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Defense Department Briefing on Ongoing National Guard Response to Hurricane Katrina

Presenters: Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief, National Guard Bureau
September 03, 2005

Defense Department Briefing on Ongoing National Guard Response to Hurricane Katrina

GEN. BLUM:  Good morning gentlemen.  I just got back late last evening from New Orleans and the stricken areas in Mississippi along the Gulf Coast, and if you want I’ll give you a quick assessment of what we’ve seen--Dramatic changes in the last 36 hours.  The security situation in New Orleans continues to improve. The most contentious issues were lawlessness in the streets, and particularly a potentially very dangerous volatile situation in the convention center where tens of thousands of people literally occupied that on their own. We had people that were evacuated from hotels, and tourists that were lumped together with some street thugs and some gang members that -- it was a potentially very dangerous situation.

 

            We waited until we had enough force in place to do an overwhelming force. Went in with police powers, 1,000 National Guard military policemen under the command and control of the adjutant general of the State of Louisiana, Major General Landreneau, yesterday shortly after noon stormed the convention center, for lack of a better term, and there was absolutely no opposition, complete cooperation, and we attribute that to an excellent plan, superbly executed with great military precision. It was rather complex. It was executed absolutely flawlessly in that there was no violent resistance, no one injured, no one shot, even though there were stabbed, even though there were weapons in the area. There were no soldiers injured and we did not have to fire a shot.

 

            Some people asked why didn't we go in sooner. Had we gone in with less force it may have been challenged, innocents may have been caught in a fight between the Guard military police and those who did not want to be processed or apprehended, and we would put innocents' lives at risk. As soon as we could mass the appropriate force, which we flew in from all over the states at the rate of 1,400 a day, they were immediately moved off the tail gates of C-130 aircraft flown by the Air National Guard, moved right to the scene, briefed, rehearsed, and then they went in and took this convention center down.

 

            Those that were undesirable to re-enter the convention center were segregated from the people that we wanted to provide water, shelter and food. Those people were processed to make sure they had no weapons, no illicit dugs, no alcohol, no contraband, and then they were escorted back into the building. Now there's a controlled safe and secure environment and a shelter and a haven as they await movement out of that center for onward integration to their normal lives.

 

            It's a great success story -- a terrific success story.

 

Q: Yesterday afternoon?

 

GEN. BLUM: This was yesterday afternoon, actually during the president's visit, while the president was watching the reconstruction of the levies, the sling load bags of gravel and sand that were being flown by the Texas National Guard UH-60 helicopters were ferrying in bags of sand, about 8,000 pounds each, 7,500 pounds each, slung load under a UH-60 Black Hawk, plugging that football field sized gap in the flood wall that has to be repaired before we can begin the job of draining the city.

 

            It's amazing to watch all of this going on simultaneously, At the same time during the same period several hundred rescues continued to occur, finding people and bringing them out of their attics or bringing them out of the second story or off the roof tops, saving lives. Some people have said the golden window is closed, we’ve missed our opportunity. As long as there are people that are still stranded and in want of evacuation, we will continue the evacuation process.

 

            We claim 2,000 evacuations by Army Guard helicopters this week, which is significant. Each one of those represents lives saved. That is enormous.

 

            So there are lots of good things going on. There is plenty of work to be done. I've only just talked about New Orleans. The same could be said all across the region. Each hour the situation improves for those we know about. There are others, I'm sure, that think that each hour their situation gets more grave because we haven't found them yet, and we haven't begun to provide any lifesaving support or subsistence to them.

 

            But I am convinced that we will continue to do this and save lives.

 

            A great task lies ahead of us, so at the request of the governors of Mississippi and Louisiana, 40 other Governors have sent their National Guard soldiers and airmen to the aid through emergency mutual assistance compacts that each governor has with every other governor in the country. They're flowing their National Guard forces in to do security work, support to civilian law enforcement, providing food, water, medicine, shelter, transportation, vital communications, and all of the other emergency support functions in support, in support of -- not as the lead agency but in support of the lead agency -- which happens to be FEMA, the lead federal agency.

 

            Martial law has not been declared anywhere in the United States of America. That keeps continually being erroneously reported. An emergency condition exists in parts of the states and there are curfews that are being enforced by the existing civilian law enforcement agencies. The Army National Guard, having police powers given to them or provided to them by the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi, are augmenting, expanding, giving manpower and extra capabilities to these existing police forces. They're actually acting almost as a deputy would. They're deputized, essentially, by the governors of the states to use their state militias for this purpose.

 

            There are separate agreements, because the EMAC compact does not allow law enforcement support within the states. So there is a separate agreement between the governor of Mississippi and the states that sent their military policemen down there or their National Guard down there to do, for the purpose of military police work or law enforcement. These are legally binding, legally sufficient agreements that must be in place before we put National Guard military police law enforcement officers in that role out of their home state.

 

Q: Is that why it wasn't done earlier? They didn't have those agreements in place?

 

GEN. BLUM: It was not foreseen. When they put the original EMAC together it was really for disaster response. Law enforcement was not envisioned. So it has to be handled as a separate process. The governors may get together and modify their EMAC in the future so that it is all-inclusive, but this fills that gap and it makes the activity of the National Guard in this regard totally legally sufficient and supportable.

 

Q: Does that explain why it took several days to get to this point?

 

GEN. BLUM: No, there was no delay. The fortunate thing is with modern technology they faxed the agreement back and forth, the two governors signed it. It was a matter of moments. That was not the delay.

 

            The delay was in, if you want to call it a delay. I really don't call it a delay, I'll be honest about that. When we first went in there law enforcement was not the highest priority, saving lives was. You have to remember how this thing started. Before the hurricane hit there were 5,000 National Guardsmen in Mississippi and 5,000 National Guardsmen -- excuse me. Let me correct the record. There were 2,500 National Guardsmen in Mississippi and almost 4,000 National Guardsmen in Louisiana that were sheltered and taken out of the affected area so as soon as the storm passed they could immediately go into the area and start their search and lifesaving work, and stand up their command and control apparatus, and start standing up the vital functions that would be required such as providing food, water, shelter and security for the people of the town. So it was phased in. There was no delay.

 

            The real issue, particularly in New Orleans, is that no one anticipated the disintegration or the erosion of the civilian police force in New Orleans. Once that assessment was made, that the normal 1500 man police force in New Orleans was substantially degraded, which contributed obviously to less police presence and less police capability, then the requirement became obvious and that's when we started flowing military police into the theater.

 

            Two days ago we flowed 1400 military policemen in. Yesterday, 1400 more. Today 1400 more. Today there are 7,000 citizen soldiers -- Army National Guard, badge-carrying military policemen and other soldiers trained in support to civil law enforcement -- that are on the streets, available to the mayor, provided by the governor to the mayor to assist the New Orleans police department.

 

            I am absolutely confident that the security situation as it has improved in the last 24 hours will improve two-fold in the next 24 hours, and soon it won't be an issue at all.

 

            Will something ever go wrong in New Orleans? Sure. Things went wrong in New Orleans and every other populated area around in our country and around the world every day. But I think you'll see a return to normal levels very soon, perhaps in the next 24 hours.

 

Q: General, you mentioned a disintegration of the New Orleans Police Department. Do you know how many officers are still on duty?

 

GEN. BLUM: I would rather not say. I think you'd be better to refer that question to the mayor of New Orleans. I have my own estimate. I would say they are significantly degraded and they have less than one-third of their original capability.

 

Q: So is it fair to say it is the National Guard that's keeping law and order in New Orleans?

 

GEN. BLUM: No. As long as there's one uniformed police officer in the city of New Orleans, we will send as many National Guard soldiers to augment, support and work in support of that lone law enforcement officer as necessary. So if hypothetically there's only one left, who's in charge? It's still that lone police officer supported by the National Guard in their role as military support to law enforcement.

 

            We are not in the lead. We have no need nor intention of imposing martial law or having the military police the United States of America.

 

Q: What happened to the other police, general?

 

GEN. BLUM: Again, that can be best addressed, but what was told to me by the Mayor day before yesterday is many of them lost their homes, many of them lost ability to get to the precinct, many of them who did show up found what they were dealing with so overwhelming and dangerous or threatening to them as an individual that they made the personal decision to not risk their life until the situation made more sense to them. That was an individual decision, it was not the police chief's decision or the mayor's decision. I think that the mayor and police chief are working right now to reconstitute the New Orleans Police Department, but that question would much better be addressed to them for detail.

 

Q: General, two quick questions. One is, initially you said eventually there would be upwards of 30,000 National Guard troops in the affected states. Is that number still good, or will it go higher?

 

GEN. BLUM: Jamie, we’re so close to 30,000 right now that you could say 30,000.

 

Q: Is it going to go higher than that?

 

GEN. BLUM: Yes, it is.

 

Q: Any idea?

 

GEN. BLUM: My estimate is it's probably going to go to 40,000 to do all of the multiple tasks that need to be done simultaneously in Louisiana and Mississippi. This is a huge operation. It's a size about the size of Pennsylvania. We can't just focus on Philadelphia or Philadelphia and three counties. We have to take a holistic approach at the whole huge region there. It's a dynamic situation. It's not staying static for us. The topography is not staying static, the hydrography (sic) or the water level isn't staying static for us; the population is not staying static. It's migrating and moving around.  There are literally tens of thousands of people who left New Orleans, rightfully so.

 

            And I want to say this. I think a big part of this story that's been missed is well over a million people evacuated New Orleans. Had someone not had the foresight -- there's been a lot of criticism of planning, and who did what and who didn't do what. Someone saw the storm coming. Somebody made the call early enough to get over a million people out of that city which is a magnificent and significant achievement that seems to be totally overlooked.

 

            Imagine the conditions we're talking about now with any part of that million still in the city.

 

Q: Just a point of clarification. So you think it will probably go to about 40,000 between Louisiana and Mississippi.

 

GEN. BLUM: Yes, I do.

 

Q: And it's about 30,000 now?

 

GEN. BLUM: It is -- today, it's 27,000 as of 6:30 this morning. I expect to flow about 3,500 more troops into Louisiana today, about 2,500 additional National Guard troops -- When I say troops now, because now that the President has ordered some of the active forces in there I don't want to confuse it, so I'll call them National Guardsmen so there's a clear distinction. 3,500 National Guardsmen will go into Louisiana by sundown today; 2,500 more will go into Mississippi today. Tomorrow the exact same numbers will reverse because we think we'll be about where we need to be and we'll start changing the composition, the type of skills coming in. And I may have to adjust that so that our parallel efforts that the president has coming in through Northern Command and that will be under the command of General Honore' is synchronized with the same kind of capabilities that we were originally planning to go and provide without the active component response, or the Army response.

 

            The response is welcome. I think the President has made a tough and courageous decision. He wants to leave the governor in charge of the state, but he wants to make sure that we take decisive action as a nation to give that governor all of the resources and manpower necessary to deal with the complex problems that she has in Louisiana. So to use a simple analogy of a bathtub, I've got my spigot turned on and it's going at full volume, and I'm filling it up as fast as I can. I think what happened just this morning in the Rose Garden is the President turned on a second spigot, which is I think quite helpful and will prove to be the right decision in the long run.

 

Q: On the 40,000, when do you expect to reach that level?

 

GEN. BLUM: By the next week. If you add up what we're doing in Mississippi and what we're doing in Louisiana, we have a flow of 3,500 and 2,500, so it's roughly 7,000 a day pouring into the area. So if you add that up it will take me probably three to four days to get to 40,000. Then we are assessing the needs every day and the mix, what skill sets we need every single day.

 

Q: Do you know the total number of U.S. military personnel now devoted to --

 

GEN. BLUM: I will give you a guess. I think the last DoD figures I have, and I'm not -- this is a rough order of magnitude. I think if you took the 30,000 Guardsmen that will be there by tomorrow, I think you have, if you count the Navy contribution also off-shore in with this, you're probably talking 7,000; and then the president deployed this morning, what were the numbers they gave you?

 

Q: Seven.

 

GEN. BLUM: Seven thousand. So that will be 14,000. That's starting to be a significant presence. That's 14,000 active force on top of what will be 40,000 National Guardsmen, that's 54,000 people. That's a significant --

 

            Now that doesn't mean that will be a constant. We will be adjusting, again, the skill sets, the capabilities and the numbers against the requirements.

 

Q: Across the disaster zone our reporters have consistently run into people over the past week, victims who have asked where's the National Guard, why aren't they here, why aren't they helping us? I know it's not your job to decide where and when aid is delivered. You have to provide these forces. But as a general who's been there and a commander with a can-do reputation, I just wanted to ask your opinion. Do you think in retrospect that more creativity, more ingenuity could have been employed early on to use the military to deliver more aid to people sooner?

 

GEN. BLUM: It would be easy to draw that conclusion, Jamie, but if you've ever been to Gulfport, remember the highway that runs along the coast was a four lane super highway. It was impassable. So where you could -- if a normal infrastructure existed, no question, you could have saturated the area with more, faster. But we were putting forces in in very degraded infrastructure. Airports had reduced capability. Roads, in some cases we had only one road in because of lack of bridges, flooding, loss of infrastructure, or the structures were too unsafe to cross or we would become casualties ourselves.

 

            So we couldn't rush to failure on this thing and we had to take a more measured approach than any of us wanted. But to call this response late to need, if you're talking about the National Guard response, that would be a low blow to some incredible individuals who were on watch before the storm, harbored during the storm, on the scene immediately after the storm cleared. Just think about, when was the storm? When did it hit? How many days ago?

 

Q: Early Monday.

 

GEN. BLUM: And today is what?

 

Q: Saturday.

 

GEN. BLUM: In that short time we're talking numbers of 40,000. This is just military. You're talking about being able to provide food, fuel, water for an unknown number of people that we have to first fine and discover in lots of cases, and then immediately care for with extremely high expectations.

 

            I think the response of the National Guard is nothing less than unbelievably sensational. It's actually better than any planner could ever expect.

 

            When I first laid out the numbers of reinforcements that would be coming into theater and then I went down there to ensure that they arrived so that the plan was in fact being executed, I was very surprised to find that every single projection that we had made had been exceeded because of the magnificent response that we're getting from all over this nation. Puerto Rico, in the height of hurricane season, is sending 1,000 soldiers to the relief effort. Think about what that means. One of the first forces in there were coming in from Oregon, Washington, Alaska. Forty states have soldiers there. Others are lined up to come in later because they have different skill sets that we think we'll need down the road, particularly as we get some of these roads uncovered and we have to start with reconstruction and rehabilitation of the area, rather than just getting in and getting the necessities in, the essentials.

 

Q: I'd like to get your thoughts on two things. One, what do you see the role of the active duty troops that are going to be coming in?

 

            The second thing is you talked about how no one foresaw that it would become a big law enforcement problem rather than just a typical search and rescue. Is that still the case? Are there still other points like the convention center that will require the military type operations to get in there and restore order and --

 

GEN. BLUM: Yes, and they're not all in New Orleans. Any place where you harbor a group of people that have been damaged by the storm and dislocated from their houses, their lives have been interrupted, and they've lost in many cases everything, or have nothing on them that -- These kind of events bring out the best in people, and in some very limited number of folks brings out the worst in people. The governors have sent a clear message that citizens that have already suffered enough from the ravages of the storm, they will not tolerate lawlessness to make them a victim again. So there's very firm and forceful law enforcement. We have not suspended any laws. In fact they have invoked some emergency powers with curfews and all those type of measures. In some states the order has been given to shoot to kill.

 

Q: Louisiana --

 

GEN. BLUM: The governor of Louisiana has given that order. I think the governor of Mississippi did it earlier.

 

            So this is serious business, and that is done to ensure that the lives of innocent people that have suffered this loss are not further traumatized by lawless citizens.

 

            We will put the force in place that is required, as much as necessary for as long as it's needed. That's the easiest way I can put it to you. Now who decides what is necessary? That has to be the legally constituted government and in this case it's the governors of the states and the president of the United States flew down there to show his commitment to each and every one of the Gulf state governors yesterday, and reinforced that he will send them anything and everything within his legal powers to ensure that they are successful in restoring order and restoring normal life and regenerating the future of these great states down in the Gulf Coast.

 

Q: (inaudible) active duty troops?

 

GEN. BLUM: Where are they?

 

Q: No, their role.

 

GEN. BLUM: The role of the active duty troops is right now unspecified. I think you heard General Inge in NORTHCOM say probably what we'll do is there will probably be a division of labor within, or a division of areas where certain people provide different kind of capabilities, which will be quite helpful. It will be quite good. What we can do is shift more of the National Guard into security and law enforcement areas because they're not bound by posse comitatus and they are legally trained and licensed to in fact enforce the law for their governors, where the Title 10 active forces are not, without taking other exceptional measures. If necessary those measures can be taken by the president.

 

            I'm sure he will take a measured approach to it, but he'll do nothing short of what is needed. He's made that very clear to me and to the Governors in his visit in the last two days.

 

Q: General, does the commitment of such a large number of Guard forces from so many states in any way affect the planning for the rotation of forces to Iraq and Afghanistan?

 

GEN. BLUM: No, and I'll tell you a specific example why. I have the 1st Brigade of the 34th Division with their units to come out of the Great Lakes region which are nearby in Camp Shelby, Mississippi. I was very careful, since they are so close to deploying for Iraq, that I did not want to divert their attention for this unless it was absolutely necessary, and if it were, we would. But other states came in and replaced their capabilities. This is a combat unit and we weren't really going to use combat skills. I didn't want them to lose their focus. So we did not interrupt the flow of units that were going overseas to fight for this.

 

            There is one unit, however, there is an exception. There is one unit, a small unit, that repairs aircraft that is housed and the people that come from that National Guard unit live right in Gulfport, Mississippi.  And many of them -- we can't find them. We know their families are scattered and we know their houses are devastated. We can work around them not going to Iraq, so they have been pulled off the list. But that is the only unit that I am personally aware of that we've made any alteration whatsoever about the deployment sequence.

 

            We can handle the overseas warfight commitment and still defend our homeland and support the Department of Homeland security simultaneously.

 

            People say well, aren't you stretched too far? Aren't you about ready to run out?

 

            There are 200,000 citizen soldier National Guardsmen left with the right kind of skills around this nation that you would play hell keeping out of coming down there if needed to help fellow Americans in need, I can tell you. They're the greatest young men and women that this nation has ever seen. They're willing to drop their proverbial, their plow and pick up their musket on a moment's notice to be 21st Century minutemen and women and go. When this country needs them, they will be there, and nobody will stop them from coming. That's what makes me so proud actually to be the chief of an organization like that.

 

            Thanks for your questions, thanks for your time.

 

Q: One quick follow-up. Is it fair to say, using the convention center as an example, that one reason it took until Friday to get aid in is the National Guard needed time to build up a response team with military police to ensure law and order because the New Orleans Police Department had degraded so much?

 

GEN. BLUM: That is not only fair, it is accurate. You've concisely stated exactly what was needed, and I told you why. We took the time to build the right force. The outcome was superb. No lives hurt, nobody injured. It was done almost invisibly.

 

Q: And you estimate there's about a third of the New Orleans Police Department left. Do you remember about how many are in the New Orleans Police Department?

 

GEN. BLUM: On a normal day they should have 1,500 paid officers in New Orleans, give or take. Some people have said it's 1,650. It's in the rough order of 1,500-man police force, and I think the mayor told me they're down to less than 500.

 

            Thank you.

 

Q: Thank you.

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