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Defense Department Operational Update Briefing

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers
September 06, 2005

Defense Department Operational Update Briefing

            To view slide used in this briefing click here; http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Sep2005/d20050906slide.pdf

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  Good afternoon, folks.  The entire world has watched with deep concern as millions of Americans in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida have suffered a catastrophe that demonstrates anew the potential for humanity to be humbled by nature. I returned from the area earlier this week, and can say that the full scope of this disaster has most likely not been measured. 

 

            In addition to the unknown number who have been killed or injured, hundreds of thousands of homes and schools and businesses have been seriously damaged, many beyond repair.  Added to that are an untold number of dreams that have been destroyed and futures dramatically altered. 

 

            On the president's orders, the greatest disaster recovery effort in America's history is well under way.  What General Myers and I saw in Baton Rouge, in New Orleans and in Mississippi was Americans doing what Americans do best, and that's coming together and finding ways to help those in need.  The Department of Defense plays a supporting role to the Department of Homeland Security, as do that other departments and agencies of the federal government.  However, the support we're providing is substantial, and General Myers will elude -- elaborate on some of that. 

 

            Over the past several days and continuing at this hour, Army and National Guard and Air Guard troops are -- and their equipment from more than 40 states  -- are deployed in the hard-hit communities that are working to restore order and to save lives.  In addition, we're working to reunite the men and women in uniform that are deployed overseas with their families here at home.  A number of the families that are stationed in that area obviously lost all their possessions along with others.  The Northern Command under the capable leadership of Admiral Tim Keating is overseeing the department's contributions in support of the operations in the gulf being led by the Department of Homeland Security.  Admiral Keating's very able commander on the scene is Lieutenant General Russell Honore, and he is executing the day-to-day responsibility for the Department of Defense.  General Myers will provide further operational details. 

 

            The benefit of the Department of Defense having established the Department -- the Northern Command after September 11th is clear.   It is DoD's leader in this massive effort.  It's the command that is helping to establish planning and priorities and providing many of the resources that may be needed in -- to respond to a domestic emergency while other military commands are, of course, able to stay focused on their important missions overseas.   

 

            On that point let me be clear.  We've -- we have the forces, the capabilities and the intention to fully prosecute the global war on terror while responding to this unprecedented humanitarian crisis here at home.  We can and will do both.  It is important to remember that there are more than 300,000 National Guard, soldiers and airmen who are not deployed overseas.  And they are available for relief and security efforts in the United States, should they be necessary.  These men and women in uniform at home and overseas are demonstrating the full depth of the compassion of the American people.  They're risking their lives as they work around the clock.  And certainly I join in expressing appreciation and great respect for their tireless efforts.   

 

            In this disaster and a disaster of this magnitude, the would-be first responders at the state and local level were themselves victims in very large numbers.  They were, their families were, their homes were victims of this storm.  Since the federal system -- the way it's arranged under our constitution provides that the state and local officials are the first responders, and you have a disaster of this magnitude that creates a situation where the first responders are in large measure incapable of functioning given the seriousness of it, we had a situation that was distinctly different than in past events of this type.   

 

            The Department of Defense, needless to say, has been stepping in to help the civilian federal agencies in many missions that the first responders had been assigned and are well suited for but, in this case, simply not available and -- or they need some time to adjust to their personal circumstances.  As a result, the federal response has been adjusted accordingly.   

 

            These adjustments are happening in real time.  As I have observed in the case of overseas military operations since September 11th, no war plan survives the first contact with the enemy.  Operational leaders must always be ready to adjust.  That's clearly the case in a major, indeed unprecedented, natural disaster of this nature.  There will be plenty of time to examine what happened in response to this disaster, what worked and what didn't, and it's important that federal, state and local officials do so.  However, the immediate task is for us to save lives and to stabilize the situation.   And this department is determined to provide whatever assistance we can as fast as we can in support of the Department of Homeland Security. 

 

            Americans have endured other times of great tragedy, and San Francisco and Chicago and other great cities have faced destruction from fire, from earthquakes and natural disasters.  Those cities survived and thrived in eras when this country was not nearly as wealthy and capable as we are today.  Certainly our hearts go out to all of those who have suffered such terrible losses, and our thoughts and prayers are with them all.   

 

            General Myers. 

 

            GEN. MYERS:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  And good afternoon, everybody. 

 

            First, like the secretary, I want to extend my condolences to those who have been victim to Hurricane Katrina.   

 

            Second, as you have just heard the secretary describe, the situation in the Gulf region is, of course, very serious.  The men and women of the U.S. armed forces -- National Guard and active duty -- are fully engaged in the search and rescue, relief and recovery efforts.  Essentially, they're engaged in all the humanitarian relief efforts. 

 

            It's important to understand that state, local and federal assets, including those of the Department of Defense, from across the country were preparing and mobilizing to respond even before the full gravity of the effects of the storm became known. 

 

            The commander of U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs, Admiral Tim Keating, is in charge of the department's response, with Lieutenant General Russ Honore, as the secretary said, commanding the Joint Task Force at Camp Shelby in Mississippi.  And while that's where the headquarters is, General Honore, of course, moves to where he is needed.   

 

            Let me give you an overview of what military forces are doing in support of the federal response. 

 

            There are six military installations that are serving as FEMA staging areas for equipment and relief supply.  More than 58,000 active duty and National Guard personnel are on the ground and in the area.  More than 41,000 of that 58,000 are members of the National Guard from all 50 states and are working, of course, hurricane relief operations.  Approximately 17,000 active duty personnel are on the ground in the region providing support from the 82nd Airborne Division, the 1st and 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, the 1st Calvary Division, and afloat.  And of the 17,000 -- of those afloat forces, nearly 7,000 are Navy personnel providing support from 21 naval ships off the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi.  More than 350 Department of Defense, U.S. Coast Guard, and National Guard helicopters -- 350 helicopters, and more than 75 DoD and National Guard fixed-wing aircraft are assisting in the effort.  Nearly 1,800 search and rescue, evacuation, and supply delivery missions have been flown by the Department of Defense, with more than 799 in the past 24 hours.  Over 13,000 people have been rescued, and thousands of tons of relief supplies have been moved.  More than 75,000 people have been evacuated so far.  Maritime units have supplied 78,000 gallons of fuel to hospitals, law enforcement, National Guard and other critical government services.  And more than 9 million meals ready to eat have been delivered to FEMA.  And of course the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is performing un-watering operations in New Orleans.  

 

            Two C-130 firefighting aircraft were deployed to support the New Orleans firefighting operations, and seven helicopters are there conducting firefighting operations as well.   

 

            Military forces are providing essential medical services as well. In New Orleans alone, the DoD has transported more than 10,000 patients and treated more than 5,000 patients.  

 

            And, of course, there are 4,000 Coast Guard personnel that are also providing support.   

 

            As the secretary mentioned, many of the state and local first responders and their resources fell victim to the hurricane, and of course they're going to need help in regenerating their capability and capacity. 

 

            So to recap, there are more than 41,00 National Guard and 17,000 active-duty troops currently in the region supporting the states, FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security by performing humanitarian missions such as search and rescue; evacuations; airlift of critical supplies, such as food, water and clothing; helping with communications; assisting in clearing roads of debris; airfield support operations; medical, fuel and water support; providing security; assisting in firefighting support; and assisting in recovery and reconstruction planning. 

 

            And finally, I'd just like to say a word about the men and women in uniform that are assisting in this endeavor.  As we saw Sunday, every American should be proud of our troops, whether they're active-duty or Reserve component, National Guard or Reserve, that are in there doing their job.  They all have one thing in mind, and that is helping their fellow Americans deal with this huge tragedy.  And they're doing it in a way and with the same professionalism that they always conduct themselves, and we should all be very proud. 

 

            Thank you.  We'll take your questions. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Charlie? 

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, you gentlemen both speak of a massive and meaningful military response that's no doubt going on now, saving lives, putting out fires, plugging the levees.  And yet, Mr. Secretary, you say that first responders, local and state responders, were struck low by the original blow and -- 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Not quite correct.  The original blow was the storm.  And New Orleans escaped a great portion of it, if you're talking about New Orleans, as opposed to Mississippi.  The flood followed that by a day. 

 

            Q     And Mr. Chairman, you say that planning was already going on when the storm was on its way.  I guess I want to ask, even without an investigation now, why was the federal military response relatively slow in terms of days, when thousands of lives might have been saved in New Orleans, people who we suspect have been drowned?  Why did it take days to begin moving thousands of Guard troops into the area? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  It didn't.  The -- as the storm was approaching, the Department of Defense met and discussed the importance of anticipating things that the department could be asked and being prepared to assist the people who do have the responsibility, federal and state and local, and arranging things, actually pre-positioning things before they ever hit.   

 

            You want to -- 

 

            GEN. MYERS:  I think -- and before the storm even hit, as I said in my remarks, there were actions undertaken by the Department of Defense to be ready to assist FEMA, which is our role, and the Department of Homeland Security.  And we did that.  

 

            The headline, of course, in most of the country's papers on Tuesday were "New Orleans dodged a bullet," or words to that effect. At that time, when those words were in our minds, we started working issues before we were asked.  And on Tuesday, at the direction of the secretary and the deputy secretary, we went to each of the services. I called each of the chiefs of the services, one by one, and said we don't know what we're going to be asked for yet.  The levees and the flood walls had just broken.  And we know some of what's going to be asked, because we'd already had some requests for assistance, but there's probably going to be more.  And so as you, a service, think of capability that might be needed, you work with Northern Command, Admiral Tim Keating, and you push it forward.  And we used what we call “VOCO” or vocal approval of orders.  And then we'll sort it out later.  If NORTHCOM says that's a good capability to push forward, then we'll push that forward.  And we started that before the magnitude of this tragedy was even understood by anybody at any level.  And so that movement was moving -- working. 

 

            Q     So you're saying there was no delay -- 

 

            GEN. MYERS:  There was no -- 

 

            Q     -- in addressing the situation by the military in terms of sending troops in there? 

 

            GEN. MYERS:  I think we responded as -- not only was there no delay, I think we anticipated, in most cases, not in all cases, but in most cases, the support that was required, and we were pushing support before we were formally asked for it.  And some -- some -- most was needed; some perhaps was not.  We're sorting that out right now.  We may have more assets, for instance, afloat than we actually require right now, although we require a lot of that afloat capability.   

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, one of the strains of thought and complaints we've been hearing in the last few days is that people are wondering, if this was a WMD attack, would the response be both perceived as slow as a lot of the public thinks it was, and in some cases actually as slow?  Is that a valid concern right now that you need to allay the public's concern on or review on your own? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, as you know, being a Pentagon reporter, the department -- one of the things this department does very well is lessons learned.  And from the first day, I asked Admiral Giambastiani to see that we put in place a lessons learned process.  So this has been going on, and we will know a good deal more after we have time to complete that work and get briefed on it and make judgments.   

 

            But I think your question's a fair one.  The Department of Defense -- just as the Department of Defense does not have lead responsibility with respect to natural disasters, so too, we do not have lead responsibility with respect to attacks within the United   States from within the United States, and that would characterize what you posed as a question.  And I'm sure that the government will be addressing that question in a serious way, as we all should. 

 

            GEN. MYERS:  As we are, by the way, in the Quadrennial Defense Review.  I mean, that's one of the -- that's one of the areas that we're looking at, is the department's roles and missions and responsibilities, and the question:  Are other authorities required or not required, given the magnitude of what could happen, certainly.  So that's being -- 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  What kinds of adjustments in organizing, training and equipping -- 

 

            GEN. MYERS:  Training and equipping. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  -- all departments of government might be, given what might be learned as a result of this. 

 

            Q     Did you have questions on your own, though, as a citizen first and then as a Cabinet secretary?  You know, what if this had been a WMD attack?  Were you personally concerned? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I've been thinking about this ever since September 11th, if not before. 

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, I -- and General Myers, I want to ask about one narrow aspect of the response.  Late last week we began to see helicopters dropping food and supplies to people on the ground that were in areas that were hard to get to.  A lot of people are wondering, including some of the victims who are on the ground and in very desperate situations on -- particularly on Tuesday and Wednesday, why we didn't see those sort of helicopter air drops, for instance, to the Louisiana Superdome, where thousands of people were without food and people were dying in front of other people's eyes, and in remote areas of the Mississippi coast, where people were expecting to see the military deliver aid and didn't see it for a couple of days.  And my question is, is that -- is that expectation, was that expectation unrealistic?  Why couldn't helicopters have delivered some essential aid to those kinds of places on Tuesday and Wednesday instead of Thursday and Friday? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  General Honore answered that question when General Myers and I were with him on Sunday.  And he pointed out that the first thing that one does when a hurricane is approaching is to move assets -- aircraft, helicopters, all those kinds of capabilities that can be destroyed in a hurricane -- away from the area that's being targeted by the hurricane so that they will be available at some point.  So, there was a substantial movement of things away from the hurricane by private people, by military people.  When I was a Navy pilot, we used to have a hurricane evacuation where we would get in the planes and fly them up to Memphis, Tennessee.  And that's a very normal pattern.  As the situation evolved, they were brought back, and very rapidly.  And the numbers, as you know, people have watched what's going on on the ground.  They are not in the remote areas, because CNN isn't in the remote areas.  But the -- in -- 

 

            Q     We are Sir. We’re in many of the remote areas.  We're not everywhere, but we have over a hundred reporters -- 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Right.  But -- but what we're seeing in large measure is New Orleans.  And there, as General Myers said, today something like 355 military helicopters are operating there -- many, many multiples of anything anyone could have imagined.  And they're all -- it came up from having evacuated and then bringing them up. 

 

            Q     So when people were at the Louisiana Superdome on Wednesday at the most desperate point before the -- substantial aid got there and they were crying out for aid, was that a -- was it unrealistic? There was no way to get helicopters to drop food in?  Maybe General Myers could address this.  The reason I'm asking is because the public is asking, because the people who were affected are asking this question. 

 

            GEN. MYERS:  I just -- I'm not going to quarrel with your premise, but I -- from what I understand, there were -- there was food and water being brought in, and maybe those quantities weren't sufficient.  But you go to look at the priorities in that day -- 

 

            Q     There were no helicopter drops -- 

 

            GEN. MYERS:  The first -- the first priority was to save lives. So the helicopters they had were out trying to save lives from people that were in the flood waters, to save lives. 

 

            And then the next thing you think about is food and water and shelter, and then you think about medical.  And those were the priorities that General Honore, as part of our response, and the state governments, with their adjutant generals or the folks that led their disaster response, were struggling with.   

 

            And I think that as situations became known -- and part of Tuesday afternoon, of course, was made assessing the -- and Wednesday morning were made assessing what the needs were, because again, recall what the headlines were Tuesday, and you're talking about Wednesday, and we're talking about by Friday things were pretty much resolved not only in the Superdome but also in the - I think they call it the civic center or convention center -- they were pretty much -- by Friday night, Saturday morning, pretty much resolved, which I think, given the magnitude of the tragedy, as General Honore said -- and I think it was probably not an exaggeration if you look at other storms, other Category 5 storms -- he said of biblical proportions.  So I think they prioritized and they did what they could do. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  When we were down there, we happened to meet with a National Guard outfit, helicopter outfit.  They had eight helicopters.  And between August 30th -- that's Tuesday, the day you're talking about -- and September 3rd, they flew -- just with eight helicopters -- they flew 781 sorties; refugees and patients they pulled out, 6,644; they delivered cases of MREs, 1,656, with 12 times the number of meals in a case -- there's 12 meals in a case; and water at sixteen-fifteen cases; and they carried breach fill, sling loads to fill the levee breach, something 1,551,000 pounds of materials to fill that breach.   

 

            GEN. MYERS:  One Texas Guard small helicopter outfit with -- 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  One outfit.  So there was a lot going on during that period. 

 

            GEN. MYERS:  -- way less than 15 helicopters. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  And as General Myers says, the first priority was to save lives and the sustainment of people, and the filling of the breach and those other things followed. 

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Yes?   

 

            Q     Would the response have been faster if it had been federalized right from the beginning?  If it had been a federal response?  Particularly in light of the fact that, as you pointed out, first responders were swamped by the hurricane and its aftermath? 

 

            GEN. MYERS:  I think the response by the National Guard, which is under state authority in both Louisiana and Mississippi, and I assume Alabama and Florida as well, was, I think, very quick.  I think if you asked the TAGs [The Adjutant General] of that state, I think they responded very quickly. And the quickness with which we used the compact between the states to bring other National Guard in there was -- the buildup was quite impressive.  If you give me -- give me slide one.  I'll give you a comparison to another Category 5 hurricane.  On the left you have Andrew in 1992.  And I don't know if you can read the chart, but the total there is 14,000 at day five of the event.  And then, if you look under number two -- or above number two, you see roughly 30,000 for Katrina, and that was the rapidity of the response. 

 

            And bear in mind that there was no major city involved.  The hurricane hit south of Miami, Florida, so there was no major city involved, and we had a major American city that -- three quarters of which was under water.  And so -- and some of the roads into the city, of course, were under water as well. 

 

            And Mississippi, of course, as you get below Hattiesburg, the infrastructure was -- a lot of the east-west roads we saw for ourselves were just chopped up.  So bridges, roads were out of there. I think that's -- you know, you can never be perfect in a tragedy like this.  You'd like to be perfect and be there the moment someone needs help, but it's just not -- as hard as these people tried and the states tried, it's just not possible. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  One of the other shortfalls besides the fact that first responders were in many cases victims, of course, was the communications system in the city disappeared.  Cell phones weren't working and that problem.  The Department of Defense has since gone in and provided bandwidth, so that the city is getting backup with that. 

 

            Yes. 

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, there are some critics out there saying that the deployment in Iraq somehow hindered your ability to respond to this disaster militarily. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  That's just flat wrong.  Anyone who's saying that doesn't understand the situation.  Do you want to comment on it? 

 

            GEN. MYERS:  I don't what else I can say except it is flat wrong. It's -- well, I can say a few other words.  There were some other articles that people, I think, are misconstruing; that maybe our response to the October referendum in Iraq and to the September elections in Afghanistan are going to be somehow modified because of the humanitarian assistance we're providing along the Gulf Coast. That's wrong too.  The plan that we've had in effect will stay in effect.  Those that need to deploy are deploying.  The troop levels are going to be what the commanders wanted and what they've asked for, so nothing has changed. 

 

            And on top of that, we've had the flexibility to find those service members, as you know there's brigade combat teams out of both Louisiana and Mississippi that were forward deployed, and we have found those members of those units and other members, active-duty and Guard, that may have family members in those regions.  And those that have serious issues we're bringing back to deal with their own personal situations. 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Thank you, folks. 

 

            GEN. MYERS:  Mr. Secretary, can I give one other little story about that -- about response? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Sure. 

 

            GEN. MYERS:  And I think it's a tribute, and it's how I ended up my formal remarks.  But it's a tribute to the spirit of the men and women in the armed forces, and this is -- it's not a trivial thing. But one of the agents that was supporting Secretary Rumsfeld and I -- I'll just leave his name out of it, but -- he trained hard with a special unit ready to go to Iraq.  He was supporting our mission in a volunteer status.  His house was at -- in the Keesler area, and it was wiped out.  His wife was in Montgomery.  He was at Fort Bragg getting ready to deploy, came back to support our mission, and then in two days was going to be gone to Iraq and all willingly.  He said, “That's what I do, and since we don't have any household goods, my wife will work that part of it.  But she's going to work that, and I'll go do my job that I've trained for for months.” 

 

            You hear story after story after story like that, and we ought to take comfort that we have people that want to do that kind of work and that have that kind of dedication. 

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, a housekeeping issue? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I don't do housekeeping. 

 

            Q     Well, I understand that, but -- (laughter) -- everybody keeps talking about how the U.S. military -- how the Pentagon had anticipated the disaster.  Is it possible to get a detailed timeline of when assets were moved, when decisions were made, because we keep hearing that the military was ready, but quite frankly, the pictures, the images and the stories out of New Orleans fight that.  It's hard for us to get – to wrap our minds around that concept when it took so long to see the results of the U.S. military efforts.  Is it possible to get a detailed timeline of when things were moved, when they were available, and when decisions were made to deploy them? 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I would think -- I don't know that, but -- what kinds of precise records were kept.  But certainly the --   

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Yeah, we’re pulling something together on that -- 

 

            (Cross talk.) 

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  -- the lessons learned -- just a minute.  Just a minute.  The lessons learned project, which will take some time, clearly will recapture everything that can be recaptured of that type.  And we'll know an awful lot more then.  And we've got a good group of people working on it -- folks, as a matter of fact, who have done it several times, so they'll be good. 

 

            Q     But more in general, Mr. Secretary, weren't you itching to get some people in there, and you just weren't asked?   

 

            Q     Nice try.

 

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