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Captain Rodger Welch, USN
Tsunami Relief Spokeperson, U. S. Pacific Command

U.S. Military Relief Efforts for Tsunami Victims
Camp H. M. Smith, Hawaii
January 2, 2005

 

Captain Welch: Good morning everybody.

We have provided quite a bit of data so far on number of assets in the theater, specifically U.S. Navy and Marine Corps assets. I'll give you a snapshot of U.S. Air Force assets to start this briefing and then we'll go from there.

The Air Force has in the region seven C-130 aircraft; 20 helicopters of various types. Ten of those are U.S. aeromedical evac helicopters. Of course we're using KC-135 providing air transport; C-17 and C-5 strategic lift aircraft are continuing to flow inter-theater airlift requirements.

The bottom line here from yesterday and today, is that all our services, including U.S. Coast Guard and many other nations' services are providing some level of support to the host nation and all the other government agency relief efforts.

As of today all the Disaster Relief Assessment Teams, formerly called DRATs over the last few days, have become U.S. Support Groups. That's their name now, USSG. That happened as of yesterday really late, and that started when one star flag officers started arriving in these locations.

The Task Force Commander's task, and General Blackman is in place today in Bangkok so he's also on the ground, his job is to take an inventory of all the incoming assets, military and other, and build the best organization and structure and plan to distribute the relief and the supplies and the incoming personnel to the places most needing it when they need it. That's quite a challenge, as you can imagine. This disaster, as you understand, is spanning two continents, it is multinational and it is continuing to grow in size and shape.

We're also in the process, and in light of that we're in the process through the JTF Commander of building the coalition structure to best align and synchronize these distribution and relief efforts. Additionally, the coalition brings additional assets to both the command structure and each of the individual locations.

Of course on the ground in these locations -- Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand -- coalitions at the tactical level have already been formed, our representatives have already been meeting with the host nation supporting them with all the other involved countries.

Again, our main focus is to provide structure and distribution for the host nation and in support of their requirements.

A clarification probably on our expeditionary support group and our carrier strike group -- I'm sorry, expeditionary strike group and carrier strike group. These are known and seen as entities, if you will, as they deploy. However, as I lined out yesterday they have numerous ships and other assets embarked. All of these are what we call resources that the Task Force Commander can use as he needs. What that means is we can put various ships at various places and there's no requirement to keep these things together as an entity. He'll take a look at that and make an operational and tactical decision as to the best way to use them.

So far, if you're interested in how many people we've moved, about 115 on strategic lift, that was yesterday; and about 108 tons. And intra-theater, about 95 people and 77 tons.

Some specifics on the actual things that we've delivered, and we will get better and better at this for you so you can actually see how we're doing. 430,000 pounds of food, supplies and equipment were moved yesterday. Specifically in Sri Lanka, U.S. Support Group has completed the surveys of the southeast coastal region and they're working towards an assessment in the Maldives. We expect that to be finished tomorrow. The U.S. Support Group met with senior military leaders to coordinate the priority of efforts. Once again, the coalition work is begun at the locations. We are building the structure to support that back at the main hub in Thailand, Utapao Field.

Today two C-130s will arrive with our TALC Det. It's not important to know TALC other than these are the people that do air traffic control and manage the aircraft flow, et cetera. These people are important, as you can imagine, as increased air flow comes into these fields. We will eventually put these kinds of people in all the places where in-bound air flow is increased. Two Marine vessels are proceeding to Sri Lanka. Marine vessels Umas and Byman.

In the next 96 hours we expect four helicopters to arrive, about 3 January, which will bring the total to six. We also expect a Marine Corps one star flag officer to take charge of that U.S. Support Group. Additionally, 200 Marines, engineers from Okinawa, will be arriving within 24-36 hours. These Marines will do all the things that we've talked about all along. They will get on the ground, they will work the distribution and flow problem, the storage problem, and also work the airfield logistics issues. These are not part of the expeditionary strike group.

In Thailand in the last 24 hours, five C-130s transported 85,000 pounds of supplies; medevac'd 17 German citizens to Phuket and as I mentioned, the Commander of Joint Task Force 536, Lieutenant General Robert Blackman, arrived in Bangkok. He will be proceeding to Utapao from there.

We're continuing an assessment in the Kowlak [ph] region and we are continuing to move supplies in and around the area. In the next 96 hours the U.S. Support Group transition to Phuket, and that is based on being closer to the issue, and that's where that will happen.

The Joint Task Force will be up and running in Utapao in the next 72 hours.

In Indonesia in the last 24 hours Brigadier General Cowdrey, Commander of U.S. Support Group 1 arrived. Twelve carrier strike group H-60s and two carrier strike group CODS, or delivery aircraft, delivered supplies in USAID to Banda Aceh. Ten helo sorties from Lincoln delivered supplies to the Meluba area.

As I mentioned before, you're going to see lots of different numbers on helicopter sorties, and keep in mind that some of them come from the carrier, some of them come from the supporting ships, et cetera. We will try to do our best to keep that in mind and in order for you.

Today helicopter sorties will continue and we expect within the next day or two that the expeditionary strike group helicopter sorties will also join that effort for a while.

In the U.S. logistics arena, UN Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Assistance, their number one request is for helos, and as I talked about throughout this brief, our number one priority is to support this effort. What we bring is that lift capability of helos and C-130s. More than 70 short tons of relief supplies were delivered and 35 relief flights were conducted and are continuing.

So reviewing, we've also plussed up some of the folks on the ground. We're up to almost 600 people on the ground now in JTF-536, and of course the afloat numbers remain the same, about 11,500. So add that to the Air Force numbers I gave you at the beginning and you'll see that the force is growing.

Some of the coalition countries that are also participating and that we're working to align with include Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Singapore. And of course the countries, once again, that we are focusing on and working through are the host nations -- Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand.

Some of the there things we're doing and then I'll close my briefing up. It was asked yesterday how this compares to other relief efforts and other kinds of lift efforts. We are taking a real hard look at the lessons learned from everything from Operation Sea Angle which happened in Bangladesh a few years ago to, as I mentioned yesterday, JTF-535's recent two-week effort, two-plus-week effort in the Republic of the Philippines. We did learn a lot of lessons. We are making sure we don't repeat those mistakes and we learn from those lessons.

I can't give you how big this is yet because it's continuing. The number of folks that are inbound are continuing, so you're going to see more and more assets arrive, and I anticipate that the assessment will continue, especially in Indonesia where we're just now getting to some of the areas that need relief. And once again, the main charter is to provide the best and most efficient means to distribute these supplies. Because they're coming in from every direction, from all countries, from all sources. And we can do that. It just takes some work.

I'll now open it up to any questions.

Q: How long do you folks expect all these support groups to be there?

A: You mean our military assets? They'll stay there as long as the host nation needs them and as long as our country sees that the host nation needs them. We will work that problem. I don't have a timeframe yet, but I know they're prepared to stay as long as they're needed.

Q: Is the operation changing from assessment to now more supporting?

A: That's a good question. As I mentioned early on, the first day we talked we were largely in the arrival and assessment mode. Now I would say we have a very good assessment of what needs to get done in Thailand and the Thais have done that and we're supporting them. That effort is ongoing.

In Sri Lanka, that database is also building and in Indonesia I think we'll have to continue assessing as we work the deliveries. So each country is a little different.

Q: Can you give an example? You said you learned some lessons from the Philippines and some of the other --

A: Sure.

Q: Can you give an example of what things --

A: Sure. There are a lot of different issues. For example, what you don't think about is how you're going to communicate various places. Some of these places are not in cell phone range and they don't have power, so even if they are in cell phone range your cell phone runs out and there's nowhere to plug it in. So you need radios.

You need deconflict frequencies. You have so much more air traffic, especially helicopter and visual flight rules air traffic, that you need to build some sort of air flow plan.

You need to figure a way to distribute water. If you make the water and you bring it ashore in great big quantities, how do you distribute it? So we're in the process of moving a lot of five gallon tins of water in, and bottles, small plastic bottles so we can distribute this water, instead of just having the water show up and not have a way to distribute it.

Another thing that happens is the flow of the stuff into these areas always at the beginning is larger than the ability to distribute it. So you build a plan to best do that and we'll build a plan that takes it to the place it's needed on time when it's needed. It's like I think General Blackman used the analogy of building a house. If you were going to build a house you wouldn't want everything to arrive on the first day. You wouldn't want the sink and the plaster and the paint to come before the foundation was built. You need to distribute it kind of in that manner.

So take an inventory of what's there, figure out who needs it most immediately, and get it there. That is to stop people from dying, then to start providing some other kinds of relief. Of course we have various refugee camps that need support. The main requests are always the same -- water, food, shelter, medical equipment and personnel. Then you start working into some of the other kinds of issues.

So we have lots of different lessons that we've already applied. I think that gave you a couple of ideas.

Anybody from the phone?

If there are no more questions, that ends today's briefing. Thank you.


(END)



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