Friday, November 2, 2001 - 10:00 a.m. EST
Col. Tom Begines: Good morning. I'm Colonel Tom Begines, chief, Media Relations Division, Army Public Affairs. During Secretary Rumsfeld's and Ms. Clarke's last meeting with the bureau chiefs of the DoD media pool, Ms. Clarke said, quote, "As everyone knows, we've got the 10th Mountain Division folks in Uzbekistan and we are working on, as the Secretary said, trying to facilitate some coverage of that." [ transcript ]
So today we have six deployed 10th Mountain Division soldiers available for interview by telephone. To give you some variety, we've lined up four junior enlisted soldiers, including one female soldier and two non-commissioned officers. The soldiers will not disclose their specific location in country or discuss operational or intelligence matters, and they will adhere to force protection procedures regarding disclosure of personal information.
You'll hear the soldiers from the ceiling speakers. There will be a one or two second delay at each end. For the journalists here in the DoD studio, please use the hand-held microphone to ask your questions and to aid in clarity we'd appreciate it if you would identify your media organization when you ask the question.
At this time I'll ask Scott at the other end to make his introductory comments, then the soldiers will respond to your questions.
Scott: Thank you, sir. My name is Scott and I'm a public affairs officer deployed to Uzbekistan. I'd like to say that United States military forces with the approval of the Uzbekistani government deployed to this country to conduct search and rescue operations and to participate in humanitarian missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
With me today are six soldiers of the crack 10th Mountain Division. As the colonel said, these soldiers range in rank from private to staff sergeant. Without any further ado I'd like to introduce Charles, who is a staff sergeant with the 10th Mountain Division.
Staff Sgt. Charles: Good morning. My name is Charles and I'm with the 10th Mountain Division. I'm an air defense artilleryman, and I'm ready for your questions at this time.
Q: This is Bob Burns from Associated Press. I'd like to ask Staff Sergeant Charles, have you done any search and rescue missions yet? Have you done any humanitarian missions? And can you give us any details on either?
Staff Sgt. Charles: Sir, I can't speak about operational matters or missions or anything of that nature.
Q: Hey, Staff Sergeant Charles. This is Lisa Burgess from Stars and Stripes. How are you guys doing?
Staff Sgt. Charles: We're doing fine, Lisa.
Q: Can you give us some information about what conditions are like there? Are you guys in bare base? Are you in tents? Are you still eating MREs? Do you have hot meals? That type of stuff.
Staff Sgt. Charles: That's a good question.
The conditions here are excellent. I think they are much better than the American public may perceive them being. We're all in tents. We're sleeping in cots. We have a dining facility. They're taking care of us. We get three hot meals a day.
Q: John McWethy from ABC News.
Have you guys been outside of the wire at all? Have you met any of the locals? Do you have any contact with the Uzbeki population at all?
Staff Sgt. Charles: I can answer part of that question. Have we met any of the locals? Yes. They are very hospitable. The host nation is happy to have us here and we have a very good working relationship with them. As to one of those things, you know that we cannot speak about missions and so forth, so that's why I can't answer the first part of your question.
Q: This is Marc Heller with the Watertown Daily Times. How are you?
Staff Sgt. Charles: I'm doing just fine, Marc.
Q: That's good. There's a great deal of mystery of course about what you all are doing and there's good reason for that, but I wonder if there's anything that you would like to say to your friends or family in the north country to let them know that you're doing okay.
And secondly, I wonder if any of you had been expecting instead to go to Kosovo or Bosnia.
Staff Sgt. Charles: Let me say this. The thing that I would say to all our friends back home in the north country, we're part of the 10th Mountain Division. It's the best division in the Army. We are highly trained and highly motivated. Everyone here knows why we're here. We're all proud to be making history and be making history with the 10th Mountain Division.
As far as us being expected go to Kosovo or any other type of mission, we're all soldiers in the United States Army. Where we're told to go and when we're told to go, that's what we all volunteer to do. We are here in Uzbekistan and we're going to do that mission.
Q: Another question from ABC News. Talk to us, some of the other fellows if you would, about living conditions and about whether you are able to communicate with home, how you are doing that, do you have phone hookups yet? Are you e-mailing your parents and your wives, etc.
Pfc. Dan: My name is Dan. I'm a private first class with the 10th Mountain Division.
As for living conditions here, they're more than adequate. We have the opportunity to phone home and write letters. We have good communication back home. Morale is high here. We're just happy to be here and proud that we can serve our country.
Col. Begines: Some other soldiers might want to comment on that same point.
Pvt. Rachel: Hello. I'm Private Rachel. As far as the other view of the living conditions, as far as being female, they are everything that we need and want. We are well taken care of. And I couldn't really ask for anything more.
Col. Begines: Part of the question was do you have Internet? Can you communicate by Internet?
Pvt. Rachel: No, we do not yet.
Q: Rachel, do you guys have showers there?
Pvt. Rachel: Yes, actually we have hot showers available to us daily.
Q: Are you guys doing PT?
Pvt. Rachel: Our training is enough PT for us.
Q: This is Associated Press again. Understanding you can't talk about particular missions, but can you tell us anything about what you do during the day to fill your day? The training and so forth.
Pvt. Rachel: Yes. My job, I'm a chemical operations specialist, and we specialize in decon so our mission readiness exercises are just with those sort of things, with decon.
Col. Begines: And the other soldiers, if you could describe what your daily activities are.
Spc. Duncan: This is Duncan. I'm a specialist, also 10th Mountain. My MOS is heavy mortars. My daily activities include making sure that we're constantly ready to do our mission. We do things like guard duty and so forth.
Col. Begines: The other soldiers?
Sgt. Paul: My name is Paul. I'm a sergeant with the 10th Mountain Division. I'm a 12B, combat engineer. We specialize in mobility, counterability, survivability, and day to day we work on upgrading the installation.
Spc. Michael: Hello, I'm Michael, specialist, United States Army, 10th Mountain Division. I'm pretty much an air defense artilleryman. Pretty much air defense is all I do.
Staff Sgt. Charles: This is Charles. I'm also an air defense artillery. Our day to day activity consists of us making sure that we maintain the state of readiness so that we continue helping aid in the humanitarian missions as well as the search and rescue missions and providing force protection here.
Q: Good morning. My name is Joe Burlis. I'm with Army News Service. I've got two questions.
One, if a couple of you could address any sense of accomplishment that you feel in being over there; and two, what type of encouragement, letters, care packages or whatever, are you getting from home?
Staff Sgt. Charles: This is Charles. A sense of accomplishment, there's no doubt in my mind that the United States Army is the best trained army in the world and that we're part of the best division in the Army, the 10th Mountain Division.
As far as our operational and being a sense of accomplishment with that, we have the best-trained forces that the world has to offer. There's no doubt in any soldier's mind here that we'll accomplish the mission that we set out to do. People back home sending us things, letters of encouragement, they're coming in every day. We're supported 100 percent.
Sgt. Paul: This is Sergeant Paul again. Every day as we continue to upgrade the facilities, as you see everything develop, life gets better, makes you feel good. You're proud to know that the Army's supporting you and that everything's going so well here. And I myself have received mail and packages. Most of the members of my squad have also. It improves their morale even more every day.
Q: It's Barbara Starr from ABC News. Could you guys talk a little bit more about your perspective on some of the interactions you've had with the local Uzbek people that you have run into?
First of all I guess I don't understand. Are these people that come into your basing area and you have contact with people who come in? Do you get to go into town or to any local areas in your off-hours? And what do you guys talk about? Do they ask you why you're there? Do they ask you about September 11th? Do you have a sense that there's a pretty full understanding on their part?
Spc. Duncan: The limited contact that we have with them is -- sorry, this is Duncan, specialist.
It's very difficult to speak to somebody that you don't speak the language with, so it doesn't usually go very much further than "Hi, how are you," waving, saying have a nice day and forth.
Sgt. Paul: This is Sergeant Paul again. The few times I've had the opportunity to converse with the locals they seem very open to us, very friendly. Wave, smile. The language is a barrier. Occasionally there's an interpreter available. They're very open, easy to talk to, don't seem to harbor any ill feelings towards us, very happy that we're here.
Q: This is Tom Bowman with the Baltimore Sun. I want to ask a couple of questions.
First of all, what's the total number of troops from 10th Mountain there with you? And secondly -- or a ballpark figure if you can't give us specifics. Also, there's a lot of talk about winter weather in Afghanistan and the difficulty of fighting in mountains.
How many of you have had the Army's cold weather training and mountain warfare training?
Pvt. Rachel: This is Private Rachel again. On the first question, I can't discuss operational matters as far as the number of troops. The weather, it's not as cold as [Fort] Drum. (Laughter) But the Army is well trained and all of the soldiers have had cold weather training.
Q: Hi, it's Marc Heller again at the Watertown Daily Times.
I wonder if any of you have been deployed before and if you could contrast this a little bit with your experience from then. And for those of you who have not been deployed before, what's it like your first time out like this?
Sgt. Charles: I've been to Bosnia and in comparison this is much more than I expected when we got here to Uzbekistan. As far as being set up and being ready for troops to arrive, the conditions are excellent.
Sgt. Paul: This is Paul again. I've been deployed to both Albania and Kosovo and to date conditions here are far better at this point than they ever were in either one of those installations. The weather has also been a good factor here. It hasn't been the soup that it was other places.
Q: Hello, this is Jerry Gilmore from American Forces Information Service, the press service. I'd like to ask any or all of the soldiers there, congratulations, you're doing a good job. We're all proud of you.
Can you describe briefly the geography there? I mean the 10th Mountain, of course you think about mountains, but without detracting from operational security can you draw a picture of what the geography is like there? Is it mountains? Is it desert? What's it like? Is it arduous terrain?
Voice: I unfortunately can't talk about the geography here.
Q: This is Jim Mannion from AFP. I was wondering if you could tell me, are you collocated at that base or airfield with Uzbek troops, and are you separated from them? Do you have any interaction with them?
Voice: Once again, I can't answer that question.
Q: How about -- this is John McWethy at ABC again -- how about the news that you are getting? Are you aware of what is going on across the border? Are you getting news reports of the American bombing campaign? Are you getting news reports of the status of the Taliban? All of those things that those of us out here are acutely aware of, are you aware of?
Spc. Duncan: As a matter of fact we have a newspaper sitting right in front of us. Sorry, Duncan.
Yes, we're actually quite well informed. We get daily updates on what's going on around the world as much as, of course, we can get, and as soon as we can get it. Of course we're very happy when we do get some news.
Col. Begines: Which paper do you have in front of you?
Spc. Duncan: It's the Stars and Stripes.
Q: This is Lisa Burgess from the Stars and Stripes. What are we not covering that you guys need to see in there? Are you getting what you need from us?
Spc. Duncan: They're saying here everybody wants more sports and local weather.
Q: Local weather like your weather?
Spc. Duncan: Roger that.
Q: This is Gilmore from American Forces Information Service again. Would someone like to comment on their impressions or feelings during the events of September 11th when they heard?
Pfc. Dan: This is Dan again. The terrorist actions that occurred on September 11th were a horrible event. I'm just glad that I can do my part to ensure that these barbaric acts cannot occur again. I'm just glad to be able to serve.
Pvt. Rachel: This is Rachel again. September 11th is definitely memorial to all of us and especially [the 10th Mountain Division] being [based] in the state that it occurred in. I think that it hit closer to home for all of us, especially in the military, and we all feel the suffering of the loss that has happened. And we hope that our actions will keep that from happening again. We just hope that we can help raise the morale of the rest of the country like our morale is raised in the military.
Q: A slight change of pace here. Were you able to watch the World Series, the last couple of games? How plugged in are you to that part since you've expressed an interest in sports?
Staff Sgt. Charles: This is Staff Sergeant Charles. Unfortunately, we were busy, unable to watch the World Series. We just got updated about 15 minutes ago. I think the Yankees what, are up 3-2?
Q: The game's over. Oh, I see.
So are you getting AFRTS [Armed Forces Radio and Television Service]? Are you getting live radio? Any of those things? If you were not on duty could you have watched the World Series? Did any of you pay any attention to that? I'm just curious whether that's an issue for you.
Staff Sgt. Charles: No, not at this time.
Q: It's Lisa again. Two things. First of all, I will convey your request for local weather and more sports back to editorial, we'll see if we can give you guys forecasts. I don't know if we can do it, but we'll try.
Second of all, I know you say you have everything you need, but if you guys could be sent additional stuff from people, would you like to get magazines, candy, anything in particular?
Voice: Yes, magazines more than anything. A variety.
Q: Which ones?
Voice: A wide spectrum. Anywhere from car magazines to Popular Science is one that someone mentioned. Sports Illustrated. Along those lines. It's one of the things that keeps motivation up, keeps us in tune to what the world is doing. We think we focused on the sports issue because it's a motivating factor. I think everybody has a team that they're rooting for, and no matter where you are in the world, sports is something you can always talk about.
Q: This is Hunter Keeter from Defense Daily.
I just had a question, without compromising operational security of course, when we looked back at the Kosovo campaign there were some after-action reports that commented on how difficult it had been for Task Force Hawk to get prepared to do what it had to do in Albania. Looking at that and then your situation where you are now, can you address the logistics piece and your sense of how well prepared the infrastructure is there to support you with the materiel needs that you will have to carry out the missions you'll be assigned?
Pvt. Rachel: The 10th Mountain Division is prepared to fight anywhere, any time, anybody. In this environment or any environment. Oh, and my comment? Gummy bears.
Col. Begines: I don't see any other questions here. Are there any other comments from the other end?
Q: Again, it's Burgess, do you guys have a little AAFES [Army and Air Force Exchange Service] outpost there so you can get stuff?
Staff Sgt. Charles: Yes, it opened up about a week ago.
Col. Begines: Any other closing comments?
Staff Sgt. Charles: Once again this is Staff Sergeant Charles. I think everybody here would like to say hello to their parents, let everyone know that we're doing fine. Please have the utmost confidence not only in the United States Army but more specifically in the 10th Mountain Division.
Scott: Sir, this is Scott. I think that's about it from here.
Voice: Okay. Thank you very much.