(Conference call with regional media.)
Clarke: Hi, it's Torie Clarke, how are you?
Q: Fine, thank you. Thanks for taking the time today to talk to us.
Clarke: No, I was just going to say the same to you. I appreciate doing it.
Q: Langdon had to step out and grab a bite to eat in between his lengthy shift here so he passed this along to me. He had a couple of areas that he wanted me to ask about, but I thought I'd just start and kind of let you tell me what you have regarding, he said you might be able to tell us a little bit about Minnesota and sort of how we're fitting into this war in Afghanistan.
Clarke: Sure. You probably know this but just a couple of days ago it was announced the Minnesota Air National Guard is sending over 100 of its troops to Southwest Asia, to the region, so they should be on their way as we speak. It will be using the C-130 cargo planes to transport personnel and equipment.
As you know, the Guard and Reserve has played an extraordinary role in this war on terrorism. There are some 70,000 from around the country that are serving in some capacity, nearly 1,000 from Minnesota alone. So we always try to find these opportunities to comment on the incredible contribution that the men and women in uniform make including the Guard and Reserve, and employers deserve a real round of applause and thanks for supporting their employees. It is not what a lot of people expected, but their contribution to this effort is so important. So we always try to focus on that.
Then we always try to focus on reminding people what this war is about.
I think you'll probably hear the President talk a little bit about this tonight in his State of the Union. It is a very unconventional war in many ways. It is not against people with armies, navies and air forces. It is not about just Afghanistan or Osama bin Laden, al Qaida. It is about terrorists and those who harbor and foster and sponsor them around the world. So we try to seek out these opportunities to remind people that it's going to be a long and hard and difficult struggle.
But going back to the men and women in uniform, they're just performing extraordinarily well and we know with that kind of resolve and determination we're going to be successful ultimately.
Q: Is there anything else you can tell me about that 133rd Airlift Wing that deployed yesterday from Minnesota?
Clarke: Not that much, because we can't go into too many details for security reasons about exactly where they're going, and sometimes can't give too many of the details.
The deployments can last, as I said, it can be tough on the employers and the families because the deployments can last six to nine months or even longer. We're trying to keep people rotating through but the demands are pretty high.
But Minnesota, as I said, it's nearly 1,000 people from the Minnesota Guard and Reserve have been participating. There's a big commitment from the 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth, the 934th Airlift Wing out of Minneapolis/St. Paul, and the 133rd Airlift Wing out of Minneapolis/St. Paul as well. Really playing an important role.
Q: Can you address anything about border security between the U.S. and Canada and specifically Minnesota and Canada?
Clarke: Sure. It gets a little bit out of my lane, as they like to say here in Washington, because we are working with other agencies and we're working with the new head of homeland security, Tom Ridge, on those sorts of issues. Prior to September 11th we here at the Department of Defense were looking at new ways to organize ourselves, new ways to prepare for 21st Century military threats. And one of the things we had said is you need to focus more on homeland defense.
Well September 11th has given us all a real sharp focus and attention to those sorts of issues. So in addition to deciding what we need to do to protect ourselves in our own back yard we're looking at things like the borders with Canada and with Mexico to see how can you tighten up the procedures, how can you tighten up the policies. So those are the sorts of things that we're addressing in concert with other agencies in the federal government.
Q: You talk about this is an unconventional war, it's going to take awhile. Do you have any other message to just the average citizen who's sitting here at home sort of watching this play out on CNN as it were?
Clarke: Well, I don't know if I have a message for them because we hear from them a lot. We hear from people from Minnesota, we hear from people in almost every state of the country, and what's really extraordinary is the high level of understanding and appreciation among the American people for just how hard and difficult it will be.
The pundits like to say oh, the Americans have a short attention span and they don't have much resolve and they can't hang in there. We have found just the opposite. We have found that they truly understand how complex the situation is. We have found they truly understand that it is about more than just Afghanistan and the al Qaida, that we're going to have to go after these terrorists and we're going to have to go after those who harbor and foster and sponsor them. So it's less a message to them than a reaffirmation or a confirmation of the kinds of things they're saying back to us.
Q: You mentioned there's about a thousand Minnesota National Guard and Reserve troops involved now. How about on a national scale? How much of a role does the Guard and Reserve play in what's happening?
Clarke: A huge and very important role. Right now it is about 70,000 people and they are providing a variety of talents and expertise that is critically important to the overall mission. They're providing a lot of support for the combat air patrols that rotate over different parts of the country, they're providing support at airports, a variety of specialties that we really needed, and it has proven to be a tremendous asset in the war.
Q: Anything else you can add? That's all I had.
Clarke: No. I love your state. I wish I could go there more often. I was thinking when I was reading through this last night, I was thinking of all the different places I've been.
I really can't. I think people when they see the State of the Union tonight again, it's interesting. It is less a message to the American people, it's more an affirmation or a confirmation of what they've been saying. It's been pretty extraordinary to see the level of attention and the level of support they're giving to this very unconventional war.
Q: And before I let you go, as always, I need to have you just give me your name and title just so it's right here on the record.
Clarke: Sure. Victoria Clarke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.
Q: Very good. Thank you so much for taking the time. I appreciate it.
Clarke: Thanks for doing it.
Q: Bye, bye.
Q: This is Bill Thompson.
Clarke: Bill, this is Torie Clark, how are you?
Q: How are you doing?
Clarke: I'm good.
Q: I'm getting quite an echo here. Are you on a speakerphone?
Clarke: No, I'm on a microphone. It's probably at our end. We'll see what we can do.
Q: I just wanted, in a nutshell we're pretty much Michigan based. We pretty much wanted to I guess update the situation as far as Michigan is concerned. Where do we stand as far as deployment, that kind of thing, and Michigan's role in the war?
Clarke: I can go from the general to the specific. It's an extraordinary unconventional war in many ways, and both people in the military, people in communities, people in the Guard and Reserve are providing support and participation in a variety of ways.
Michigan has over 400 people in the Guard and Reserve who have been activated and I'd really like to use this opportunity to thank the people who were willing to sign up for the Guard and Reserve, for the employers who support them. These deployments can be difficult on families and businesses and the kind of support and encouragement they get from their employers is very, very important.
So the people that you have coming out of Selfridge Air National Guard, the Air Refueling Wing, the 127th Wing, the Fighter Wing coming out of W.K. Kellogg Airport provide a very, very important contribution to the overall war effort. So I would use this opportunity to thank them and say to the families and to the employers, keep up the support.
Q: Granted there hasn't been that much combat, if you will. What do these folks do? They're just pretty much support, are they not?
Clarke: Well the Guard and Reserve provides a variety of functions. A lot of support for the combat air patrol that is patrolling the skies over the United States, supported airports, a variety of technical expertise that we needed to draw upon, and it's safe to say that one of the reasons our overall military effort has been successful is because of the Guard and Reserve.
But I'd say, some people sort of think well, if there's not hand-to-hand combat or it's not a firefight it's not the real war, and I disagree completely. Every single day these people in uniform, including the people in the Guard and Reserve put their lives at risk. Just operating some of the equipment, flying the planes, flying the helicopters is very dangerous, risky business so we owe them a big debt of gratitude for being willing to do it.
Q: As we have seen I guess in just the last few weeks, again it isn't, as you say, it's not combat, it's flying the helicopters and some of that can be pretty tricky as we've seen.
Clarke: Flying a helicopter in the best of times is tricky and demanding. And flying helicopters and planes in the kind of conditions they're facing in Afghanistan is just extraordinary. I was over there with the Secretary of Defense right before the holidays, right before Christmas. The dust is incredible, cold harsh winter underway. So they're pretty extraordinary experiences that they're going through.
Q: As far as the effort itself is concerned, we're not, and it's been said over and over and over again, we're not by any means at the end of this.
Clarke: That's right. One of the things we try to communicate all the time is the truth, that this will be a long and difficult campaign, that it is not just about Afghanistan and one man or one network. It is about terrorists around the world. It is about those who harbor and foster and sponsor them about the world. And the encouraging thing is that the American people understand that. They have shown and demonstrated a high level of understanding and appreciation for how difficult this is going to be. And they've shown a real commitment to getting the job done even if it takes a long time.
Very often the pundits, especially those in Washington, like to say the American people have a short attention span or they just don't have the stick-to-it-ness that you need, and we have seen just the opposite. They get it, they understand it, they are willing to take the consequences to go after our long-term goals.
Q: I know here, and I'm assuming across the country it's the same way, I know here we have obviously some of those people that are serving involve some high profile people. I know at least one state senator if not more than that that are in active duty. Like I say, I assume across the country it's the same way.
Clarke: It is definitely true across the country. You have people from all walks of life and from every profession and it really comes through in the Guard and Reserve. Again, hats off and a great dose of gratitude to the men and women who are willing to do this, who are willing to make that kind of commitment.
Q: Compare this, and we already have in many ways, compare this with World War II. This is quite different.
Clarke: It's very, very different, and we had to spend an extraordinary amount of time with the media and with others to say whatever notions you may have about this war, disabuse yourself of the notion that it's like anything we have done before, because it's not. We are going against people who don't have armies, navies and air forces. We are in just the harshest and strangest of conditions. We have to use an extraordinary combination of conventional and unconventional tactics and resources. And as I said before, it's not about one country or one person. It is about terrorism which is much more like a cancer that is all over the world.
Al Qaida alone, one terrorist organization alone, has cells in 50 or 60 different countries around the world. That's pretty extraordinary when you think about it.
Q: It is a war.
Clarke: It is definitely a war. It is a long, long-term effort.
Q: Okay. Good to talk to you.
Clarke: You too. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this.
Q: Sure, no problem.