Captain Rodger Welch, USN
U.S. Military Relief Efforts for Tsunami Victims
Captain Alderson: Ladies and gentlemen, again, this is Jeff Alderson, U.S. Pacific Command. Our spokesman today will be Captain Rodger Welch, and he's with the Operations Directorate, U.S. Pacific Command. Captain?
Captain Welch: Good morning everybody, and Happy New Year. As we sat in Hawaii, [Hauoli Makahiki Hou], which is Happy New Year. We passed that yesterday as it was New Year's yesterday to those of us in the area.
I'm going to give you a lot of facts today and I'll try to give them as slowly as possible and as clearly as possible. Feel free to ask questions at the end of my short presentation.
The U.S. Navy/Marine Corps Tsunami relief operation involvement to date includes ships of the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group. They were diverted to the affected areas to provide assistance as needed. The units in the carrier strike group are USS Abraham Lincoln, CVN-72; Carrier Air Wing 2, that's [ABW] 2; USS Shiloh, CG-67; USS [Binsend], DDG-65; USS [Shoop], DDG-86; and USNS Ranier, TAOE-7.
Abraham Lincoln strike air wing, Carrier Air Wing 2, has two helicopters deployed with it. Squadron assets include four SH-60F Seahawks; three SH-60H Seahawks; eight SH-60B Seahawks; and four MH-60S Seahawks. We can talk to those capabilities a little bit later. All have vertical replenishment capabilities and 28,000 pound maximum lift capability per cycle. In addition to the cargo and lift capabilities of the helicopter squadron the Air Wing's logistics squadron of four C-2 Grayhound or carrier on-board delivery COD aircraft are capable of moving several thousand pounds of cargo and passengers from ship to shore and back.
In addition to the carrier strike group logistic and transportation capabilities it also offers a full medical department of more than 40 personnel well trained in mass casualty disaster response; 49 bed hospital ward; three intensive care units; and one operating room. Five Thai interpreters and five chaplains, 5,000-plus sailors, and 15 Marines aboard USS Shoop and an explosive ordnance detachment are also available.
All the ships have the capability to convert salt water into drinking water as well as an ability to offload that water. This can range into the tens of thousands of gallons a day, depending on the ship.
The USS Lincoln sailors are already gathering extra bedding, dry foods, medical supplies and are baking bread to freeze to pass on to the people in need.
Along with the Abraham Lincoln strike group the ships and personnel of the USS Bonhomme Richard, and Expeditionary Strike Group 5 were also diverted to the stricken area. This group includes the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit; USS Bonhomme Richard, that's LHD-6; USS Duluth, LTD-6; USS Rushmore, LSD-47; USS Bunker Hill, CG-52; USS [Melidy Shimmieth] DDG-69; USS Batch, SFG-43; and USCGC Monroe, WHEC-724.
The Bonhomme Richard ASG has 24 Navy/Marine Corps aircraft available for use in various relief missions. They include eight CH-46E Sea Knights; two CH-53E Super Stallions; two AH-1W Super Cobras; two UH1N Syracoy; five AV-8B Harrier 2s; two MH-60S Seahawks; and three SH-60B Seahawks.
Among the seven surface ships comprising Expeditionary Strike Group 5, there are five landing craft and one landing craft utility and 12 [rigidable] inflatable boats that can be used in a variety of relief missions as well.
Like the Lincoln strike group, the Expeditionary strike group has many relief options as well. One staffed operating room, three more coming on line when augmentees arrive; stocked blood bank with 686 frozen units and a walking blood bank of 2750; 14 intensive care unit beds; 68 hospital ward beds; and 123 overflow beds. The embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit provides more Marines to help provide security and other support missions for the relief efforts.
Finally, the other Navy/Marine Corps team assets supporting the humanitarian assistance effort include nine P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft from patrol squadron 8N, patrol squadron 4. That's AP8-AP4, deployed to survey the area with the capability to use life rafts as needed. Five are on station in Diego Garcia, three in [Udapao], Thailand, and one on its way to Thailand.
Navy Environmental and Preventive Medicine Unit 6 out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, is contributing a 31-person preventive medical team to Indonesia to support the people of Sumatra. The team will be able to monitor water quality, food sanitation and mosquitoes and will participate in disease outbreak surveillance and chemical analysis. They'll also bring a portable lab for analysis in the field.
Those are all the facts that we have so far. I'd like to just, before I open it up to questions, remind everyone as we had a field teleconference yesterday afternoon with the JTF-536 Commander, Lieutenant General Blackman, he reminds us that we've been in this disaster for less than a week, and yet we have some 10,000 to 12,000 forces deployed and we are already providing supplies and relief to all the impacted areas. So if we reflect on that, on the nature and the size of the distances covered to get those forces there and providing relief already is quite an accomplishment.
I now can open it up to any questions.
Q: This is Jim Garamon with AFPS. Atjeh is in the break-away province, or trying to break away province of Indonesia. Is there a security problem for U.S. forces operating there?
A: We will manage our humanitarian effort security and force protection as we do all other efforts, so there's no new problem. It's all in part of the force package we talked about.
Q: Tom Shanker from the New York Times. Sir, do you have any statistics yet on the number of sorties flown and/or tons of supplies carried [inaudible] at this hour?
A: I can give you our best guess to date, and these are changing even as we speak. It's not a guess, but this is what we had as of when I walked out to come to this briefing.
About nine C-130 flights and five to six P-3 flights. We will have for you in the future some specific data, but I will tell you also that that is posted on the web site as far as tons of cargo moved, people moved, et cetera.
As I said yesterday, we are taking supplies to airports and then helicopters and/or trucks or any means capable is taking them to the impacted areas. Then we are bringing back people that need medevac. So we're moving people and supplies both ways in all places. But we'll have worked out more data for you in the future.
Q: This is Elizabeth Chadwick from the LA Times. Have you already been bringing people on board for the hospital rooms or for surgery?
A: I do not think that we've brought anybody on the ships yet. I do know that we have medevac'd people in Thailand specifically back to [Udapao] and they are getting medical attention at the central hub of this operation. But I do not think we've moved anybody back to any of the ships yet.
Q: When can those two different [inaudible] actually arrive in the area?
A: Yesterday when the new year dawned over there, there were helicopters flying over the beach in Indonesia. So they started and they flew all day yesterday. The ESG-5 is expected to arrive in the next day or two and --
Q: I'm sorry. What was that?
A: The Expeditionary Group 5 is expected to arrive in the next day or two. They should be in range to start providing some support here within a day.
The final disposition of all these units is yet to be determined. Right now we are using them as the task force commander and the PACOM commander see best, but we're currently taking an inventory of all the assets and the plan is to throw those assets at the proper problem. So I can't tell you exactly what ships and pieces of this will end up where or how long they'll stay there. But right now Abe Lincoln is [laying] into Indonesia and Expeditionary Group 5 is on the way.
Q: Has the weather been an issue?
A: Not yet. So far it has not been too much of a problem. There have been some follow-on after shocks that we've seen, but nothing that has stopped any of the efforts.
One of the problems, frankly, right now is that we're working to gain a night capability in Indonesia because there isn't a lot of night lighting or radar coverage, et cetera. We will have that capability soon.
A: Absolutely not. In fact --
Q: Can you repeat that question, please?
A: Is the military meeting any resistance, especially in Indonesia because of politics or religion, et cetera?
This is a disaster and I'm finding that all those kinds of things are stepped out of the way, so far. And I will tell you that we have heard press releases from Indonesia, and once again the task force commander made a comment, actually this was the battle group commander, Rear Admiral Crowder, on Abe Lincoln, that there is provided some sort of comfort when you see a U.S. aircraft carrier off your coast and helicopters, the comment from the coast was "the helicopters appeared like angels delivering supplies", so those kinds of things are good.
Q: [inaudible] there now? Is that 10,000 to 12,000, is that the ones who are on their way there or the ones who are actually there?
A: Just a minute, I can get that for you.
On the ground right now, JTF 536 personnel, 346 -- about 300 in Thailand, 30 in Sri Lanka, and 12 in Indonesia on the ground.
Afloat JTF 536, 11,483. We have further breakouts as to how many in each. It's about 6,000 in Abraham Lincoln group and about 5,300 in the Bonhomme Richard expeditionary strike group.
Q: [inaudible]. Is there any possibility that [inaudible]?
A: Yes. Sailors and Marines I expect can be tasked to do that. Once again, I think right now we are establishing logheads, we're getting the lift moved out of the airports and I think follow-on, we'll bring some people to shore. There are some people ashore now and they're, for example, the two helicopter squadron COs from Abraham Lincoln flew ashore already to coordinate the air pieces, and their crews have been ashore, so those folks are already moving. And maintenance folks who need to help them and supply folks, et cetera, so they're already moving.
Q: We hear reports that [inaudible]. [Inaudible]?
A: I don't have the exact details on where the aid is going. I know that at the tactical level the commander on the ground there, and as of today those units are called U.S. support groups and they're led by one star flag officers in each location. They are making the tactical decision as to where the stuff goes, and frankly, a lot of it is where it's needed most and there are places that are more remote than others.
If you can imagine the coordination challenge in getting all these things to all the places that need it, it's quite a task.
Q: Captain, have you heard back from your, I mean you've obviously heard back from your assessment teams. Can you give us some of what they have sent back to you?
A: We hear back from them every day, and I think the best place to find all that is posted on our fact sheet. But basically, each country is a little different. Thailand is well in hand. There's a large force there. The Thais are working that problem very well. And we are supporting and assisting. Of course [Udapao] is in Thailand as the central hub that we're using right now.
Indonesia, we're still working on providing relief while we're doing the assessment. Once again there are places that we haven't even seen yet and if you read your own news it tells you I think the casualty count there is undetermined.
Sri Lanka also, we're still in the process of flying reconnaissance missions to survey the damage, but we are starting to work on opening up airports and roads, and in Colombo, the primary hub there, they are in fact chock-a-block full of supplies awaiting delivery.
We will start doing the same kinds of things to the Maldives early next week.
Q: Tom Shanker again. Captain, all the reporters in the field are reporting heavy rainstorms. Is that affecting your mission at all?
A: I haven't heard it affect the mission. Obviously as soon as the weather gets into instrument conditions for the pilots, when you don't have radar coverage then you're working with challenging flying conditions. So yes, if it starts raining and the viability goes low, then of course that will impact the mission.
Q: Thank you, sir.
Q: [inaudible] situation where you have not been able to land or not had adequate landing sites [inaudible]? If so, is there a backup plan [inaudible]?
A: I don't know the exact answer to that. I'm sure that helicopter pilots have had to search for places to land. We have surveyed various airfields that we are planning on using for the C-130 landing spots. Some of the airfields in the region that we could have used have been damaged. We know where they are, and we are making an assessment as to whether or not it's worth fixing them and providing them as additional landing strips.
We have a pretty good idea of where we want to land things and how we're going to do it. Frankly, the challenge in Indonesia is, there's about one road left in and out of the area so it's mostly going to be a sealift kind of a situation where we're moving stuff from sea to shore. Potentially off the water as well.
Q: Captain, it's a fact that the United States doesn't have military to military contacts with Indonesia. Is that sort of hampering your effort?
A: I would say no. We have limited military to military contacts with Indonesia. We have an ability and we have had dialogue with Indonesia, even recently in the last year with their military. The relationships were built very rapidly in light of the disaster and right now the TNI, the Indonesia military and our military and the Australians, many others in the region are working hand to hand in a coordinated effort. So that is not hampering us at all right now. In fact Admiral Fargo made a personal call to the Chief of Defense in Indonesia just the other day.
Q: Would you like to [inaudible]? Are we talking [inaudible]?
A: I can't make that comparison. It certainly is the largest logistic and [inaudible] effort in this region in quite a while.
Q: Captain, can you just go over when the prepositioned ships are going to be arriving?
A: Eight to ten days. Maritime preposition ships. They departed Guam and Japan, I think, within the last couple of days.
Q: Can you be any more specific about this [inaudible] airlift [inaudible]?
A: I can't think of anything. Keep in mind that we just completed a disaster relief effort in Philippines. JTF-535 which was also made up of Marine Expeditionary, a third Marine Expeditionary force up in Okinawa. That was, we did that in about two to three weeks. The size and shape of that was very balanced. This is three countries that were participating in it. There were numerous other nations participating and who want to participate -- Australia, Japan, New Zealand, India of course. If I omitted one it's not because they haven't asked us. There's a handful of people that we're working with right now.
This is, in numbers of impacted countries and numbers of countries that are participating, this is by far the largest thing that we've done since I can remember. Is that better?
Q: In 50 years? I don't know.
A: I can't think of anything in the last 50 years that we've done to equal this.
Q: So the next biggest change [inaudible]?
A: I think you're trying to back me into this corner on [inaudible]. I don't know. I can't make that comparison yet. We're only beginning this effort. How long it lasts, it will last from our perspective until the host nations don't need our help any more and can manage the problems themselves.
Q: We also didn't realize there are a lot of other [inaudible] also.
A: Right. Once again, just to reemphasize, the U.S. forces are there to provide support and organizational and structural help to the host nation and the other government agencies. The DoD forces are in fact there to support those other government agency efforts.
What we bring uniquely is our lift capability. We also bring an ability to bring medicines, supplies, et cetera. So for example a lot of countries who want to contribute, we can help them lift those supplies. That's what one of our largest contributions is, I think.
I can take one more question.
Q: [inaudible] figured out what --
Q: NBC News Berkeley. Hello?
A: Just a second, sir.
I can give you an idea of who's involved right now. Give me one second.
A: I can't say how much, but once again this is militarily, so far, who I know is involved. Australia, Japan, Germany, Malaysia, Singapore, Republic of Korea, and there are more, but those are the ones that we're currently talking to. For example with Indonesia, Tunisia has been working with us and the Australians, the Czech Republic et cetera. It depends on what countries are there. In Sri Lanka the Defense Attaché has met with all the Defense Attaches to see what folks can do. Great Britain also has assets that are available.
I think that's all I have time for.
Q: Thank you, Captain.
A: Thank you very much.
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