, most of that is media that was already in the region.

Now actually, I'll say over the last week or so different media have cycled people through there to get to Bahrain so they can get on one of the carriers, so most of the interest or most of the embeds have come from that region.

We're trying to get some forewarning as some of these things pop up, but we're constantly working the issues, whether it's the Peleliu or something else. And I had just found out this morning, as a matter of fact, before I went down to the bureau chiefs that Jeff had cracked the code and he got the permission to put some people on.

So what he is trying to set up, because we know of a lot of interest and a lot of media wanted access, he is setting up a regional pool, if you will, to put them on first and get them to share what they get with everybody. Then once we've sort of broken that, then we'll start to embed on an individual basis.

Q: Okay.

Clarke: But we're trying. The best I can offer right now is continue to check in with us.

Q: Thank you, I'll do that.

Voice: The next question is Kevin Bond, from the Rocky Mountain News. Please go ahead.

Q: Secretary Clarke, is there anything you can tell us about the 10th Medical Group which is based at Peterson Air Force Base here in Colorado and has been deployed? We have very little information on where they are or what they are doing.

Clarke: There's very little I can tell you because, for the obvious reasons that we talk about all the time, operational security. There are different places where we have troops deployed where we have host nation sensitivities. We have been very, very pleased. We've been really pleased with the level and the kinds of support that we're getting from around the world. A variety of countries are participating in a variety of functions. Many of them are less comfortable than others with visibility, with publicity for what it is they're doing. We understand that. That's fine by us. So we are trying to the greatest extent possible to let countries themselves talk about what they're doing, how they're participating, what's going on.

So I don't know for certain where they are located, but I'd be willing to bet one of the reasons you have not heard much is because of where they may be located.

Q: Okay.

Clarke: One of the things we're trying to do, we work these issues every day, is continue to have conversations with host nations. So for instance one of the things we're on right now is trying to facilitate conference calls or videoconferences out of some of these places, and maybe we don't acknowledge -- very often we don't acknowledge where aircraft carriers are, so someone will say they're on an aircraft carrier in the region. Perhaps we could do the same. 10th Mountain is of great interest to a lot of people, so perhaps some of the 10th Mountain troops could do conference call. We just couldn't acknowledge from what location they're doing those conference calls.

Q: Right. Thank you.

Clarke: Thank you.

Voice: If there are any further questions, please press the one at this time.

We do have a follow-up question from Kevin Bond. Please go ahead.

Q: You talked about 711 I think Reservists and Guardsmen called up from Colorado. What can you tell me about them? We've got scattered reports about different people going to different places. Are these people generally, do they have any particular kinds of tasks or --

Clarke: The bulk of the Guard and Reserve that have been called up continue to be homeland defense. There has been a lot of support and backup for the combat air patrols. We've had a lot of people in the air since September 11th so there's been backup for the pilots, there's been backup for the air maintenance, that is a big chunk of it. Some support in terms of airport security. In the early days and weeks there were some specialties that we were drawing upon such as engineering, support for casualties, medical, that sort of thing. It continues, the bulk of it continues to be homeland defense at this time.

Q: Do you anticipate that there will be continued call-ups as this effort continues?

Clarke: Yes, there probably will. I couldn't give you an estimate on numbers, but yes. We're authorized to call up significant numbers more. What we try to do, what we do do is work very closely with the services. They identify the needs and then come back to us and say okay, this is the numbers of people we need and where we need them.

Voice: We have a follow up question from Mike Hedges. Please go ahead.

Q: I was just wondering on a related point, Ms. Clarke, there have been some Air National Guard units in the past from Houston that were called up and sent to Northern Watch or Southern Watch as part of the Iraqi overflights, and we've tried to get embedded on those operations and never quite cracked the code on that.

If there are units called up from, in our case, the Houston area to go overseas as part of this effort will there be some consideration given to local media to be embedded? And what is the best process for getting in line for that?

Clarke: Absolutely consideration given. It all depends on where they are and what they're doing. The special ops activity, obviously we try not to talk about much at all. The process for doing that is to stay in touch with us and we'll make a note in terms of a follow-up to you all if and when we start to see them deployed to specific places where there might be access. We can let you know.

Q: I guess that's sort of my question. I maybe didn't articulate it well.

We might not know to ask on a given day that some unit from Houston is going to Uzbekistan or whatever. Is there a way to be on a standing list to be advised of that and to be given consideration to be embedded in that unit as it develops?

Clarke: I think we can create that process. We currently don't have it, but we can create that process.

Q: That would be very helpful.

Clarke: Absolutely.

Q: Thank you.

Clarke: Sure, thank you.

Voice: We have a follow-up from Kevin Bond.

Q: You talked about the authorization for more call-ups. Do you know what the number is? Is it like 50,000? Did I hear that?

Clarke: The way the statute works, I'm not an expert on these things, you could get up to a million. Right now I think we've talked about identifying a near term need. Boy, I want to triple check it and get back to you, but it's more than 50,000 but nowhere near the upper limits. But I will get that and we'll fax it out to you all or give you all each a call back on that one.

Q: Thank you.

Voice: Once again, if there are any further questions, please press the one at this time.

Clarke: I'd actually, as long as I've got you guys, I won't keep you longer than you need to, but I'm just wondering if there are things you're hearing out there, if there are issues that maybe haven't worked their way to us. If there are things you're hearing from their readers that we may not be hearing here in Washington. I'd love to hear about it.

Voice: Once again, if you'd like to make a comment, please press the one on your touch tone phone.

Clarke: And I did just pull out a piece of paper on the mobilization, the call-ups. It does come under Title X of the U.S. Code. We can do partial mobilization call-ups to not more than one million reservists for not more than two years. But you call up are few reservists as possible for as short a duration as possible.

The initial number identified was 50,000, which we will go beyond. I think right now, to date we're up to about 33,000 total that have been called up. And by way of comparison, I've got a note here, the reserve underwent a partial mobilization in '91 for Desert Storm when 265,300-some Guard and Reserve were activated.

Voice: We do have a follow-up question from Mike Hedges. Please go ahead.

Q: Really, it's just the feedback. You asked for feedback.

I can say that we are getting positive feedback from the daily briefings. I know there was some reluctance to do five a week, but it's having a positive effect among our readership. So that's some feedback I could pass along.

Clarke: It's good to hear.

Q: Yeah. If there was some consideration to scale back I would argue against that based on what we're hearing from our readers. We try to give a fairly thorough take on what's said in the briefings.

Clarke: That's good to hear and I appreciate your making the point. We are going to continue doing them.

What we try to remind people is that, and the secretary has said this repeatedly, it is a very different kind of war. It's an unconventional war. There will be periods of activity, military activity you can see, there will be things you can't see. It's certainly not going to be the Persian Gulf War where for X weeks you saw thousands of people pouring across deserts and hundreds of missiles through the air every night. So it's a different kind of animal, but I hear what you're saying. People want to get news and information and we'll try to keep providing it.

Q: We have people in Pakistan and we're going to be rotating new people in, and I'm actually among those on the rotation. And I was asked by some of our higher editors in Houston to try to find out if there's any way to establish contact with U.S. forces in Pakistan, which hasn't been happening too much so far, to try to get more of a take on the military affairs there, even if it's just a matter of writing about the soldiers and their daily lives and what's going on. I thought this might be a good forum to bring that up.

I'm leaving in a few days. If there's any way to get any feedback on that, I'd be grateful.

Clarke: I encourage you to stay in touch with us. We are continuing to work on it. We're being extraordinarily sensitive as we should be, I think, to host nations. It's not easy for a country sometimes to participate in a highly visible fashion and they've got sensitivities and concerns that we don't have. So we're working on it and we'll continue to push hard. So if you want to check with me before you take off I'd be happy to give you any updates. I don't have anything to offer you right now.

Q: If I could say in all candor, one of my concerns is that some day there's going to be a breakthrough on this and you're going to see a series of stories in selective media that seem to get consideration from the Pentagon before some of the rest of us, and I'd just like to make a pitch to have people like our newspaper in the same first wave of people when the door opens to get access to the military in Pakistan. We'd like to be on the same wave in as everybody else.

Clarke: I hear you. That was one of the things that came up with the bureau chiefs today. To the greatest extent possible we try to, when we do things we try to do it for the widest number possible. So I hear you.

Q: We'd be very grateful if that could happen.

Clarke: Okay.

Q: Just to clarify, before I leave, what's the best way to follow up? Just to call your office?

Clarke: Sure, I'll give you the number to the front office here. It's (703) 697-9312.

Q: I'm over there at the briefings every day so I'll just introduce myself before I leave and say hello.

Clarke: Okay.

If that's it, I will thank everybody again

Voice: we do have a follow-up from Mr. Bond.

Clarke: Sure.

Q: I wanted to just make sure I understand these numbers that we talked about. Does this cover both the Reserves and the National Guard?

Clarke: Yes.

Q: Okay, great. Thank you.

Clarke: All right. Thank you guys very much. Feel free to check in with us any time, and we will continue to work on getting you all some access to the folks that are overseas.

Thank you, bye.