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Pentagon Press Secretary Updates Reporters on DOD Operations

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN KIRBY:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Sorry I'm a couple of minutes late.

All right. I've got a couple of things at the top here for you, and then we'll get right at it.

First, I want to highlight the new directive -- I think you've seen it -- issued by the department on the use of masks and other public health measures.  In accordance with an executive order, all individuals on military installations and all individuals performing official duties on behalf of the department from any location other than the individual's home, including outdoor shared spaces, will wear masks in accordance with the most current CDC guidelines.  All individuals on military installations will also continue to practice social distancing, in combination with other everyday preventative actions that -- to reduce the spread of COVID-19.  The full memo is available online, if you care to see it. We certainly encourage all our employees in -- in the department to -- to make sure that they've looked at it.

As I think you've heard, the White House COVID Task Force announced this morning that the secretary, Secretary Austin, has approved 1,110 active duty service members to support five FEMA vaccination centers.  A team of 222 personnel will support each one of these mega-sites.  I think you know, there's two different types that -- that -- that FEMA is working to establish in areas of the country that -- I'm talking in this particular case of the mega-sites.  These teams will include medical and support personnel. It'll be largely medical personnel.

Details for the exact sourcing of the requirement is now at the service level.  I'm not able to read out to you specifically how each of these sites will be sourced.  That's working at the service level right now.

And of course, it always relies on -- we are supporting FEMA and FEMA will -- will determine which site each team supports. And we'll continue to work closely with FEMA to scope additional requirements.  FEMA and the department will jointly determine when DOD vaccination capabilities are no longer required.

Also, as you may have seen yesterday, in the secretary's statement after President Biden's speech, the department will conduct a global force posture review of the U.S. military footprint, resources and strategies.  This review will help inform the secretary's advice to the commander in chief about how we best allocate military forces in pursuit of our national interests.

The review will be led by the acting under secretary of defense for policy, in close coordination with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of course.  We also will, as the secretary indicated, consult closely with our allies and partners as we move through this review, and we expect to have it completed by midyear.

A couple of readouts.

Earlier this morning, Secretary Austin spoke with His Excellency Ashraf Ghani, the president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, to reaffirm the United States' commitment to an enduring U.S.-Afghan partnership.

The secretary and President Ghani discussed the shared sacrifices of U.S. and Afghan forces in the field, and the importance of the Afghan peace process and the imperative for a negotiated settlement to end the war.  In closing, both the secretary and President Ghani emphasized the importance of seizing this opportunity for peace.

This morning, Secretary Austin also hosted Avril Haines, the director of National Intelligence.  The two spoke about the importance of collaboration between the Department of Defense and the intelligence community.  Director Haines also had the chance to meet with Chairman Milley, as well as senior intelligence officers of each service.

Lastly, secretary met with the chiefs in the Joint Chiefs Conference Room, colloquially known as the Tank; met with them this morning.  It was his first opportunity to meet with them collectively in the Tank to discuss a range of issues of importance to all of them.

He had a chance to walk through with them what his priorities were as he is now getting more acclimated to the job, and sort of the things he wanted to -- to tackle as well as listening to them about what was on their minds and what their priorities were.  So it was the first of what I am sure will be many such -- many such discussions.

With that, take questions. I think I have -- oh, by the way, I have been appropriately counseled by all of you about the use of the phones versus the room.  And I can be taught.  So what we're going to do is I'm going to go to two on the phone, two in the room, and we'll just keep going back and forth like that.

We'll start with Lita, go ahead.

Q: Hi, John, thanks.

Two things.  One, I'm wondering if you have any timing estimates on the FEMA -- on the FEMA teams? And just a quick point of clarification, do you know if the military -- one of these five, or two of these five, whatever, is one of them going to one of the sites in California or are two of the teams going to California?

MR. KIRBY:  So the first -- well, I shouldn't say the first. What -- what we -- what we know is that there are 1,100, an initial group, one team of 222 will be deploying to California, to a site in California in the coming days.  We expect that they'll be able to get on-site, on or about the 15th of this month.  But I would refer to you to FEMA and -- and -- to -- to speak specifically to -- to -- to what location that is.  Now, that's just one team of this initial tranche of -- of 1,100 personnel.  We're still working with FEMA to determine what those other teams -- what sites those other teams will go to and in what order. In other words, what the timeline is.

What I can tell you is the -- the -- the first team of 222 will be going to -- will be going to a site in California.  Does that answer your question, Lita -- Lita?

Q:  Yeah, I -- the -- the second one was actually on Saudi Arabia.  Can you give us a -- a broader understanding right now of what U.S. military aid or training is going to Saudi Arabia and whether or not there are any -- I think all of the Patriot batteries were removed but if there's any other equipment or other military aircraft and other weapons systems there?  And what your understanding is of what the military will be able to continue to do under the President's latest order?  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: Well I -- I'll have to take the question on the lay down, Lita. I don't have that in front of me, exactly what is there in -- in the country.  But as a result of the President's order yesterday, DOD had been providing some limited non-combat assistance for coalition operations, and that would include intelligence and -- and some advice and best practices, and that all has been terminated but Saudi Arabia remains a -- a partner in terms of combating terror in the region.

The -- the President's -- the President's order was -- was very much directed on the coalition efforts in Yemen and I would stress that, you know, this -- this will be an interagency process, figuring out how -- how we're going to go forward on this, and we certainly wouldn't want to get ahead of any decisions that haven't been made yet.

Now I need to put my glasses on.  You guys have got to write this in big font from now on.  (Laughter.)

Luis Martinez?

Q:  Hey John, a quick question about the Global Posture Review.  You said that you expect it to take place -- it will be resolved by midyear.  Does that mean that any force level on drops around the world or any in-flows are not going to happen until that time?  And particularly -- and I'm giving focus on Germany.  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  So, I mean, in terms of -- in terms of permanent structure and permanent areas where we are permanently based, forward deployed, if you will, obviously the Secretary wants to get his arms around all of that and that's what the posture review is about.  It's about where we are based, it's to what degree we are there in terms of numbers of -- of men and women but also the -- you know, the -- the -- the purpose for being there, and that's what the Force Posture Review is all about.

But, and I don't think you were asking this, but just to be clear, we still have a rotational presence in many parts of the world. Just last week, we were talking about aircraft carriers and where they're operating.  So that rotational deployment scheme, that's not affected by the posture review. We still have security commitments around the world that we have to meet and we're going to continue to meet them.

But before the Secretary advises or recommends to the President any permanent force structure changes in terms of our -- our -- our facilities and our -- and -- and the -- the -- the -- the units that we have around the world, he wants to get this posture review done first. Does that answer your question, Luis?

Q:  It does.  And also, just on Afghanistan, is that separate, you know, the conditions-based assessment of the deal with the Taliban?  Is that a part of the same posture review or is that a separate assessment all to itself?

MR. KIRBY: That's a -- that's a -- obviously an area of current operations, (Louis, so, I mean, I -- I think we will be -- the administration will be reviewing future force posture in Afghanistan in a -- in a -- in a way that's commensurate with what we're trying to get done in Afghanistan -- you know, trying to, you know, end this war in a responsible way and I think it'll be done in concert with, of course, our -- our NATO partners that are there on -- on the ground.

So I -- I wouldn't -- I -- I -- I wouldn't go so far as to say it's -- it -- it's -- it's totally separate. I mean, this -- the Global Posture Review is still looking at our -- our -- our force posture around the world but obviously the -- the -- what -- what happens with respect to Afghanistan will be -- will be done in -- in keeping with the decision making processes that are already in place for that -- for that part of the world and in keeping with, again, our NATO allies.

You know, the defense ministerial is coming up, the Secretary intends to participate and obviously this will be a key topic of discussion inside that venue, as well.  Lucas?

Q: John, how does an unarmed adult male break into a plane at Andrews used by the Vice President, Secretary of Defense and other top government officials?

MR. KIRBY: That is exactly what the Air Force is investigating now. I think everybody's taking this very seriously and the Acting Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff are going to order the Air Force Inspector General to fully investigate this issue.

Everybody takes seriously what happened and they will do a thorough investigation and when -- and I'm sure they will learn things out of this that -- that -- that we'll be able to share with you.  I can also tell you that clearly, they -- they have adjusted some of their security protocols at Andrews this morning. Won't go into the details of that, of course.

And I might add -- and I didn't say it when I first mentioned it -- but -- but this investigation by the Air Force I.G., this review and investigation, will also include their installations worldwide.  They're not just going to limit it to -- to Andrews.  I mean, clearly they're going to investigate this incident but they're also going to take a look at security protocols across the force.

Q: How long was this guy on the plane?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I don't have exact details about this, Lucas?  I would refer you to the Air Force for more specific details about this.

Q: -- description of the suspect?  We just heard "unarmed adult male."  Any more than that?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have anything more than that.  Again, that's really for the Air Force to speak to, but again, everybody's taking this seriously, the Secretary's taking this seriously and -- and we'll leave it to the Air Force to investigate this and -- and report out. Yeah, Oren?

Q:  He was arrested on outstanding warrants. Do you know what those warrants were for?  And -- and at least in terms of -- it seemed like a pretty big failure or a screw up, letting this happen and letting him get onto the flight, onto -- onto a C-40.

MR. KIRBY: I -- I don't know about -- I've seen reports about existing warrants, Oren, and I'd refer you to local law enforcement for that.  That's not the kind of thing that we would have knowledge about.  And again, I think you -- I -- you -- it wasn't a question you asked but to your point, everybody in the department and certainly everybody in the Air Force understands what a serious matter this is.

As I say, they have -- they have made adjustments to their security protocols at Andrews, they've now ordered a full investigation of it and they've got a step further and ordered a look at all the -- the security protocols at installations worldwide.

So let's let them do their work.  Let's let the investigators finish what they need to finish.  We'll learn things, I'm sure, about this.  And I have every confidence that the Air Force will share what they've learned with you when they can.

Okay, I've got to go over to the phones now or I'll get in trouble.  So let's see, Phil Stewart, Reuters?

Q:  Thanks, John.  Just a quick -- quickly following up on Afghanistan, so did Secretary Austin raise the May deadline with -- with President Ghani and did he -- did he exempt Afghanistan from this global posture review?  I'm not totally -- totally clear on where it fits in there.  And I have a quick question about the mask mandate too, when you're done.

MR. KIRBY:  I -- you know, clearly they talked about -- as I said in my readout, they talked about the importance of the peace process. And they talked about the importance of this being Afghan-led. They talked about the -- the enduring commitment that -- that -- that we have to -- to -- to Afghanistan writ large. I won't -- I won't get into specific discussions, as I said, about force posture because no decisions have been made on -- on force posture at this time.

And when I -- you know, I think -- I don't want you to get hung up or wrapped around the axle on whether Afghanistan is or is not in the global posture review.  I mean, we have to -- as a -- as an administration, we have to decide and -- and we are reviewing what we're doing in Afghanistan.

We're reviewing the Doha agreement.  We're reviewing the compliance with the Doha agreement. We have recommitted ourselves to a political solution.  We don't believe there's a military solution. And that process of review is ongoing. Will it inform or potentially inform the global posture review? Possibly. But I don't think -- I would not -- I don't think it's useful think of this in a binary way: it's in or it's out.

There is a -- there is an interagency process going on to review what our future is going to look like in Afghanistan. We've already said that, while no decisions have been made, that decisions will be conditions-based.  And to the degree that that work informs the posture review, well, that's to the benefit of the posture review.  But we just -- I mean, I -- I wouldn't -- I wouldn't try to look at in such a binary way.  Did that answer your question, Phil?

Q: Yes, thanks.  And then on the -- on the mask mandate, can you just give us a sense of what drove the change in the mask mandate at the -- in general? And is there going to be an exception made for all briefers including yourself?

MR. KIRBY:  What drove the -- the mask mandate was the president of the United States, who issued an executive order that all -- that -- that there was going to be wearing of masks on all federal properties and we -- and you -- you're on federal property right now. So that's what drove it was the president's executive order.  Although, I would be -- I would hasten to add that the secretary fully supports that.

I -- I -- I have, as my colleague at the White House has -- I have a waiver to not use a mask for the purposes of briefing you to make sure that we're doing it with clarity and concision.  So I wore it on the way up here and I will wear it on the way out and for the rest of the day.  But while in -- in the act of conducting a press interaction like this, I have been given a waiver not to wear a mask.

Let's see, Dan Lamothe?

Q:  Yes, thanks for your time.  Two follow-ups on the stand-down related to extremism.  The first one, we've seen it in the past for other issues like sexual assault and suicide, but on a force-wide level can you provide context for how frequent they are, maybe other issues where it's come up?

And then, second follow-up, we've seen a number of critics suggest in the last couple of days that this extremism focus in the military amounts to sort of a political litmus test to root out conservatives.  Can you just address that in general?  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Okay, sir.  Can I just ask you for clarification on your first question?  How frequent are stand-downs?  Is that what you're asking, Dan?

Q:  I'm aware that they're common in -- in general, sort of -- you know, within units within the service.  But I'm talking the force-wide DOD-wide level stand-downs that we're seeing this time.

MR. KIRBY:  Dan, I will -- I'm going to have my staff -- we'll take your question technically because it's a good one and I don't have that kind of data in front of me.  I don't even know if it exists. But -- so let me get back to you on that.

But I won't challenge your -- your assertion that they are rare. DOD-wide stand-downs are not something that we do frequently or often. And I think in this case, it points to the seriousness with which the secretary and the leaders here at the Pentagon are taking this particular issue. But I owe you a better answer on -- I owe you a better answer on -- on frequency.

On your second question, the -- the argument that this amounts to some sort of political litmus test, that is absolutely unfounded and untrue.  What -- first of all, we have -- this isn't -- sadly, is not an issue that we haven't dealt with or tried to deal with in the past. I mean, one of the -- the last instruction that was written on this, and I think I've talked to you about this, was -- you know, back in 2012.

And I assure you that this issue predates 2012.  You've heard the secretary himself talk about when he was in command of the 82nd Airborne down in Fort Bragg of an issue they had with skinheads in the unit -- and that was when he was a lieutenant colonel, back in the mid-'90s.

Sadly, this is not something that is new.  That said, as I -- as I mentioned the other day, I think the events of January 6th certainly galvanized the sense that -- that it is -- it is still in the ranks, still a problem.  And we -- you know, as evidenced by the events that day, we've got to -- you know, we've got to take a turn in terms of rooting it out.

So it's not about politics.  We encourage our troops to vote. We encourage them to register with the political party of their choice.  We go out of our way to make it clear that they get a vote; they get a voice in the political electoral process in this country because they're American citizens.

It's not about what you believe. It's about what you do with those beliefs. It's about how you act with those beliefs. And when you start acting on those beliefs, whatever they are -- and not all extremists in the military are motivated by politics -- but whatever the motivation is, when you violate good order and discipline, when you violate the UCMJ or you violate civil laws, then we've got a problem. And that's what the secretary is trying to get after.

I will say -- and I will say this every single time I get asked about this because it's really important -- the vast, vast majority -- you know, 99.9 percent of men and women that are serving in the military do so with honor and character and integrity, and are upholding our values every single day.  And they're -- and they're -- they're putting themselves in harm's way.  And sometimes they're doing that right here, not very far from where we're standing.  And I think it's important to understand that.

This is not -- while it is -- while it is troubling and while we are -- while we are worried that the numbers may be more than what we'd be comfortable seeing them be at this point, and obviously, the -- the number -- the number is -- should be zero.  But I'm saying that the numbers may be bigger than what we may think.  That's what the secretary wants to get after.

It doesn't mean that it's not still a problem worth going after.  It doesn't mean that even though the numbers may be small, that they're -- that it's not a -- an insignificant issue to deal with. Does that answer your questions, Dan?

Q: Yes, thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Okay. Tom?

Q:  John, on what you said, that Saudi Arabia and what you said about you're going to stop providing intel, and also, best practices.  I think you said the intel was basically defensive in nature.  Someone's going to shoot a missile -- if the Houthis are going to shoot a missile at Saudi Arabia, and that best practices included how to prevent civilian casualties.  So if you're getting away from both, what would it make matters worse with, you know, harm to civilians and -- and so forth by getting rid of -- of that -- that assistance?

MR. KIRBY:  We have made it very clear over a long period of time, made -- that we need to see a more serious effort by the Saudis to address the problem of civilian casualties.  And again, I wouldn't get ahead of an interagency process on this, on sort of, what's the next steps?  Clearly, one of the things driving this decision by the administration is the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and how serious it is.

And I would also remind you, Tom, that -- that our support to Saudi Arabia isn't just military.  I know that's what we're here talking about, but there's other -- there -- there -- there's other components to the bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia does have a legitimate right to self-defense, and they have suffered attacks on that southern border.  There's no question about that.

What we're talking about here is coalition offensive operations in Yemen, operations that the administration believes have contributed to and made much worse what is already a human catastrophe.  Again, I don't want to get into any more specifics other than to say that DOD, we have a role in -- in the president's directive and -- and you know, we're going to carry that out.  We're also -- we also have a role and will carry out the interagency discussion going forward on this, and -- and -- and what the outcomes look like long term.

Q:  But you see how it could make matters worse if you're not providing assistance on how to prevent civilian casualties and you're not providing a specific intel that would help Saudi.  They're going to go after this problem anyway, and it could be worse without your -- that key support.  

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, I -- I -- I take the point. I take the point, and -- and everybody's concerned about civilian casualties, and that -- that has been expressed to the Saudis.  I don't want to get ahead of future decisions.


Q:  So just one follow-up on Yemen, and then I have a different question.  So are you at least saying that you're specifically ending intelligence sharing related to the defense of Saudi Arabia?

MR. KIRBY:  No, that's not at all what I'm saying. I'm saying it's --

Q:  Because that's what I'm getting is – sure.

MR. KIRBY:  -- related -- related to -- we're -- these are related -- the -- the -- what we've been doing related to coalition operations inside Yemen.

Q:  Okay.  Because my understanding was that was the bulk of the intel sharing that we did.

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I'm not going to talk about intelligence matters up here, but this is related to coalition operations in -- in Yemen.

Q:  Okay. (inaudible) --

MR. KIRBY:  (inaudible) coalition, so --

Q:  So we were providing that kind of support previously?

MR. KIRBY:  There was -- there was -- we had been providing intel-sharing support.

Q:  For the coalition, obviously?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q:  Okay.  And then my second question is on, did Secretary Austin attend the meeting today with NSC on Iran?  And what was discussed?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to -- I think I'd refer you to the -- to the White House for readouts of meetings that are hosted and chaired by -- by the NSC.  That's not for us to read out here.

Q:  Did Secretary Austin attend?

MR. KIRBY:  I'll let the White House speak to the -- to -- to NSC meetings and the pace of that.

Let me go back to the phones, as I promised.  Todd from Military Times?

Q:  Thank you.  You answered my questions already.  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Good.  Okay.  Bonus.  Let's see -- Jeff, Task & Purpose?

Q:  Thank you.  The Air Force just put out a statement that it's ordering a review of security worldwide following this intrusion?  I'm wondering, what is it about this particular incident that warrants some kind of worldwide evaluation that it hasn't happened in past intrusions, like when the security forces airman put five rounds through a door because he couldn't open it?

MR. KIRBY:  That's a really -- that's a question that's really better placed to -- to the Air Force.  It was acting secretary of the Air Force and the chief of staff, General Brown, who ordered this review of security protocols worldwide, and I think the secretary has full trust and confidence in their ability to -- to take a look at what they need -- what they believe they need to look at for security purposes, and we would refer you to the Air Force for -- for more on that.

Let's see -- Jared from Al Monitor?

Q: -- track how many service members are declining the COVID vaccine, and what we'd really (inaudible), DHA-217, that each service member has to fill with -- indicating -- or excuse me, DHA form 207, indicating whether they had the vaccine or not. Given that, could you give us an update of the numbers on how many service members have declined?

MR. KIRBY:  All right. Jeff, I'm sorry, but I only caught the last five seconds of that question, so can you repeat it for me?

Q:  Oh, sure.  Previously, we've been told that the Defense Department doesn't track the number of service members who've declined getting the COVID vaccine.  We've learned there's actually a form called DHA form 207 that service members have to fill out, and it indicates whether or not they accepted the vaccine.  So given that that is available, can you provide us an update on the number of service members who are refusing to get inoculated?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have an update on that, Jeff, and I don't know if -- I -- I honestly don't know the protocols, in terms of what if the service member signs or doesn't sign when they elect not to get the vaccine, so I don't know if that kind of -- you -- you -- you said that that is available.  I don't know that it is, but I'm happy to have my staff take that question and -- and we'll do some research on it, so --

Let's see, did I -- I've got one more on the phone here.  Jared from Al Monitor?

Q:  All right, sir, thanks so much for doing this.  Just a quick question:  Yesterday, a United Nations report there could have been Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, where you had the caliphate back in October.  I'm wondering if you can confirm U.S. involvement in the operation; what this Al Qaida figure's location is now, and any further details on that.

MR. KIRBY:  I'm afraid I can't help you with that from the podium today.  Again, we'll take that question.  I'd also refer you to Central Command.  Perhaps they can help you better, but I'll -- I'll pull the string here and -- and see if we can be useful. But again, I think CENTCOM's probably the best place to go, yeah.

Go ahead.

Q:  Sir, thanks for this.  I have several questions about transgender military service.  I saw the statement the secretary put out after the executive order, but I thought it lacked clarity and a timeline for both transgender enlistments and the military health system paying for transition-related care and surgeries, just as it would for any other medical procedure.

Will you affirm the Pentagon will get to both of those outcomes?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I -- I -- I'm not sure I agree with your characterization that it lacked clarity.  I mean, it was pretty clear that -- that from the secretary's statement, that if an individual meets all the other fitness and academic requirements to join the military, transgender identity will not be a bar.  So it was pretty clear there that recruitment and accessions will continue.

And he also talked about reversing the decision by the previous administration about not providing associated and appropriate medical assistance and care for those, you know, undergoing transition.

Now, what -- what does need to be done, and I think I'm getting at the larger part of your question, is, I mean, he gave the department two months to come back to him with more specific implementation guidelines and procedures and protocols.  This had been started, as you know, in 2016, and then more abruptly stopped in I think 2018, I could be wrong about that.

So -- so a lot of that muscle memory that had been in place in 2016 was gone, and he wanted to give the department a couple of months to get it back and that's what's going on right now.  And I'm sure that once we get that, those -- and we've been able to solidify the recommendations, going forward, you'll see us put out what the implementation -- specific implementation on all the aspects of transgender service are.

Q:  But what's -- what's the timeline to get to the end result?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm sorry?

Q:  What is your expected timeline to get to the end result?

MR. KIRBY:  The end result?

Q:  Being providing for care, transgender enlistments and --

MR. KIRBY:  Again, I would say that in terms of enlistments, that issue is solved.

Q: -- right now --

MR. KIRBY:  Trans -- you can -- if you meet all the other requirements, you know, physical fitness and your academic and all the other requirements to enlist in a branch of the armed forces, transgender identity will not be a bar so today, somebody can walk in and join.

Now, I said there's -- there's some implementation things that we have to get in place to make sure that continued service is not impacted either.  And so we just want to go back and take a look at where we were in 2016, and make sure we issue appropriate guidelines to the -- to the force.

Q:  This might be splitting hairs, transgender identity is not a bar to service, but is a diagnosis of gender dysphoria a bar to service?


Q:  And that -- the executive order called for consultation with the Joint Chiefs in this matter.  What kind of weight will the Joint Chiefs have on this as this goes forward?

MR. KIRBY:  The Joint Chiefs are also service chiefs.  They have significant Title 10 responsibilities to recruit, to retain, to train, to equip.  That's by law.  They are the service providers to the combatant commanders around the world.  So they have a very large vote and a voice with the service secretaries, of course, the civilian oversight, in how these policies will be implemented going forward.

Again, we'll -- we're on our way here, and I think in a couple of months we'll be able to provide more detail.

Q: But you said a vote, that implies that they might be able to vote certain --

MR. KIRBY:  No.  Look, don't -- don't read too much into the word "vote."  I -- I -- what I meant was they have a voice in the policymaking process, they have a -- they are integral, the service secretaries and the service chiefs are integral to implementing and executing the policies that the secretary has now ordered.

And that will happen, and they will be -- we will consult with them, as we move forward, and -- and they will -- they will provide their best advice about how to implement.

I think you may be getting at this idea that they're going to somehow resist or are not in favor of or will find a way to, you know, block or stonewall implementation, and that's just not going to happen.  That's just not going to happen.

Q:  I just know everyone wants to move on, I have one last question.  Did this issue come up today at all in the Tank, and who is spearheading this effort?

MR. KIRBY : I'm not going to read out specifics of the discussions between the secretary and the service chiefs in the Tank.  But I think -- I think it -- I can be wrong about this, so check me, but I think in the -- in the memo that the secretary signed, he put the dot on the under secretary of defense for Personnel and Readiness to lead this 60-day implementation review.


Q:  Can you talk about the cost to mobilize the 26,000 National Guardsmen and women to protect us from extremism?  What's the -- what's the going bill right now?  I hear it's about $480 million to $500 million?

MR. KIRBY:  I think the Army put out a number on that.

Q:  They didn’t put out anything.  They deferred to you, I guess.

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have -- I don't think I have that -- figures here, let me just check.  But I think we can get it to you, Tony?


Q:  How about the breakdown too.  the public ?) --

MR. KIRBY:  I'm sure you would.

Q: -- you know, is that incurred costs or is that an estimate through April or through --


MR. KIRBY:  Tony, let me get back to you, another taken question.  I think that's an easy one, I just didn't -- I just don't -- I don't think --


Q: -- China, the USS McCain transit, question of the -- did General Austin -- excuse me, Secretary Austin -- sign off on the McCain's transit of the strait -- Taiwan Strait, and then going into the South China Sea?  Or was that a pre-planned Indo-Pacific -- INDOPACOM exercise --

MR. KIRBY:  It did not require specific signoff by the secretary of defense.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  All right, let's go back to the phones.

Q: -- follow-up on that ,why are you still doing those operations, John?

MR. KIRBY:  Why are we still doing those?  Well, I mean, we have an obligation -- have many obligations in the Indo-Pacific theater.  One of them is to, of course, re-enforcing and supporting the navigation rights and freedoms of all countries in accordance with international law, and that's why we continue to conduct what we refer to as freedom of navigation operations.

These are international waters, and I think it's important -- we believe it's important -- to demonstrate that we support the idea that these are international waters, and that -- and that we -- we, like every other nation, has the right to operate, to sail, to fly in international maritime space and airspace.

Okay.  Gillian?

Q:  Hi, thank you so much. I do have a question about those mass vaccination centers that were announced today.  Do you have any idea where the troops will be coming from, what bases, what installations, what locations around the country?  And do you have an idea of -- you had mentioned two of the five will be in California, where are the other three to start out with?

MR. KIRBY:  I'd -- I'd refer you to FEMA for specific locations.  What -- what we can say today is that the initial -- the -- the part of the initial group of 1,110, so roughly around 222, that initial tranche, will be going to a site in California.  I would refer you to FEMA to talk specifically about what site that is.

And as for what units are represented in this initial group of 200 and where they're coming from, I don't have that information right now.  The -- as I said at the outset, the -- the military services are -- are sourcing that right now and I'm sure when we have more information about that, we should be able to provide it.  I don't think that would take very long, either.

As I said, the goal here is to get this initial team of 200 on site, on or about the 15th of the month. So, you know, a little bit more than within 10 days away.  Dan ?

Q:  Going back to the earlier question about extremism in the ranks, where do you draw the line, right?  So if -- if a -- if a service member is -- is expressing their views that the current president wasn't somehow legitimately elected versus maybe someone who's actually advocating violence, is -- do you draw the line at -- at advocating violence?

Extremism is -- is a hard thing -- is subjective, obviously.

MR. KIRBY:  That -- well, so you've hit on something that's really important, Dan, and that's -- that's how you get your arms around this problem.  In -- in one of the discussions that -- in the -- in the meeting earlier in the week that the Secretary had with -- with the chiefs and the service secretaries was exactly that -- what are the definitions?

You know, the definitions that we're operating under now were based on 200 -- a 2012 instruction.  And so do we need to revisit that?  Is that -- does that still apply?  And I think those are the questions -- you know, you're -- you're asking the very same question that the Secretary and the -- the chiefs are asking -- you know, how do you -- how do you define it?

But to your other point, Dan, it really -- it -- it isn't -- it isn't about -- it isn't about what you internalize, it's how you externalize those beliefs, and when the externalization of those beliefs threatens or -- or, you know, does harm, when it affects the good order and discipline of the unit, then it becomes something that leaders have to -- to have accountability measures in place to deal with.

And -- and -- and so that's -- you know, that's -- to where do you actually draw the line, that's -- that's where we are currently at.  But again, in terms of what is and what isn't extremism is something that I think that -- that we all agree we need -- we need better -- need better definition on, and I don't just mean that in the -- the -- the vocabulary sense of the word.

Q:  So sorry, one separate question.  On the vaccinations, I understand you can't say how many people have decided not to do it but at what point -- I mean, is there a concern that you don't get enough of your -- the personnel vaccinated and you actually can't protect the force if enough -- enough people decide not to do it?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, so it -- we have to remember it's a voluntary vaccine and we have to be mindful of that.  We want obviously to protect everybody in the force and we want them to have the opportunity to make this decision for themselves.

I can tell you that as of today, as the -- the -- the -- as of February, we've administered 76.4 percent of all of the vaccines that we have on hand.  So it's a robust process and it's getting more robust every day and -- and -- and clearly we have to balance our legitimate concerns for health of the force and -- and readiness with the fact that the -- these individuals have a right to -- to say that -- that they don't want it.

But I -- you know, I'm not a clinician and not a doctor, so I can't tell you that a certain number, a -- and a certain percentage all of a sudden gets us there, but we're making a -- a very concerted effort -- and as I said, it's -- it's getting -- it's getting more refined and -- and better every day but we're making a very concerted effort to make the vaccines available to as many people in the work force as we can.

Q:  So can I do a quick follow up on extremism?  Those 2012 rates you talk about say you can -- you can be a member of one of these groups but not an active member.  Is that something you've got to look at, that maybe you shouldn't even be a member of some of these groups?

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I think it's safe to say that the Secretary wants the leadership here to -- to look at all components of this and I certainly wouldn't rule that out as one thing that they're thinking about, is -- is how you get your arms around membership in these groups.

You're right, right now, membership is not -- is not considered inconsistent with service in the military and it really is really about what you do with that membership.  I'm not going to be predictive one way or the other about where this discussion is going but I think membership in these groups is certainly something that I would expect that them -- for them to look at.  Yeah?

Q:  From -- did -- be more specific about the nature of assistance to continue -- you'll continue to provide to Saudi Arabia to defend its borders  And the second question, what level of cooperation you expect from Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the Pentagon's operation against Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, of course in the light of --

MR. KIRBY: Actually, that's a good point. I mean, I -- I -- and I should've said that at the -- the top. I mean, the U.S. operations against ISIS and Al Qaida will continue. This is not -- this decision is not affected by that. I -- I think you're asking the same question Lita asked about the panoply of things that -- that we still cooperate with Saudi Arabia with, in the terms of a bilateral military-to-military relationship, and I just don't -- I'm just not equipped right now today to -- to answer that, so I -- I will -- we'll get it to you, just as we promised to get it to -- to Lita.

Let me go back to the phones here.  Let's see.  Sylvie from AFP?

Q:  Hello.  I am -- a follow up to a question, an answer you gave to Luis about the -- the review -- the worldwide review -- posture review.  Do you know how many troops -- U.S. troops are currently in Germany right now and if any withdrawal started already under the previous administration?

And also, I would like to know the position of the Secretary on the relationships with Turkey and the fact that Turkey now is in possession of the Russian -- the Russian S-400?

MR. KIRBY:  Look, I -- I'm going to have to -- I -- I -- I didn't prepare for the exact number of -- of personnel we have in Germany but that's a gettable number and we can get that for you.  The only thing I would say and try to reiterate is what I said before -- in his conversation with the Minister of Defense of Germany, he made it clear that while no decisions have been made yet, whatever decisions are made about our troop levels there or anywhere in Europe -- and we're going to make those in consultation with -- with the governments concerned.

We're grateful for the support that the German government continues to give us and has given us for so many years and we will absolutely make sure that they are properly consulted if and when -- if or when there's any changes to be talked about.

As for Turkey, again, I -- I would remind that Turkey's a long-standing and valued NATO ally but their decision to purchase the S-400 is inconsistent with Turkey's commitments as a U.S. and NATO ally.  Our position has not changed -- the S-400 is incompatible with the F-35 and Turkey has been suspended from that program.

We urge Turkey not to retain the S-400 system.  Turkey had multiple opportunities over the last decade to purchase the Patriot defense system from the United States and instead chose to purchase the S-400, which provides Russia revenue, access and influence.

Okay, I'll take one more and I'll take it from the room and then -- then we'll head out.  Go ahead, sir.

Q:  Thanks.  Do you -- you talked about vaccines.  Once the vaccine is FDA approved, will it be mandated to soldiers, and then you'd go and take up all of those that have been denying it?  And then I'd like to follow up on the rotations that you mentioned.

So rotations are going to be continuing.  And in Europe specifically, does the Secretary agree with what Secretary Esper said last July, that more rotations should be happening in Eastern Europe and are those conversations ongoing or are they going to wait until the six month review finishes?

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I don't know of any changes to rotational deployments to Eastern Europe and I have nothing in terms of future decisions to announce with respect to that today.

On your other question, as a hypothetical, I don't want to get ahead of FDA certification of the vaccine.  If it becomes a certified, FDA approved vaccine, then I'm sure that medical policy in the -- in the military will adjust to that.  What that looks like exactly, I'm not at liberty to say today.

Right now, it's -- it's -- it's being -- the -- it's being offered on a voluntary basis and we're going to have to -- you know, not have to, we are going to continue to respect that. Okay, thanks, everybody.

Q: -- D.C., who's footing the bill?

MR. KIRBY:  How did I not know that you were going to just jump right in there?  Who's foot -- footing the bill, what?

Q: For the National Guard in the nation's Capitol.

MR. KIRBY:  I would refer you to the Army for that.  I -- I don't have the specific information about the -- the budget process there but the Army could probably better answer that.

Q:  And when are they leaving?

MR. KIRBY:  As I said before, and the Secretary made this case when he was up on Capitol Hill visiting with Guardsmen, we don't want them to perform this mission one day longer than they have to.  And we are proud of them and we are grateful for what they're doing, leaving their families and their jobs and, you know, guarding our Capitol grounds in -- in some -- in some cold, nasty weather.

And it was inspiring, at least for me personally, to -- to -- to see them out there.  It does -- it makes you proud but we don't want them one day longer than they need to be.  And as I told you before, as long as the Secretary believes there's a valid requirement that -- that we have to meet at -- at the request of federal and local law enforcement, as well as the city, we're going to do that.

Okay?  Thanks, everybody. I appreciate it, thank you so much.