MR. MCHALE: Well, good afternoon. I'm Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul McHale. I'm the assistant secretary for Homeland Defense and Americas Security Affairs. I'm joined this afternoon by Lieutenant General Steve Blum, who is the chief of the National Guard Bureau, and Brigadier General Pete Aylward, who is from the Joint Staff.
What I'll do is give a brief introduction that will describe the DOD capabilities that are currently being employed in support of the state of California to provide much-needed relief to the citizens of the state of California in an effort to protect lives and preserve property during what is almost an unprecedented series of wildfires in the southern part of the state.
A few minutes ago, I listened to Governor Schwarzenegger's press conference in which he talked about the evacuation of over 300,000 of his citizens from the affected area. He also talked about the very close and, in his view, effective coordination between the various agencies of government at all levels -- local, state and federal -- in terms of a unified effort in responding to the challenge of the spreading wildfires. He specifically noted that, unlike some previous occasions, that he thought the coordination was superb, that the responsiveness was immediate and that he was very pleased by the unified nature of the response, where a sense of urgency and a recognition that lives were at stake prompted all concerned to work in close collaboration with one another.
Part of that cooperation involves the Department of Defense. As you know, we have a long history of providing civil support to state and local entities when civilian capabilities are overwhelmed by the challenge at hand. In this case, California needs help, and DOD is prepared to provide assistance.
For the past several days, we have been tracking very closely the wildfires, and we have been acutely aware of the danger that they pose.
In fact, I'm told that at present there have been two fatalities. One fatality was a DOD civilian employee who was tragically killed.
We began our close coordination with the officials of the state of California yesterday. Prior to that we had been in daily contact with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. NIFC is the federal agency under the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior that has the primary responsibility for coordinating a response to an ongoing fire. That includes any involvement of the Department of Defense.
We've been fighting fires for many years with DOD assets and personnel, although in recent years that requirement has diminished. Last year we had one battalion out of Fort Lewis that was engaged in firefighting. But in previous recent years, because civilian capabilities have improved, the DOD participation has been very modest.
Because of the nature of the fires in Southern California, we've been asked to provide assistance, and moreover, we have been asked to be prepared to provide a greater level of assistance if the civilian capabilities prove to be insufficient.
Let me just give you a thumbnail sketch of what it is we are doing. Our activities fall into two categories: the ongoing firefighting activities in support of the National Interagency Fire Center. Those are the actual firefighting activities that are intended to assist in regaining control of the situation. And then secondly, because the number of evacuees -- as I said, Governor Schwarzenegger has now indicated that over 300 (sic) California citizens have been displaced -- that produces inevitably some pretty substantial humanitarian requirements in terms of food, water, shelter, bedding, medical care and so on.
That activity is coordinated by the lead federal agency, FEMA . And so both the Department of Homeland Security, through FEMA, and the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, through NIFC, have responsibilities for humanitarian relief and ongoing firefighting initiatives.
This is what we're providing in the Department of Defense. About a hundred DOD employees, including active-duty military personnel and DOD civilian employees, are engaged in firefighting. We have 12 firefighting teams and their firefighting equipment, including 12 engines, actively engaged in firefighting responsibilities.
The firefighting teams are, for the most part, civilians. And as I said, there are 67 DOD employees involved.
There are 550 Marine Corps personnel at Camp Pendleton, California, who are preparing for possible deployment -- that's at the battalion level -- to be engaged in firefighting activities. They have not yet been deployed, but their commander is getting them ready for that potential responsibility. In addition, there are 17,301 National Guardsmen available in the state of California to assist in firefighting activities.
We have six MAFFS -- those are Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems -- placed as an insert within a C-130 -- en route to or having arrived in California. They're going to be based at Port Mugu. Of those six C-130 aircraft -- those are the tankers that you see in media coverage. Of those six tankers, two come out of the Air Force Reserve. They're out of Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. And four come out of the Air National Guard, two from Wyoming, two from North Carolina. We expect that they will all arrive in California by the end of the afternoon and will likely begin flying missions first thing tomorrow morning.
We have 11 DOD helicopters, all of the equipped with water buckets, ready to assist in fire suppression activities. Some of these airborne missions are limited by the high winds that are currently being experienced. But consistent with operational and safety requirements, these aerial platforms are available for service.
There are about 300,000 DOD personnel and dependents in the San Diego area. 1,400 Navy personnel and families have been evacuated to three U.S. Navy installations at Coronado, El Centro and San Diego. The Marines have evacuated, I'm told, approximately 40 aircraft from Miramar, again as a safety precaution. Local DOD installations have, under emergency assistance authority, provided approximately 10,000 cots to the local evacuation sites.
The Department of Defense was asked to provide a logistics staging area for FEMA. As we have routinely done in the past, we readily agreed. And the department has designated March Air Reserve Base as the primary FEMA logistics base, with North Island Naval Air Station as the backup for such staging. And as I indicated, tragically of the two fatalities, one was a DOD civilian who died at home in Potrero, California, as a result of the wildfire.
What I'm going to do at this point is turn to Lieutenant General Blum, who can talk in greater detail about National Guard engagement. So far, the greater number of military personnel who have been committed to the wildfire-fighting activities have come out of the National Guard. There are more than 1,500 National Guardsmen who have been brought to state active duty, a few in Title 32 but most in state active duty, under command and control of Governor Schwarzenegger, to provide a response. So at this point, Lieutenant General Blum.
GEN. BLUM: Thank you, Secretary McHale.
I think the secretary summed it up quite well. Frankly the Guard is leaning forward in this, closely coordinated at the state and national level with all of the DOD entities that have equities in response to a domestic event. Northern Command at Colorado Springs is very knowledgeable of everything that we have anticipated doing, and executed in advance, kind of anticipating the need before we were asked.
There's been probably the most proactive response to a domestic event that I have seen in my 40 years in uniform, and we continue to be flexible and agile to meet the needs of Governor Schwarzenegger and the citizens of California as they're ravaged by what is a very dangerous and unpredictable fire.
I think you covered the numbers there. If you want to break out the 1,500 soldiers, 1,100 are Army National Guard, about 400 are Air National Guard; people forget quite often that the Air National Guard has significant response capabilities, and in this particular case, they have the C-130 tankers that have the mobile airborne firefighting units, that we basically are an insert that slides up into the fuselage of the C-130, and it allows us to dispense that orange- colored flame retardant fire suppressant material or it can drop water in certain circumstances where flame retardant is deemed to be inappropriate or dangerous.
GEN. MCHALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the National Guard forces in state active duty status and in Title 32 that have been committed to the firefighting effort are all under the command and control of the governor of California. The Title 10 forces that have or will become engaged fall under the operational command and control of the combatant commander at NORTHCOM, General Gene Renuart, located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. And so we have a dual chain of command, where I cannot emphasize too strongly the close coordination, continuous coordination and very effective coordination, between the National Guard under General -- under Governor Schwarzenegger's command and control and the Title 10 forces that are or would be placed under NORTHCOM command and control.
Brigadier General Pete Aylward from the Joint Staff will talk about the Title 10 forces that have or may be committed under NORTHCOM command and control.
GEN. AYLWARD: Thank you, sir.
As Mr. McHale mentioned, General Renuart is -- (inaudible) -- is the combatant commander for this operation, and from previous questions, as we learned not just through Hurricane Katrina but other responses for the wide range of events that occur in General Renuart's area of responsibility, we have a standing to defend, support the civil authorities execute order. And that gives him the operational flexibility that he needs for the wide range of things that we anticipate within the first 48 to 96 hours of any operation like this.
And so what General Renuart has available to him right now is his forward liaison, his defense coordinating officer, and that's FEMA Region 9 in Pasadena with the Joint Field Office that's been established by the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA, co- located with the federal coordinating officer. We also have a defense coordinating officer at the National Interagency Firefighting Center, as Mr. McHale mentioned, and what they'll be responsible for is, as Mr. McHale highlighted, is that operational staging area and potential other missions to support the evacuation and the bedding down of evacuees at Qualcomm Stadium -- were provided cots, blankets and other support items along with that.
And it's through that Defense Coordinating Office, the Federal Coordinating Office, the mechanism that we get validated requests for assistance and satisfy those under the standing -- (inaudible) -- umbrella. And right now, we've satisfied every requirement that the federal partners have asked us for.
And with that, I'd open it up to any questions, if that's okay with you, sir.
MR. MCHALE: The only final comment that I would make as we move to questions is to let you know that late yesterday afternoon, we briefed the deputy secretary of Defense, Gordon England. And we indicated to Deputy Secretary England that, because of the nature of the fire, that although no requests for assistance had yet been received by the Department of Defense, that we believed it was inevitable that very significant requests for assistance would soon materialize.
At that point, the deputy secretary made it very clear to all of us who were in attendance that he expected us to be proactive, to aggressively anticipate the missions that might be assigned to the Department of Defense and to begin preparing rapidly for the receipt of those missions so that we could respond when needed without hesitation.
As a result of that and following a few other phone calls, I spoke with the chief of staff to the governor of California. Her name is Susan Kennedy. Had a very detailed discussion with regard to the needs of the state of California; those needs focused on bedding material, cots and so on, as well as the possibility of medical care at Qualcomm Center in San Diego. The expectation was that up to 10,000 evacuees would gather at that site. I believe Governor Schwarzenegger indicated during his press conference that 8,000 California citizens did move to that site. Last evening I spoke with Dave Paulison, the director of FEMA; he and I conferred with regard to coordination between the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA and the Department of Defense to ensure that we were mutually supporting in terms of the capabilities that we could provide. I know that Director Paulison thereafter called Susan Kennedy and spoke directly with her.
And then last evening, Secretary Chertoff convened a conference call in which the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, the Department of Interior, General Renuart, on behalf of NORTHCOM -- Lieutenant General Blum monitored that call and I actively participated in it -- again brought together the relevant federal agencies to ensure that we would act in unison in providing effective assistance to the citizens of California. And every indication so far is that California officials are very pleased by the speed and effectiveness of DOD's response capabilities.
With that as a conclusion, let me turn to you for questions.
Q Can we start with the active duty military force? What is the status of the Marines out at Twentynine Palms actually going to the firefighting lines? How many Marines are prepared to go? What's holding them up? What other active duty military units might be in line or being prepared to be sent to the fire lines? And is there any indication in the minds of any of the three of you that the commitment to the war in Iraq has either -- has in any way impacted manpower, personnel or equipment to be devoted to this? But, please, on the active duty side of it.
MR. MCHALE: I will turn to General Aylward and to Lieutenant General Blum to comment upon that.
I can tell you unequivocally that the ongoing warfighting activities in CENTCOM have had no negative effect at all with regard to our ability to provide sufficient forces to assist civilian authorities in fighting the wildfires. You made reference to the Marines at Twentynine Palms. We have 550 Marines -- basically, a Marine battalion -- prepared to fight fires if and when the National Interagency Fire Center indicates that their ground firefighting capabilities are required to assist in the effort. We have not received such a request.
We have a full-time liaison with NIFC. We are conferring continuously with that liaison. We are preparing that battalion for possible deployment. But at this point, NIFC has not indicated to us that they want us to deploy that battalion or need the assistance of those Marines. But we have, through Joint Forces Command, prepared a battalion for possible chop -- transfer to NORTHCOM so that they will be operationally deployed in actual firefighting activities. But that request has not been received by the Department of Defense, though we monitor it very closely.
There are over 17,000 National Guardsmen who are potentially available to fight the fires. Of the 17,000, only 1,500 National Guardsmen have so far been brought to active duty, either state active duty or Title 32. So there is no manpower shortage in terms of actual firefighting activities. And at this point, the requests to DOD had been for supporting activities such as aerial imagery, bedding, cots, medical capabilities, things of that sort.
Q General, do you see any additional -- just so we know -- active-duty forces, Army units, anybody else being prepared for this?
GEN. AYLWARD: At this point in time, ma'am, as Mr. McHale mentioned, the actions particularly associated with the Marines there are in anticipation of the exhaustion of state capabilities and other federal capabilities that would come from our interagency partners. The National Interagency Firefighting Center is responsible for that choreographing of all national-level fire assets to bring to bear to this problem.
And as a backup, when they exhaust those assets, would have those Marines in reserve, if you would. What's important about this -- there's certainly a safety consideration for the Marines that would be put on the fire line as there's a formal training program that they'd have to go through. And so for us to bring them on now is in anticipation of a request, perhaps later in the week, if for some reason the fire to be extended beyond a several-day period. And --
Q Are they being trained?
GEN. AYLWARD: Ma'am, that's the part of the alert notification and putting them on the status, is to have them trained in these firefighting tasks so if they're brought into the line, they would be prepared to perform the duties that they're needed to.
Q So does that mean in fact they are now being trained?
GEN. AYLWARD: Yes, ma'am. Okay.
GEN. BLUM: Barbara, just to put it in context for you, you have made a very good question, a very legitimate question to ask. The 3,000 soldiers that are not in California, that are deployed overseas today in the global war on terror, were carefully selected knowing that they would be away during the firefighting season. And we were very, very careful to not take capabilities away from the state of California that might be useful in fighting forest fires.
So we left, as Secretary McHale said, 17,000 plus another 300 on the soil of California to respond to Governor Schwarzenegger. We left the capabilities that we thought would be essential to fight firefightings available to him. And then we mitigated any shortages or any risk by mutual compacts between the states. Oregon/Nevada in particular are standing ready to come in with additional aviation -- rotary-wing, helicopter -- resources if they should be required.
We have pre-positioned as a training exercise yesterday, before we were asked, and anticipating that they may be needed; when the winds died down and the situation permitted, they might be useful. So we pre-positioned the firefighting aircraft from North Carolina and Wyoming that exists in the Air National Guard, and we put them in a close-by location in California, so then when and if they were needed, they would be immediately available.
So the short answer to your question is no, and the detailed answer we three gave you.
MR. MCHALE: If you were to talk to the state of California, I think they would tell you, in terms of humanitarian relief, what they needed more than anything else was cots. We contributed 10,000.
Operationally, what they needed were the tanker aircraft. We have six, and all six have now deployed to California.
Q Sir, Julian Barnes with the Los Angeles Times. Our bureau chief in San Diego reports that there are two military helicopters that are actively fighting the fires right now. You outlined more. Are those en route? Are they in position? Has there been any delay in getting military helicopters to -- in position to actually fight the fires?
MR. MCHALE: No. Local commanders have the authority to provide emergency relief independently of the normal requisition process, independently of the interagency coordination process, in an expedited manner, when lives are in jeopardy or property is threatened. And we have had at this point an undetermined number of prudent decisions made by local commanders to utilize their local resources, under emergency authority, to save lives and protect property. And some of our helicopters have been used for that purpose.
The report that has come to me is that a total of 11 helicopters -- National Guard, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps helicopters -- are currently supporting the aerial firefighting activities and that all 11 of those helicopters are equipped for the bucket delivery of flame retardant and that there was no delay at all in getting them moving.
Now, obviously, these are somewhat complex missions, and it takes a little bit of time to plan the mission and execute it in a safe manner. But consistent with those operational requirements and the safety of those involved, the helicopters move pretty quickly.
The MAFFS -- I'll just -- to share with you, very candidly, when we got the guidance from the deputy secretary of Defense yesterday to lean into the mission, to be very proactive and aggressive in anticipating the missions that might come our way, Lieutenant General Blum coordinated the training movement of four MAFFS in the Air National Guard from Wyoming and North Carolina to train by flying to California, so that when an operational mission would materialize, those training aircraft could quickly be converted into operational aircraft.
We have used our authorities under law, pushed those authorities to the limit, in order to enhance our readiness to respond.
Q What further requests do you anticipate?
MR. MCHALE: I anticipate there will be a continuing requirement for logistics support, perhaps some transportation requirements, perhaps additional requests for humanitarian relief with regard to the evacuees.
Most of our humanitarian assistance, I think, has now been delivered. They really needed cots. When I talked to Ms. Kennedy last night, Susan indicated that they had a severe need for bedding. A lot of people were removed from their homes by virtue of this threat and moved to shelters and had nowhere to sleep. And so the Department of Defense provided 10,000 cots to assist in providing for their care.
We have provided all of the MAFFS that we own. There are a total of eight. Two are down. But of the operational aircraft that we have, all six have now been committed to the wildfire fight in Southern California.
There is, of course, the possibility that that Marine battalion would actually be committed, and that will be dependent upon what happens with the wildfire over the next few days.
Q Did you -- have you opened the Mercy or is that available? Is there any need for -- to use that ship or to mobilize Navy docks in terms of medical attention for evacuees?
MR. MCHALE: We have not, unless General Aylward has something to --
GEN. AYLWARD: No, no, sir. The only thing we did do is put the sailors in the San Diego area on alert, so they could get back on the ships and actually move out to -- you know, to take the burden of logistics that they put on the San Diego system -- to provide some relief for that berth.
Q Do you think that there's a need for the Mercy? Could that be helpful in the situation?
MR. MCHALE: It would be very difficult for us to make that assessment from 3,000 miles away. We are very responsive to those who are on the scene, and although they have called for medical assistance, we have provided such medical assistance not involving the Mercy, not involving maritime medical capabilities, but we have provided medical personnel to assist civilian authorities.
And should additional requirements be presented to us, we'll assess what the right platform is to deliver those capabilities. But at this point, there's been no indication that the Mercy is required.
Q You said you've ordered sailors to move out of the barracks back onto ships, but they haven't done it yet. (Cross talk.)
GEN. AYLWARD: They were in the process of doing that when I came up here, sir. As Mr. McHale highlighted, really the request for assistance process is a formalized mechanism for us to validate them and then satisfy them from DOD. As Mr. McHale also mentioned, that local commanders under the immediate response authority can do things to save lives, prevent suffering and mitigate property damage.
We had a 1500 SVTS with our interagency partners this afternoon. And at that point in time, they felt that we had satisfied all the requirements. We have a follow-on SVTS at 1800, where we'll have the insights to provide any additional requirements we may have. We'd like to ask our interagency partners not to ask for a specific platform like the USS Hope but rather to find a requirement, and we'll match it with a capability. We may actually have something in the inventory that can better satisfy that requirement in a faster, more efficient manner than asking for a very specific platform.
MR. MCHALE: As I indicated earlier, 1,400 Navy personnel have either been evacuated or are in the course of being evacuated. And I know yesterday for residents of certain areas of Camp Pendleton, a caution was given that they should be prepared for a rapid evacuation, depending upon the course of the fire.
Q But the 1,400 that have been evacuated are different from the sailors that are moving aboard ship, aren't they?
GEN. AYLWARD: Sir, I believe so.
Q Just a quick follow-up on the sailors -- we had been given guidance earlier that there were four vessels that were supposed to put out to sea today, and sailors were told to go back to their families should they need to assist with evacuation. Is that what you're talking about, that they are now being told, return to their ships.
GEN. AYLWARD: That's what I was informed this morning, yes, sir.
Q Okay, and the question I was going to --
MR. MCHALE: The most recent information I have -- we're going to have to get clarity on this -- is that one Aegis cruiser, one guided missile destroyer and two fast frigates are remaining in port to support evacuation and movement of dependents. In other words, what has happened is, some naval personnel and their dependents have been pulled out of onshore housing and have been placed aboard ship for a variety of reasons, to include the possibility that that housing would be used for evacuees.
Q You've all mentioned, today, proactivity, that this is the most proactive effort that you've seen since you've all been here. Is that a lesson learned from Katrina?
MR. MCHALE: It's a repetition of what this department did during Katrina. Deputy Secretary England, in that case as well, early on, gave us marching orders to be prepared for missions that had not yet come our way. He cautioned us during Katrina not to be complacent. He provided stern guidance that we were to take every reasonable and lawful step to get ready for missions that might not materialize but, should they materialize, would enable us to respond promptly.
Yesterday, when we went to the deputy, we covered issues that he had visited before. And with the same spirit of engagement and aggressive preparation, he gave guidance that we were to move out smartly, and we did. And the example of the MAFFS is just one of many that I could give to you. We began preparing DOD forces and resources for mission requirements that in all probability will not be assigned to us. But in the event that FEMA needs help, we intend to be ready.
Any other questions? Yes, sir?
GEN. BLUM: (Off mike) -- that we have had the opportunity to be on conference calls with the interagency and the intergovernmental partners at the state and federal level, and to see the degree that all agencies and all levels of government are working together in a unity of effort right now, trying to anticipate the needs and plan for what if and what next is quite refreshing as an American citizen, as a taxpayer, notwithstanding the fact that I'm a military leader.
MR. MCHALE: It's very clear that throughout the interagency, no one is waiting to be asked; everyone is leaning forward.
Q Could you compare the level of cooperation that you have now with this fire with the 2003 Cedar Fire? Were there any sort of lessons learned from that that you've -- from that fire in Southern California that you've applied to this situation?
MR. MCHALE: In terms of DOD engagement, this is a more severe challenge and presents a greater likelihood that a large number of DOD personnel would be actively employed in the firefighting.
We took many precautionary measures during the earlier occurrence, but for the most part civilian firefighting capabilities proved to be satisfactory in regaining control of the situation. In this case, we have all six of our available MAFFS committed to the fire fight. We have a battalion of Marines on alert. We provided 10,000 cots to assist in the sheltering, more than 300,000 evacuees. This is a more substantial commitment, and it's not over. We are prepared for an even greater level of DOD commitment if that proves to be necessary in our commitment to assist civilian firefighting capabilities.
Q What is it about the fire that is different that warrants or necessitates a greater DOD --
GEN. MCHALE: I'm not the person to ask. I mean, I could give you a layman's assessment just in terms of how large it is, where it's located, number of evacuees, but I think state officials could probably give you a better on-the-ground assessment of why these requirements, including DOD requirements, are necessary.
Q So it's based entirely on requests from the state -- (off mike)?
GEN. MCHALE: All of the aid that we provide is the result of a request from the states, from the state. However, we have been very proactive in independently preparing those capabilities for the possibility of such a request, and we have reached out early to state officials, such as my phone call to Susan Kennedy last night, to proactively inquire what do you need and how can we help.
So while we are responding to state requests, we are hardly passive in that process.
Q Are you more proactive now than in 2003?
GEN. MCHALE: Yes. I think -- in responding to Hurricane Katrina, our department was forward leading, and I think the after-action reviews indicated that there was no complacency within the Department of Defense. And our response to Katrina was the largest, fastest, civil support mission in the history of the United States. Nonetheless, one of the lessons that we as a nation learned is that in a crisis you don't wait to be asked. You lean forward, you prepare your capabilities, and you ask very pointedly how can I help. And that's a different mindset; it's a sense of urgency, and that was the direction given to us by the deputy secretary of Defense.
Q (Off mike) -- given that the next few days is unclear what will happen, but DOD's prepared. But could you kind of characterize generally what the trend line of the DOD contribution you think will be over the next week?
I mean, do you see it really going up? Do you see it about where it is? You know, how do you characterize that?
MR. MCHALE: I think the preparation, as General Aylward indicated, will be ongoing in terms of readiness of forces that might be committed. We will continue to identify contingency capabilities that may be required by the state of California. We will be in daily contact with those on the ground to anticipate what those requirements might be. But my belief is that at this point we have probably identified 90 percent of the capabilities that DOD might be required to provide in support of civilian firefighting efforts.
That isn't to say that the situation couldn't worsen and that the level of our commitment might not rise. It could. But I think at this point, barring a really extraordinary turn of events, we have pretty well anticipated the kinds of resources, the magnitude of resources that might be committed, and we are preparing those resources right now for possible deployment.
What you would see is not -- what you would see is not so much a dramatic change in terms of the resources, but perhaps an increased commitment of those resources to the actual firefight.
Let me turn to these officers and see if they have a comment on that.
GEN. BLUM: Well, I think you're exactly right, Mr. Secretary. And to your point, the fire gets a vote in this, just like on the battlefield the enemy has a great deal to do with what we do. Just like the enemy doesn't follow our plan, the fire doesn't either. So our response level, obviously, will be directly a result of closely watching the civilian capability to deal with what they're facing. And then if -- we will anticipate their needs.
We talk to them about every four hours. We don't try to badger them to death, but we let them know that if we have it, if it's in our inventory, they -- it's available to them. We also help coach them so that they know what types of capabilities we may be able to bring to them so they don't have to imagine or to have that kind of knowledge. We can do this and this and this and this. If you find it useful, send a request in and we'll attempt to help you.
This is, frankly, extraordinary. In that type of communication, in that type of conferring with and deferring to the local expertise -- the local expertise that knows clearly the difference between the Cedar Roots fire and this, and they clearly understand the lessons they learned the hard way from those and they're applying them quite well to this.
But every fire is different, and we will deal with this fire as we're asked to by the experts at firefighting and those who have to -- are held responsible for saving lives and reducing suffering of the citizens. So whatever it takes to deal with this fire and its aftermath, we're prepared to stand with the citizens of California and the governor to provide that.
So I mean, that -- to me, that's about as good as it can get with the conditions that we control.
Q General Blum, obviously the National Guard has a lot of things to train for right now -- the Iraq mission, as well as things like firefighting. How strong do you think -- how much training in firefighting have the California Guard received in recent years? Do you feel this training is strong enough at this point?
GEN. BLUM: Well, those that have -- in the contingency mission to fight fires have received the training. That is not what's going on. The 1,100 National Guardsmen are not on the fire line right now. They are doing tasks that the civilian firefighters need them to do to free up firefighters, just as we were doing on the Border Patrol for the southwest border.
I might add, about 600 of those soldiers that were on the San Diego portion of the border have obviously been withdrawn to take them out of harm's way and to apply the military skills to something more pressing right now, which is the survival of that region and the people that live there that are affected by the fire. So 600 of these soldiers are in fact the same exact citizen soldiers from all over the country that were down there supporting the Border Patrol and will apply their military skills for this particular situation as long as it's required, and then they'll go back to doing Operation Jump Start when it is safe enough to resume their positions.
STAFF: Thank you much, folks.
MR. MCHALE: Thank you.
GEN. BLUM: Thanks.
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