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Defense Department Briefing on DoD Response to Hurricane Katrina

Presenters: Chief, National Guard Bureau Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum and Deputy Director, Anti-Terrorism, Homeland Defense, Joint Staff Brig. Gen. Terry Scherling
August 31, 2005 12:00 PM EDT
Defense Department Briefing on DoD Response to Hurricane Katrina

            DiRita: We are fortunate, I think most of you may or may not have seen the press conference at 1:30, two o’clock whenever that happened with Department of Homeland Security which obviously under the National Response Plan is designated the lead agency on this effort.

 

            Secretary McHale, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense was over there along with General Scherling. I’ve asked them to be available to just provide a little bit more detail on what the department’s doing in fulfilling its role to support FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security.

 

            Are we on the record?

 

            Whitman: Let’s do it on the record.

 

            Blum: They’re all smiling.

 

            Whitman: Let me tell you who we’ve got. I think most of you know most of these people but we have Mr. Pete Verga who’s the number two in the Homeland Defense component here in the Department. Pete Verga, V-E-R-G-A, a long-time DoD employee. Mr. Peter Verga. He’s the principal Deputy, assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense.

 

            General Steve Blum, who I think most of you know or have seen around the campus, and he’s the chief of the National Guard Bureau.

 

            Brigadier General Scherling. And I’m afraid I don’t know your title.

 

            Scherling: I’m the Deputy Director for Anti-Terrorism, Homeland Defense, the Joint Staff.

 

            Media: Can you spell your name please, ma’am?

 

            Scherling: Sure. Last name is Scherling,

S-C-H-E-R-L-I-N-G. First name Terry, T-E-R-R-Y.

 

            DiRita: As I mentioned just at the top, I think you all know the department’s role here, and that’s to support FEMA. We don’t have a lead agency role, but we’re leaning very far forward on this trying to anticipate, obviously responding to such requests as we’re capable of responding, but also anticipate what capabilities might be needed and try and pre-stage those capabilities and we’ve done a lot of pre-staging over the last 48 to 72 hours when this started to become something that looked like it needed that kind of attention. What I’d like to do then is ask first General Scherling to kind of give an overview as to where we are with respect to responding to FEMA requests as well as what we’re trying to anticipate. Then General Blum will give us the principal set of activities in the department, which happen to be National Guard activities at the moment. That could change over time, but that’s the way it stands now.

 

            With that, General Scherling.

 

            Scherling: Thanks, Mr. DiRita.

 

            What I’d like to do is first of all express that our hearts and thoughts and prayers certainly go out to the folks of the south right now who are experiencing such catastrophic loss.

 

We in the military have a unique capability to also assist with civil response and in doing so what we want to focus on is loss of life, we want to restore the infrastructure, and we want to help maintain confidence in the government. That’s really our focus, so we’ve keyed up some slides for you this afternoon so you can take a look at the types of things we’re doing.

 

            Initially, we were asked to set up defense coordinating offices along with FEMA in the four affected states – Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. We have done that. These coordinating offices are staffed by a colonel along with a small coordinating element of about 15 people.

 

            In addition to that we have some staging bases set up for FEMA and they are at Barksdale, Meridian Naval Air Station, and Maxwell Air Force Base. FEMA will be staging supplies at those locations and I can tell you that the types of supplies we saw them stage during the hurricanes in Florida last year were really the commodities – the water, the ice, food, MREs, those kinds of things.

 

            We are also in the process or providing aviation support to the FEMA assessment teams and helping them move supplies, equipment casualties. You’ve seen many of the rescue operations. We have the capability to do night search and rescue aviation operations as well as providing strategic airlift of some rescue, swift water rescue teams from California. That’s a civilian capability and we’re providing air transport for the teams along with their watercraft down to Louisiana.

 

            In addition to that we are providing Navy support in the form of USS Bataan. That ship has the capability of both providing helicopter support as well as medical beds.

 

            In addition, we are looking to the future in trying to save the types of assets that FEMA may need and what we are doing is providing some aviation assets, mainly in the form of helicopters as well as additional maritime assets.

 

            I should take a moment to explain that these maritime assets provide logistical capability in the ports. It’s my understanding that one of the things we want to do is to get the ports back open and in order to do that they have to have the capability to survey and to do recovery operations.

 

First of all our focus, of course, as I mentioned earlier, is going to be on life saving, so we want to get some ships in that can have helos on them, that can fly into the port areas, and to the port towns to assist in that life saving support role, as well as potentially providing hospital beds.

 

            In addition, the Secretary of Defense has authorized the commander of NORTHCOM, Admiral Keating, to appoint a joint task force under the command of General Russ Honore from 1st Army. This joint task force has a key role because their role is to coordinate with the federal officials, the principal federal official appointed by FEMA. As it turns out, their role is also to coordinate with the National Guard, to coordinate with the state officials, and to provide a focal point for Admiral Keating from NORTHCOM.

 

            The joint task force commander, General Honore, will also serve as the commander for assigned forces that come into the region. The military forces in the form of the active duty forces that come in. And like I mentioned, he will have a coordinating role, but not a command role, for the National Guard forces.

 

            Next slide please.

 

            The President has asked us through the Secretary of Defense to lean forward and to anticipate the types of things that might be needed. We are in discussions with FEMA for the following types of capabilities to include field hospitals, evacuation transportation, manpower to help with both sheltering and feeding operations, aerial reconnaissance, and then again as I mentioned, the Navy ships.

 

            At this time what I'd like to do is to introduce General Steve Blum from the National Guard Bureau who can provide a look at what the National Guard's doing.

 

            Media: Excuse me. Can I ask just briefly before you do that, and I don't know if you're going to go into this or not. Do you have any figure on how many active duty troops are committed to the situation now? Including of course those Navy.

 

            DiRita: The total, sort of in big numbers, there's about seven ships dedicated right now. There's almost certain to be more. There's about 7,200 active duty personnel, mostly Navy but that also includes about 400 Corps of Engineer, about 800 people that have been designated to assist the American Red Cross with aid distribution and that sort of thing, but that total is about 7,200. About 60 helicopters, and that's going to change over time. You'll see different figures, but that's the working figure right now. And then General Blum will talk about this but we're at about 11,000 National Guard and that figure's going to change almost certainly as well.

 

            So those are just some -- And one other thing, in terms of what's been identified and starting to head down there, something on the order of, either staged or en-route, capacity for somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 hospital beds, between mobile hospitals, afloat hospitals, of all types. That's some broad numbers I thought you might find useful.

 

            Media: Thank you.

 

            DiRita: With that, General Blum, --

 

            Blum: Let me pick up with that.

 

            Mr. DiRita's right. Right now there's about 11,000 Army and Air Guard citizen soldiers on state active duty called out by their governors, rough order of magnitude about 1,000 in Florida, a little over 1,000 in Alabama, rough order of magnitude about 4,500 so far in Louisiana and the rest are in Mississippi.

 

            We have at the request of the governors and the adjutants general, the request came up to EMAC, that's the Emergency Management Assistance Compacts that all the states governors have signed to support one another that we've used so successfully since 9/11 for firefighting and other natural disasters, through that Management Assistance Compact, tonight, tomorrow and the next day after that 10,000 Army and Air National Guard soldiers and airmen, units, equipment and capabilities will flow into Mississippi at about, rough order of magnitude, about half and half. Half going, 5,000 going to Louisiana, mostly to provide augmentation to the military police for security to assist in the looting issue and to maintain law and order and discipline. Not as martial law, as some have erroneously reported, but to augment under the emergency powers a governor has to have his state militia augment and enhance civilian law enforcement. We have not suspended any civil law in these two, in the four affected states and these forces will be called in to in fact augment and expand the capability for law enforcement. They will be used to guard critical facilities and they will be used to maintain law and order, to prevent looting and to assist in the apprehension of those who violate the curfews and the laws. They will also be used in general police work security patrolling, to identify people who may need assistance or evacuation or medical assistance and those kind of things.

 

            In addition we will be sending medical units and medical capabilities, aviation, mostly in the form of helicopters. That's what's needed for distribution of the most critically needed things and they seem to be water -- obviously it's 90 degrees or more down there and there's no potable water available. Everything's been contaminated, wells and even the city water systems are completely contaminated. So all the water that comes in there will have to be brought in.

 

            We're sending in water purification units, ROPU, reverse osmosis water purification units so that we can take standing water and take a problem and make a solution out of it. But the distribution of that will be largely be done by large trucks and not the typical HMMWVs you're used to seeing. They will be by five-ton trucks because they have the ability to ride through water higher than this table. A HMMWV can only ride through water about the height of this table unless it's modified for any amphibious, and ours are not. The Army Guard is not. So we would have to put extensions on, plus they're too small. They don't carry enough people, they don't carry enough. So we're going to be using large trucks to ride around in deep water.

 

            Engineers will be brought in to assist in clearing the roads. Right now the access and egress to the affected areas is significantly restricted, so even if you wanted to throw more forces in there, they have no way to get in and people have no way to really get out, so until we can get the lines of communication open, meaning the roads and bridges and so forth, we're not going to be able to affect as many people as we'd like to. So the engineers will be brought in.

 

            Communications, as you well know, is a big challenge, so we're pushing every communications asset that we have. Satellite communications because the cellular nets are down and under repair. A lot of the subsurface cabling has been rendered ineffective because of the flooding. So the normal things that would be easy to re-establish will be very difficult to re-establish in immediate time so we're standing up expedient means.

 

            We have coordinated with -- interagency coordination is going on and as I speak radios are coming in from a place where you wouldn't expect it in significant numbers, NFFS, the National FireFighting Service, is sending in a very robust capability in hand-held radios that will help mitigate the problem. They're being flown in by the Idaho National Guard this evening.

 

            There will be some general purpose security forces, and of course there will be people brought in to make sure that our equipment can stay maintained and sustained and operational, so there will be mechanics and people like that.

 

            All of the forces that we're bringing in are coming in self-sufficient for fuel, water, food, and medical supplies so that the troops that are coming in, the 20,000 troops that will be there by Friday afternoon, will not be a burden on the already over-burdened systems. They will come with their own solutions so that they're not coming and even making the situation worse.

 

            The National Guard will be providing essential personnel and critical equipment as requested, and it differs in different counties and different municipalities as to what the governors and the emergency managers need, but we are responding to the requests of the governor through their vetted EMAC procedures.

 

            The states are currently assessing the situation, because frankly, even the locals don't have the whole picture yet. It's discovery learning down there every hour, so the assessments may change and what they've asked for now may change tomorrow. So if you say hey, General Blum, you said you were doing this and now you're doing that, that's why. That's will drive our response. We're not just going to shove a package in there. We're answering the needs of the community.

 

            We have Guard elements from every state except for the territory of Guam and Hawaii that I'm aware of. Every other state has a piece and is scheduled and prepared to respond and has made preparations, that if it were necessary and if it becomes required over time they will flow their forces in there. So this will really be truly America responding to America's own emergency.

 

            The National Guard is right now presently under the command and control of the governors and is expected to remain so. We don't see any real change in that. That does not present a seam. It does not present an issue or a problem. There is absolutely nothing wrong with state active duty National Guard DoD elements fulfilling their dual mission responsibility, being called up by their governor as state militia in state active duty status working side by side in a joint interagency multi-intergovernmental response -- when I say intergovernmental I mean local, state and federal level response -- to the issues at hand. We think it's the right way to do it. It actually is following the National Response Plan. This is the way it's supposed to work. So this is not unusual, it's not out of the box. It's exactly the way the plan was intended to unfold. What was not intended was the size and intensity of this particular catastrophe. This is an extraordinary event in its scope and in its damage that it's created and the suffering that it's created.

 

            Twenty percent of the Mississippi National Guard's family support centers are operational out of the ones we had already established. Many of them are lost not because the people were lost, but the information technology and e-mail, the phones, and the ability to pass information is ineffective right now so we only have about 20 percent capacity for that. In Louisiana we have been able to, in spite of the significant damage in the New Orleans area, we have 80 percent of our family readiness groups that are available.

 

            Why is this significant? Because that means that these centers are open in virtually every town and municipality of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida so that service members -- whether in the Guard, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard or the Air Force or the Air National Guard -- that have loved ones in these states that are affected can get to these centers and render them assistance, and also reassure their spouses or loved ones that they're being -- number one, they're being accounted for and number two that they're being properly taken care of.

 

            The Guard is working with the state and local authorities to assist in meeting the homecoming challenges for our soldiers and our airmen not only from the Guard but from all five services and all three components -- active, Guard and Reserve.

 

            I think I'll leave it at that and I'm sure you'll have plenty of questions that will get me other places.

 

            Media: Just in a quick nutshell. What you've said is you have 11,000 now. You're going to increase it by 10,000 ….

 

            Blum: We're probably going to double it in the next 48 hours.

 

            Media: All of those include your police units, your communications, your -- All that's under one --

 

            Blum: Medical, aviation, engineer, transportation, all of it.

 

            Media: And about half of the extra ones are going to Louisiana and about half to Mississippi, right?

 

            What percentage of those do you believe will be police units?

 

            Blum: What percentage initially or --

 

            Media: Yeah. Of the 10,000.

 

            Blum: In the initial phase about a third, because that's an immediate problem.

 

            Media: Of the 11,000.

 

            Blum: Over time, the composition will change, Charlie. We'll change the mix for what we're doing.

 

            I think in the recovery effort later on the effort will probably be heavier in transportation and engineers and other things, but right now we're worried about law and order, food and water, medical supplies, that kind of thing.

 

            Media: The third being police units, is that a third of the 11,000 there now or a third of the 48 hours from now?

 

            Blum: A third of the 11,000 that are there now, and in the next 48 hours that percentage will probably hold. I think that would be fair. About a third of what's coming in there in the next 48 hours are also military police or law enforcement type units.

 

            Media: You mentioned you were in discussions still with FEMA. Do you anticipate creating any tent cities at any military bases?

 

            Scherling: I have not heard any discussions specifically about doing that. I understand right now that the Red Cross has some responsibility for providing shelter, and we are in discussions with FEMA to potentially provide assistance to the Red Cross in the form of people to assist with the sheltering operation and also providing food for them. So that could change as time goes on, but that's what I know right now.

 

            Media: General, when you talk about the Louisiana Guard -- Any of the Guardsmen who are serving over in Iraq right now. Is this changing their life, their rotation plans, their -- What kind of support are you --

 

            Blum: There's no need or requirement to change the rotation plans. We clearly went into, we've entered into an agreement with the governors in February of 2004 when we saw that there would be sustained rotations necessary for the global war on terrorism. We have honored our commitment to the governors. The average in the country is 75 percent of the forces of the Army and Air National Guard are still available --

 

            Media: I mean more from like a personal standpoint. Like an individual --

 

            Blum: Obviously any time your loved ones are in an uncertain condition it's going to put you in apprehension and give you some stress. That's why we've had the leadership of the National Guard call the leadership of the units that are deployed around the world that are not at home, that only can see this through the lens of what's on TV and the radio, and let them know that number one, they pay attention to their job and we'll pay attention to taking care of their families. They should not be concerned or have to divert their attention off of their global war on terrorism mission to what's happening at home.

 

            We can clearly handle this situation and continue to prosecute our responsibilities overseas.

 

            Media: These extra troops will be from other than the four states.

 

            Blum: Sure.

 

            DiRita: That's the compact he talked about. The states have agreements.

 

            Media: Can you say where they're coming from?

 

            Blum: Yeah, they're coming from Alabama, Washington, Indiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma --

 

            Media: Okay.

 

            Blum: I'll give you a copy of what's coming.

 

            DiRita: You asked.

 

            Media: What percentage from outside of these states? Are most of the Guardsmen from outside of these states?

 

            Blum: No, no, no, no. The 11,000 are all from the states affected. But the new ones are coming in, 10,000 more are on the way from West Virginia, D.C., New Mexico, Utah, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Alabama, Washington, Indiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan. Notice that we left the Carolinas alone, and Florida alone because September isn't over yet.

 

            Media: What is, if anything, being affected by the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere? Does it affect the number of troops [inaudible]? Does it affect how quickly --

 

            Blum: Nationalism and experience in the National Guard is at all time high levels because of it. The reenlistment rate and the sense of satisfaction of our citizen soldiers and airmen is at an all-time high in the 33 years of the volunteer force. And so far all the effects are pretty positive.

 

            Media: It doesn't affect the amount of equipment, troops, anything going on here? There's no --

 

            Blum: Not yet. There's nothing that I'm in want of for trying to --

 

            DiRita: When we developed the strategy four years ago, which we're now reviewing that created the U.S. Northern Command. One of the purposes of that was to do resource prioritization and say look, one of the things we said was the homeland defense mission, the 1-4-2-1. The one is homeland defense. If that's the case, how do we prioritize resources in a way that as you're competing resources across the globe that there's sufficient resource capability for the homeland defense mission. Well, this is a pretty significant homeland defense mission that we're dealing with.

 

            Media: along those lines, you have a couple of thousand soldiers at Camp Shelby training for Iraq. Will they pulled into --

 

            Blum: Yes. That's the 1st Brigade of the 34th Infantry Division. I have no plan, no intention of interrupting that flow. They need to stay focused on what they're working on. I have more than made up for their capabilities. They don't have the right skill set for what we need anyway, but we have more than made up for their manpower by having donor states sending units.

 

            Media: General, is this the largest deployment of National Guard in response to a natural disaster?

 

            Blum: I don't know. I really don't know.

 

            Media: General Scherling, would you expect that active duty number that Larry mentioned, the 7,200 to increase?

 

            Scherling: Sure. One thing that I would say is we are --

 

            Blum: Eric, it has the potential to be, it certainly does, but right now I don't know.

 

            DiRita: Time will tell. We just don't know.

 

            Scherling: We're at the very initial stages of this whole assessment right now.

 

            DiRita: -- through and see which was bigger before or after, I mean we just don't know. We haven't done that exercise.

 

            Media: We're at 7,200 right now on active duty --

 

            Scherling: It is more accurate to say that we are assessing and we will provide the capabilities and the numbers required both by FEMA and the rest of the federal government as required.

 

            DiRita: If you look at Eric, which they talked about, the kinds of capabilities that we could provide -- medical surge capability, additional billeting, power generation which involves people, it's perfectly plausible to assume that as we decide to surge some of that additional capability, there's going to be people involved and if there are people involved they could well be active duty people. So I think it's reasonable to expect that, but at the moment the 7,200, give or take, is about where we are and most of that happens to be the Navy personnel.

 

            Media: Is it safe to say sort of overall, even though you may not know if it's the biggest deployment of the National Guard plus the active, at least one of the largest in recent history?

 

            Blum: It's clearly the biggest natural disaster to hit the nation in my lifetime, so it would not be unreasonable to think that this probably will require the largest National Guard response that we've ever had. But I just wasn't prepared at the moment he asked me the question to tell you that 11,000 rates higher than we've ever --

 

            Media: -- active duty [inaudible] local law enforcement and National Guard [inaudible]?

 

            Blum: There is always and has always been an active duty force that has a contingency plan to be available, that if that were to ever occur anywhere in our nation for any reason that they were trained and ready and deployable to do that. Who that is, I'm not prepared to tell you because I am not privy to that. That assignment changes --

 

            DiRita: It's no different than it was a week ago.

 

            Blum: Or 10 years ago.

 

            DiRita: We're in the exact same posture --

 

            Media: So no active duties have been put on alert.

 

            Scherling: Correct.

 

            Media: General, on the trucks. How many roughly and where are they coming from?

 

            Blum: That's an interesting concept.

 

            Media: Of the 13 states, Alabama's the only one of the four --

 

            Blum: We've got a truck company coming out of New Mexico, a truck company coming out of Alabama, we've got transportation elements coming out of Florida. Kentucky's sending 50 high profile vehicles, which is what I'm talking about. Michigan is sending a truck company. That will give you a pretty good idea.

 

            Media: -- the total number of trucks, General?

 

            Blum: They vary. They vary, but they're probably coming in numbers like 25 and 40 and those kind of entities. That's the size of the units that they're sending.

 

            Media: How many trucks are you going to --

 

            Blum: I don't know. I'm not sure.

 

            DiRita: They bring their own fuel.

 

            Media: Enough for how long?

 

            Blum: Ten days is the requirement I gave.

 

            Media: Then what happens?

 

            Blum: Then we bring some more fuel in. [Laughter]. We have tanker trucks. We just bring the fuel to the trucks.

 

            Media: [inaudible]?

 

            Blum: Oh, it will be hundreds of trucks before we're finished, absolutely.

 

            Media: They'll convoy down there, right?

 

            Blum: Yeah, you'll see them --

 

            DiRita: How about one last question.

 

            Media: General, if the President decides to wave Posse Comitatus, could you tell us what would happen next?

 

            DiRita: We don't do hypotheticals.

 

            Thanks a lot folks.

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