PACOM Commander to Visit Tsunami-Stricken Region
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2005 The top U.S. officer in the Pacific region said today he'd soon visit regions in Asia devastated by the Dec. 26 tsunami.
Navy Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told reporters at headquarters in Honolulu that he'd be leaving Jan. 14 for the region.
Fargo noted that the international community, including the United States, has shown "great compassion" in providing funds and other assistance for victims of the disaster that affected people in Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and other areas. President Bush pledged $350 million in disaster relief funds.
The admiral noted that U.S. servicemen and women are "greatly honored and proud" to participate in the relief efforts on behalf of the American people. Relief efforts to date have met with "considerable" success, Fargo noted. Yet, he said, "more needs to be done."
The task of coordinating relief assistance remains a challenge, the admiral observed.
"We've worked hard to find imaginative and effective ways to blend" and distribute relief assistance from donors, Fargo pointed out. Besides military- provided help, he noted, disaster relief is also being provided by numerous nongovernmental organizations. It's "readily evident," he emphasized, "what a superb job that they're all doing."
Fargo thanked host nations Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia "for the clear priorities they've provided to the combined support forces." Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Robert R. Blackman Jr. is commanding Combined Support Force 536 with headquarters in Utapao, Thailand.
The admiral noted much U.S.-provided assistance to tsunami victims so far has been provided via ships with aircraft dispatched to the stricken region. This, he said, has resulted in not creating "an unnecessarily large group of U.S. military personnel ashore" by operating from a sea base.
The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, he said, "continue relief efforts to the west coast of Sumatra, which was the hardest-hit area of Indonesia."
And, he noted, the amphibious transport USS Duluth has now arrived off the coast of Sri Lanka to provide aid. The Duluth, Fargo said, will be "incorporating additional helicopter, medical and engineering capability, based on the direction of the Sri Lankan government." Also, he said, the hospital ship USNS Mercy arrived in Honolulu en route to the stricken region.
U.S. military support to the disaster areas, Fargo said, will last "as long as required to meet the immediate relief needs that military forces uniquely provide."
As civilian agencies' relief capability and capacity grow, "we'll reduce our presence appropriately," Fargo said, based on the requirements of host nations and lead relief organizations."
Fargo also said the Navy's "hearts and prayers and sympathy" go to the sailors and families affected by the USS San Francisco submarine incident Jan. 7. The Los Angeles-class attack vessel struck an undersea mound as it was traveling submerged about 350 miles southeast of Guam. The admiral declined to comment on the incident, noting that facts are still being gathered. One sailor was killed and 23 others were injured.