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DoD News Briefing with Rear Admiral Romano from the Pentagon

Presenters: Pentagon U.S. European Command Director of Logistics and Security Assistance, Rear Admiral Steven Romano
August 15, 2008
         COL. JOHN DORRIAN (spokesman, U.S. European Command): This is Colonel John Dorrian, calling from U.S. European Command. I want to thank you all for joining us today.  
 
         I have with me here today U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Steven J. Romano. He is here to discuss the U.S. military role in providing logistical support and humanitarian assistance that is being taken into Georgia. Admiral Romano is U.S. European Command's director of Logistics and Security Assistance.  
 
         Rear Admiral Romano is overseeing EUCOM's efforts to move humanitarian relief supplies into Georgia. Prior to his assignment at EUCOM, the admiral worked at the Pentagon, at the Joint Chiefs of Staff National Military Command Center, where he helped coordinate the Department of Defense's logistical efforts -- (inaudible) -- after the Pakistan earthquake and Hurricane Katrina.  
 
         European Command has component commands here in Europe, whose subordinate forces from the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are stationed in Europe ready to accomplish missions such as providing logistical support to move humanitarian aid supplies into Georgia. Today's interview with Admiral Romano will focus on the logistical support we're providing at the request of the government of Georgia and the U.S. ambassador.
 
         We'll start with a brief statement from Admiral Romano and then we'll take questions at the end of his statement. I ask the guests to be courteous to one another and mute their phones when not speaking, and limit questions to today's subject.
 
         COL. DORRIAN: Without further ado, this is Rear Admiral Steven J. Romano.
 
         ADM. ROMANO: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. As you can imagine, we've had a busy week here at EUCOM, and I wanted to take a few minutes to share some facts and figures on how EUCOM has supported the State Department USAID's humanitarian efforts in Georgia.
 
         The Department of State is the lead federal agency for these foreign humanitarian relief operations, and the Department of Defense is supporting State's efforts. Commander U.S. European Command is the overall commander of U.S. military's efforts, with U.S. Army Europe as the execution lead, with significant support from U.S. Air Forces Europe and U.S. European Command's other service components.
 
         To date, we've flown 86 short tons of supplies on two C-17s and two C-130 aircraft from Ramstein Air Base to Germany into Tbilisi. The supplies include level of care supplies to relieve suffering, such as cots, sleeping bags, blankets, sheets, and over 1,200 pounds of antibiotics. We have established a sustainment air bridge of critically needed relief supplies into Tbilisi.
 
             We are coordinating closely with the Department of State, USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, to identify critical relief supplies in support of our mission. We have established a forward element in Tbilisi, which is coordinating for onward movement with U.S. embassy, USAID, government of Georgia, assistance into Tbilisi. The State Department can provide you more details on which NGOs are assisting with distribution.  
 
         In addition to the relief supplies mentioned, we've also provided such assets as bandages, splints, field exam tables and other medical supplies. These State Department supplies, stored at U.S. Army Assistance Program Warehouse in Pirmasens, Germany, near Ramstein Air Base, are being moved to the air base, where they are loaded on air craft and flown to Tbilisi.  
 
         We wouldn't be able to get these supplies to the people of Georgia without the incredible level of partnership and cooperation between State Department, USAID and the Department of Defense. Everyone has done a great job in pulling together to help the people of Georgia, and we look forward to continuing to do our part to support these efforts.
 
         COL. DORRIAN: Ladies and gentlemen, this is Lieutenant Colonel Dorrian from EUCOM.  
 
         Again, please keep your phones on mute unless you're speaking. What I'd like to do now is to call on each of the folks that we have as having RSVPed, so that we can take questions in kind of an orderly fashion. And we want to make sure you know that everybody isn't talking at once. So without further ado, I have notes here. NBC News, are you on the line?
 
         Q     Yes, we are. This is Andy Eckhart 
 
         COL. DORRIAN: Okay, Andy, go ahead.
 
         Q     Admiral, the question I would have is, is this anything out of the ordinary for you, this mission that you're conducting right now? And do you expect more aid to be flowing into Tbilisi, into Georgia?
 
         ADM. ROMANO: Here at EUCOM, we are focused on the crisis, and we're focused on delivering relief supplies to the people of Georgia in the most expeditious manner possible, both delivering supplies from Germany and coordinating follow-on relief supplies from the United States, in what I would characterize as a sustained effort to have a consistent flow of material into the country of Georgia.
 
             COL. DORRIAN: Okay. Associated Press?
 
         Q     Hi, sir. Matt Moore from Berlin. In terms of the aid that's being sent out, any -- I know -- I know that once you guys get it ferried to the airport in Tbilisi -- has there been any sort of concern, what with the wobbly cease-fire and, of course, the level of rhetoric that's been taking root today in Moscow as well as across the rest of Europe about bringing some of this aid in through -- via the Black Sea? In other words, is this going just to be solely an air bridge, or is this going to be expanded at all to an air and sea bridge?
 
         ADM. ROMANO: Sir, currently we are working other delivery options, which might include ferrying relief supplies across the Black Sea into Georgian ports, as well as potentially moving relief supplies through the strait into the Black Sea from the Mediterranean.
 
         Q     Thank you, sir.
 
         COL. DORRIAN: Okay, Stars and Stripes?
 
         Q     Can you hear us from here?
 
         ADM. ROMANO: Yeah, give it a shot.
 
         Q     This is Lisa Burgess, at the Pentagon. Can you talk about why -- the types of supplies you're bringing, with sleeping bags and the bandages? There's no food aid coming in. That is not something that you assess is being needed at this point? And who is providing the medical care for these people?
 
         ADM. ROMANO: Okay. Ma'am, with regard to food supplies, the World Food Program is assisting the government of Georgia to deliver food to the effected people. The Department of Defense is standing by to process and coordinate requests for food. And we have a capability to do so and are standing by and prepared to move humanitarian – daily rations or other food commodities as requested by USAID in coordination with the World Food Program.
 
         In terms of the medical question, the government of Georgia has only asked for medical supplies. And as a result, we have made the commitment to flow critical medical supplies to help the folks that have been hurt. Q May I ask why so many antibiotics?
 
         ADM. ROMANO: Initially, ma'am, we got a request for antibiotics, some 1,201 pounds worth, as a result of a request made that those items be pushed forward immediately following the combat. Over.
 
             COL. DORRIAN: Okay. Pentagon Channel.  
 
         Okay. Reuters.  
 
         Q     (Off mike) -- types of planes that have landed so far in Tbilisi, because I missed that at the beginning.  
 
         And my other question is, are you satisfied that you can get all you need to get into Georgia, as quickly as you need to get it? And perhaps you could discuss some of the problems, logistical or otherwise, that you've had in getting the supplies through.  
 
         ADM. ROMANO: Yes, sir.  
 
         To date, we've flow two C-17s and two C-130 aircraft, delivering relief supplies to Tbilisi. And I might comment that the C-17 aircraft was on the ground in Tbilisi within less than 96 hours from the beginning of the crisis. And that required a significant coordinated effort with our components, USAID and Department of State. 
 
         From now throughout the weeks, we have airlift missions scheduled for sustainment into Tbilisi; on average, two C-130 aircraft per day. And we continue to work with U.S. Embassy and USAID to facilitate distribution, once this arrives at the airfield in Tbilisi. So we believe we have adequate capacity and relief supplies, to continue to sustain this effort in the weeks to come. Over.  
 
         Q     Are there any specific problems that you've had, whether in transporting the supplies or at Tbilisi Airport or in Georgia?  
 
         ADM. ROMANO: Sir, we've been very fortunate that the warehouse, that we've been pulling these relief supplies from, is co-located, vicinity of Ramstein Air Base. And this is a State Department supply stored at an Army warehouse. And so that's been able to give us efficiency, in terms of pulling the material from the shelves and then getting them to the aircraft within hours.  
 
         Once arriving in Tbilisi and using crisis coordinators on the ground, we've been able to move those products in an effective manner, off the airfield and then on to warehouses in the vicinity of Tbilisi. 
 
        So right now we haven't experienced any significant problems, and we expect to continue this sustained flow in the weeks to come.
 
         Q     Thank you.
 
         COL. DORRIAN: Okay. AFP's Jim Mannion.
 
         Q     This is Jim Mannion. I know that the assessment team has only been on the ground for about 24 hours, but I wonder if you could talk about what the scope of the requirements is going to be in the weeks ahead in terms of what the Georgians' needs are. And also if you could be more -- a little bit more specific about the supplies that are going to be brought in from the Mediterranean, I think you said. Will that be on pre-positioned ships or on U.S. naval vessels, if you could provide some details there? Thank you.
 
         ADM. ROMANO: Yes, sir. With regard to the scope of the operation, we anticipate that the scope of the operation in terms of the need will grow, and Open Press is reporting that, as well as the indications that we're getting from the government of Georgia and USAID and embassy personnel on the ground. As the result of that, we are flexing the -- our capability to provide additional relief supplies and to increase airlift using strategic airlift and United States strategic -- United States Transportation Command aircraft. 
 
         So we expect the scope to increase. We expect the need to grow, and we are positioning and planning to respond to that growth using strategic airlift and increased capacity with respect to relief supplies. In terms of naval forces, the naval forces in our naval component are planning currently to deliver relief supplies via the maritime domain, as well as an option to use pre-positioned assets in the Mediterranean.
 
         COL. DORRIAN: Okay, Air Force Times, Mike Hoffman.
 
         Q     Hello, Admiral. How are you? This is Mike Hoffman.  
 
         My question to you, sir, is, why the choice to switch from the C- 17s to the C-130s? And I would -- also wanted to ask if there were any -- and this might have been asked already, but have there been -- there's been reports that there's been problems getting some of these emergency supplies throughout Georgia. What are you guys doing to improve that? 
ADM. ROMANO: All right, with regard to the question on the C- 17s, a decision was made to use the C-17 aircraft because of its capacity and its speed, to facilitate the immediate delivery of critical supplies within the first -- within 96 hours of the crisis.
 
             Q     Okay.
 
         ADM. ROMANO: That aircraft gave us the ability to get in, principally, faster than the C-130. And then the decision was made to use the C-130s to sustain the capability over time.
 
         In terms of distribution within the country, USAID and U.S. embassy personnel are assessing working with the government of Georgia, assessing capabilities and capacity within the country and are providing us their feedback, and assess as we move through this crisis. As we learn of requirements passed to us by USAID, we continue to develop solutions to get those needed relief supplies to the country and then working with the government and USAID to get them distributed. Over.
 
         Q     The supplies that are going to be flown over, are they going to change from, you know, medical supplies and mostly bedding to, you know -- I'm just wondering what -- how this is going to change over the next couple weeks.
 
         ADM. ROMANO: We currently, sir, have a plan to move tents in, as it was identified as a requirement. And we're working for a transportation solution to bring in shelter tents. And we are -- we are in receipt of USAID's prioritization list, which includes -- principally, priority one is personal hygiene kits, and then prepackaged rations, cots, bedding and blankets and then tents and mobile kitchens. So we're getting feedback in terms of prioritization and we're working to get those priority items to the country as quick as we can.
 
         Q     My last question, sir, is who's providing the protection for this air bridge? Is it Georgians or are there going to be security forces, personnel from the Air Force stationed in Tbilisi? Who's really protecting these flights?
 
         ADM. ROMANO: Yes, sir. I'll have to -- I'll have to get back with you on that. I don't have total visibility, but we'll take that for the record and get back to you in terms of how those relief supplies are being protected.
 
         Q     I'm mostly really worried about, you know, the aircraft. They're flying in, you know, flying out. Who's providing, you know, the overwatch for these C-130s? 
 
ADM. ROMANO: Sir, the commercial airport at Tbilisi is open and several nations have aircraft flying in. And we've been told that the Russians have agreed -- have agreed to allow airlift to pass and to allow the humanitarian mission to continue.
 
         COL. DORRIAN: Okay. Washington Times. Kelly Hearn.
 
         Q     My question has been addressed. Thank you.
 
         COL. DORRIAN: Okay. Excellent. Do we have someone from CNN? Okay, nothing heard. Oh, go ahead? Nothing heard.  
 
         I understand the Pentagon press corps has a number of people standing by. I don't have a detailed list of who's there, but we're ready to take a couple more questions here.
 
         Q    Kimberly Dozier from CBS. I wanted to ask if you could shed some light on the role that the military advisers and other folks on the ground are playing to help you hand out some of this aid or unload it at the airport. Are the folks already prepositioned there, who had other jobs before this conflict, are they taking an active role in this effort?
 
         ADM. ROMANO: Ma'am, as I understand, the U.S. embassy and the U.S. military personnel there are helping with assessments. They're also helping offload relief supplies at the airfield as well as helping get those relief supplies to the government of Georgia.
 
         Q     Helping with the assessments; does that mean going with this dozen or so people who are going into some parts of the country and figuring out what's needed where?
 
         ADM. ROMANO: Yes, ma'am. The U.S. military are in support of USAID's lead effort to assist them with observing and assessing the needs throughout the Tbilisi area. Over.
 
         Q     Throughout Tbilisi, does that mean outside Tbilisi at all? Do you know whether they go on north to Gori or, you know, how far outside the capital?
 
         ADM. ROMANO: Yes, ma'am, I don't have visibility of that, and again I'll have to get -- I'll have to get back to you.  
 
         COL. DORRIAN: Okay, next question? Press corps? Q     Yes. Sir, how many folks all told -- in Germany, EUCOM, in Georgia -- are involved in this exercise?
 
         ADM. ROMANO: Sir, I would characterize the number in the hundreds in terms of all the components. It may be more than that, but hundreds.
 
         COL. DORRIAN: Okay. You know what? 
 
        We probably have time for one more question.
 
         Q     What is the name of that warehouse you were talking about, the German warehouse, the State Department --
 
         ADM. ROMANO: Yes, ma'am. Let me get back to my notes here and -- yes, ma'am, the name is -- it's the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Europe -- USAMMCE -- Humanitarian Assistance Program Warehouse. And it's in Pirmasens, Germany, and I'll say it again: the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Europe's Humanitarian Assistance Program Warehouse.
 
         And I'd like to make another comment, if I could. As a logistician, probably one of the most important aspects of the initial mission was to reassure our government -- our Georgian partners of our commitment to assisting them in their -- in this time of need. And the Georgians have witnessed us deliver these materials at the airport and said seeing the first C-17 arrive was an impressive sight, and they were greeted with cheers and a visible sense of relief.
 
         And we appreciate the fact that we are helping the Georgians. That's our mission, and we intend to continue this sustained operation over the coming weeks.
 
         COL. DORRIAN: Okay, everybody. This is Lieutenant Colonel Dorrian. I want to thank everybody for signing in. The admiral has to go, but if you have any follow-up question, I guess we owe you an answer as to, you know, where the military assessment teams are traveling throughout the country. And if there's anything else, let me know what that is, and we'll try to get answers for those questions as well.
 
         Q     Could I ask a real quick question before we go? This is Mike Hoffman -- (off mike).
 
         ADM. ROMANO: Sure. Go. Go ahead.
 
         Q     I was just wondering if there are any plans of flying into any other cities other than Tbilisi with this aid.
 
         ADM. ROMANO: We'll have to get back to you on that one as well. We don't have any plans right now for anything except Tbilisi. Q     Okay.
 
         ADM. ROMANO: Okay. Thanks very much, everyone. I really appreciate your tuning in. And as more information becomes available and -- we'll most certainly try to stay in touch. Please don't hesitate to give us a call at EUCOM, and thanks again.   
 
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