Department of Defense Hawaii National Guard Press Briefing via Teleconference from Hawaii Army National Guard Army Aviation Support Facility #2, Hilo, Hawaii

Command Chief Master Sergeant Ronald C. Anderson, Air National Guard; Sergeant Major Elva Schaben, Hawaii Army National Guard


MASTER SERGEANT MICHAEL HOUK: Good afternoon, everyone.  We're pleased you could make it today.  I'm Master Sergeant Michael Houk with National Guard Bureau of Public Affairs.  The states and territories provide Army and Air Force with trained and ready soldiers and airmen.

We're kicking off DOD's Showcasing Lethality Series by showing how enlisted personnel of the National Guard use war fighting skills and assets to respond domestically.  To help illustrate that, we have a 30 minute connection to Hawaii Volcano Response. 

Please keep your questions specific to that topic.  If you have any questions outside the scope of what we're here to discuss, I'll be available to you after the engagement to help you out.  There is a lag time, it's about four to five seconds, so keep that in mind.

During the Q&A, please state your name and news outlet, please turn on -- turn all electronic devices to the silent mode, and here with us today is Chief Master Sergeant Ronald C. Anderson.  He holds the position of Command Chief Master Sergeant of the Air National Guard.

He's responsible for matters influencing the health, morale, welfare and professional development of more than 105,000 Air Guard members.  Chief Master Sergeant?

CHIEF MASTER SERGEANT RONALD C. ANDERSON:  Thanks, Sergeant.  Good afternoon. Thanks for everybody for -- for coming out, spending some time with us.  What a great opportunity to -- to talk to some soldiers on the ground, some airmen on the ground actually performing one of our -- one of our three National Guard missions.

As the master sergeant said, my name is Chief Master Sergeant Ron Anderson.  I'm the Air National Guard Command Chief, and of the 106,700 of us in the Air National Guard I represent almost 85 percent or 91,000 enlisted.

Together with my wingman Command Sergeant Major Sampa, the Army Guard Command Sergeant Major, who represents 30,000 -- excuse me, 300,000 of the 340,000 Army National Guard soldiers with Command Sergeant Major Kepner, our National Guard senior enlisted leader. Together, the three of us, these most senior enlisted, represent over 390,000 enlisted men and women in our National Guard, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 85 percent.  So when we think about the mission of the National Guard, the true backbone is Sergeant Major of the -- our SEAC talks about is really our enlisted force.

Our National Guard -- always ready, always there, the three things that we do best, fight our nation's wars, build enduring partnerships and that last thing, securing homeland.  And that's really what we're here to talk about today as -- as we've got the volcano erupting in Hawaii, rather than hear from me you really want to talk to the folks, boots on the ground.

So we've got some folks out there right now.  They're over my shoulder.  We've got Sergeant Major Schaben out there with a couple of her soldiers.  Sergeant Schaben -- Sergeant Major Schaben is the G-1 sergeant major for manpower and personnel out at the Hawaii Army National Guard.

So I'm going to turn it over to her.  We'll hear a little bit from her, and then I'll facilitate some questions to her and her soldiers on the ground.  

So, Sergeant Major, over to you.

SERGEANT MAJOR ELVA SCHABEN:  Good morning and aloha.  My name is Command Sergeant Major Elva Schaben for Operation Ho’opalekana.  We are on the island of Hawaii supporting the Kilauea volcano activity.  

To my left, I have Staff Sergeant Aquino who's a member of the 93rd Civil Support Team.  

And on my right, I have Sergeant Cameron, who's a member of Charlie, 207 Aviation.  

As we stood up this operation on 14 May, the Hawaii National Guard, which includes both Army and Air Guard personnel were activated to support the volcanic activity.  Our mission here is to save lives, prevent human suffering, and to allow the people affected by the volcanic activity to live their lives as best as they possibly can.  

Within the first two weeks of this volcanic activity, we had members from all services.  We had United States Marine Corps, United States Navy, the active duty regular Army, and both our -- our airmen and our Army soldiers from the Hawaii National Guard.  So part of our mission was to support the Hilo Police Department.  We have soldiers providing security.  We also have roving patrols that rove the areas that have been affected by the volcanic activity, and our Civil Support Team provided CBRNE operations by monitoring the areas affected by SO2 and H2S levels that were created by the fissures that the volcano created.

That's all I have.

CHIEF MASTER SGT. ANDERSON:  Thanks, CSM.  We appreciate that update.

Let's move on to -- to questions for anybody in the room that -- that you've got for sergeant major and her folks.  Sir?

Q:  Thank you.  Jeff Schogol with Task & Purpose.  

You had mentioned that one of your goals is to save human lives.  I'm wondering, how many pets have you rescued?  And can you talk about what kinds of pets you have rescued?

SGT. MAJ. SCHABEN:  The Hawaii National Guard hasn't directly affected the saving of any pets, but the Humane Society has provided assistance.

CHIEF MASTER SGT. ANDERSON:  (inaudible) pretty confident that when we had hurricane relief, when families are leaving their houses, and we were air lifting them out, they’re carrying their dogs and cats as members of their family, so I'm -- I'm pretty confident that's happened, as well.  But that's certainly some data that we could probably find out later for you.  Thanks for the question.

Yes, sir?

Q:  Hi, Sergeant Major.  Jim Garamond with DOD News.  

How many people -- how many Guardsmen have been called up for this effort?  And where did they come from?  All from the Big Island, or did they come from throughout the state?

SGT. MAJ. SCHABEN:  Sir, some of our -- we have about 380 that were activated in support of this activity.  They come from Maui.  We have an engineer company that's coming -- that arrived from Maui.  We also have aviation that provided the UH-60s and the HH-60s which are also known as Black Hawks.

We had the Marines that came from Kaneohe Marine Corps Base who provided two CH-53s.  At one point, we had the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade out of Wheeler Army Airfield at -- on Oahu.  They had provided six UH-60s that were on standby.  And we also have soldiers, on this island, that are coming from the Company B, Bravo Engineer Battalion. 

And then, we also have some soldiers from our -- our Field Artillery Battalion that have also been supporting this mission.  In addition, most of the task force -- the joint task force comes from Oahu.

Q:  What are conditions like?  What are your guys flying through?  What are your guys -- what are you guys seeing?  How many folks have they been able to help?  Is there some sort of statistics you can give us to help us with that?

SGT. MAJ. SCHABEN:  I'm sorry, sir.  I couldn't hear your question.

Q:  What sort -- well, I'm sorry Sergeant Major.  This is unique.  I don't think we've ever done something quite like this before.  But Sergeant Major, what sort of conditions are -- are your guys working in?  Are they down by the fissures?  Are they flying, you know, missions alongside the volcano?  What sort of conditions are they going through, right now? 

SGT. MAJ. SCHABEN:  Well, our checkpoints are within safe distance away from the fissures.  Our aircraft, when they do fly, they have been ordered that they will not fly directly over the lava.  

As far as living conditions, our soldiers are -- have been staying at the armory where they've been -- they have also been provided three -- three hot meals a day and we ensure that they have a -- a decent rest plan so that they -- when they do go out on patrol or pull security that they're refreshed.

CHIEF MASTER SGT. ANDERSON:  Hey -- hey CSM, this is Chief Anderson.  I know in addition to the folks from Hawaii, we've got a number of states out there.  Can you talk really briefly about, maybe, some of the states that have come in to help?  I know that it sounds like Florida, Guam, Washington, Utah, Maryland and some other -- any other states to your knowledge?

SGT. MAJ. SCHABEN:  Arizona sent some their CST members when this volcanic activity first started.  We also have the public affairs that originally were fielded by National Guard Bureau.  We currently have the Maryland National Guard, who's providing us with public affairs support.

But most of this support that we received was to augment our civil support team, because they're only a 21 man unit.  

CHIEF MASTER SGT. ANDERSON:  Thanks CSM and I think at your chairs, you have a -- a handout that's got a breakdown of our CST's, so I think we got one right behind you sir.  Yes sir?

Q:  Hi, this is Tom Watkins from AFP.  

Can you tell us a little bit about the lethality component of this?  Because I believe -- I believe this is something -- something to do with the showcasing lethality.  What are the skills that you've learned in combat that are pertinent to what's going on there in Hawaii?  Thank you.

SGT. MAJ. SCHABEN:  Well the Hawaii -- well actually the National Guard in general is just a very unique organization, because not only do they have a federal mission, they have a state mission.  

So what happens is we try to provide, instill some of those collected and individual training requirements from the federal mission so that we can be able to execute our state mission, which is to respond to domestic operations as we are right now.

We have a lot of young soldiers that are supporting this mission. They're anywhere between the age of 18 and 22, and so whenever they support these type of -- or even placed in these type of environments, they have -- they're actually a little bit more mature than your typical 18 to 22 year old.

CHIEF MASTER SGT. ANDERSON:  Yeah, thanks CSM.  And, sir, I will tell you, too, when we talk about the National Guard in general, we talk about, the dual purpose of its equipment and its soldiers and airmen. And really what that means that is these soldiers that are out there performing some of these missions, for instance, doing some of the Blackhawk recovery things, those are directly -- excuse me, directly relatable to down range, where we're talking personnel recovery.  

We -- we need to pull somebody out of -- out of the fight down range, that -- that training that they're getting here is directly related to what they do in their war time fight -- the sustainment, the logistics, the -- the CBRNE piece of it, but more specifically the CST piece, when how it ties to the -- the testing of the air and those kinds of things.  

This is real world training, boots on ground for -- particularly for our folks that 70 percent of us that our drill status guardsmen, they don't get to do this every day, so this is real world training that absolutely is a force enabler for our folks down range that are absolutely tied to the war fight.

So -- so these types of things, while helping our communities and that part of who we are in the National Guard, also helps us to continue to sharpen our sword for the down range fight.  So there's really a couple of pieces here that are of value to us, so thanks.  

Yes, sir -- yes, sir?

Q:  Thank you.  A question for all three of you.  Can you say how many people the National Guard have rescued, and what has been your most dramatic rescue so far?

SGT. MAJ. SCHABEN:  Sir, I'm the only one who has a mic.  But I can't answer that.  So far, we have not been needed to rescue anyone.  The Hilo Fire Department was able to take care of that, and I'm tracking that they did perform at least two rescues.  But everybody else was given ample enough time to -- they could move their belongings and themselves out of harm's way before it got too dangerous.  

CHIEF MASTER SGT. ANDERSON:  Thanks, Sergeant Major.  One of the things that we do for the National Guard is, it's not our primary role.  We are responsive to whatever the -- the local law enforcement and community needs, so we're just the enablers for these kind of folks in these kind of conditions.  So in a lot of cases, the -- they have the capability in the -- in the -- in the local area to handle that, so we just help them be more efficient, and -- and called upon, we’re -- we're able to jump in there with our Blackhawks, et cetera.  

Yes, sir?

Q:  Yeah, I do actually, but I didn't want to take somebody else's time.

(CROSSTALK)  

Sergeant Major, the CBRNE teams, are -- they have to be -- I mean, are they measuring the -- they have to be measuring the, I guess, hydrosulfic -- sulfuric acid that's in the rain -- in the air, and so they have to be down by the -- by the fissures.  They have to be -- they have to be patrolling through that whole area.  What are they saying about what's going on?

SGT. MAJ. SCHABEN:  Well, they have special protective equipment that allows them to get a little bit closer than the typical soldier would be required to.  So one of the uniqueness about this activity is that you could be a few feet from a fissure, and the parts per million could read maybe anywhere between 15 and 20 parts per million, and then you could walk off a few feet, and then it'll be a zero reading.  

So they've actually conducted quite a few missions in support of those readings, but they were definitely well-equipped with the proper equipment to do so.  

CHIEF MASTER SGT. ANDERSON:  Sir, do you have a second part to that?

Q:  Yes.  I'm sorry.  Yeah, Sergeant Major, some of your guys probably are from the area that's been affected.  Have they -- have you had soldiers or airmen that have lost their home who are now working with the National Guard, to protect all the other folks that are there?

SGT. MAJ. SCHABEN:  Yes, sir, there's a total of four that we are aware of that were affected, that lost their homes, or else, their homes are no longer livable.  Though the volcano lava may not have covered their home, it's just too close to the -- the fissures, where it'd be too dangerous to let them back in.  Now they have been staying with friends and other family members, but we're here to support them in the case that they do need us, but so far they've been self-sufficient, but we are tracking them.

CHIEF MASTER SGT. ANDERSON:  And, sir, I would tell you, and, post some of the hurricanes that we had in Florida and Texas, all that, there were a large number of our National Guard soldiers and airmen that lost their houses.  And the absolutely amazing thing is these folks took care of their families and then showed up to work not realizing that -- well, probably realizing that there was going to be nothing left when they came home.

And they stayed on duty for weeks at a time, knowing there was nothing to go home to.  But we all believe so deeply in what we do that we understand where the need is, so -- so I am absolutely sure that that's exactly what those soldiers and airmen did out there, as well.  So good question sir.  

And we had one up front here, sir?

Q:  Hi there.  It's Luis Martinez with ABC News.  

To the Sergeant Major, I think we had heard that there had been some planning from maybe your 53's to carry out air evacuations if things got pretty bad or worse than they had been.

Is that still the case and what additional air evac support can you provide to the local forces if you do in fact become the primary evacuation force?

SGT. MAJ. SCHABEN:  Well we do have the CH-53s available to us in the event that that happens.  We also have a handful of UH-60s and we also have a couple that are stationed here in Hilo that are available to us in the event that we require them.

Q:  If I could follow up, how many people do you think you -- you would have the capacity to evacuate?  And are there still people that you think may need an evacuation?  Like how many are you planning for possibly in the near future?

SGT. MAJ SCHABEN:  In the event that there is evacuation, that -- that number can fluctuate because the lava is so unpredictable, it's a dynamic situation that we're facing.  So we could possibly accommodate 400 personnel within a four hour period on a UH-60, but of course it would include all six UH-60s to do so.

We could probably do the same with the CH-53s because you can fit more passengers in that aircraft.  

Q:  (inaudible) been considered or that -- that has almost happened?

SGT. MAJ. SCHABEN:  I'm sorry sir, could you repeat that?

Q:  Sure, has there been a point up until now where that's been considered or has almost happened?

SGT. MAJ. SCHABEN:  I don't -- it hasn't happened, it hasn't been considered yet but I know that's -- that is the plan in case we do have to execute.

Q:  Thank you.

MASTER SGT. HOUK:  One more question.  Depending on how it goes, maybe a little more.  Is anyone ... 

Q:  Yeah, actually.  Hi Sergeant Major, I'm sorry for hogging all the time here.  But how -- how long have they told you that you'll be deployed to this -- to this operation?  Is there a -- is there a limit -- to how long you can stay?

SGT. MAJ. SCHABEN:  No, sir, there is no limit.  It can vary, it depends.  We're trying to do a rotation plan.  So I will have been here for close to 30 days, some soldiers will probably rotate a little bit sooner than 30 days at a time.  But we'll still have soldiers here because as we transition, the community is still going to need our support.

CHIEF MASTER SGT. ANDERSON:  Ultimately, we make that decision.  Our governors and TAGs, adjutants general, make those decisions for us.  And really what it comes down to is how much -- how much community support do we continue to provide?  How much do they need?  But the state active duty that most of those soldiers and airmen are on are really -- really as long as the community needs them, and certainly as long as they can continue to support that, so.  

Good?

Hey, Sergeant Major, this is Chief Anderson.  Hey, CSM, thanks to you and your team for what you're doing every day, and thanks to those young soldiers sitting next to you.  Please know that you and your community and your families are in our thoughts and prayers, and we really -- we certainly appreciate what you do every day.  So thanks.

SGT. MAJ. SCHABEN:  Thank you, Chief.  We appreciate it.

MASTER SGT. HOUK:  Thank you very much, everybody.  Everybody, if you have any questions beyond what you heard today, you can come -- you can come see me and I -- I can do my best to get you what you need.

CHIEF MASTER SGT. ANDERSON:  All right.  Thanks to you all for your time today. We appreciate it.  Thanks for the opportunity to highlight our National Guard.  Appreciate it.  
Thanks, Sergeant Major.

SGT. MAJ. SCHABEN:  Thank you.