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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 3, 2005

 

Captain Welch: Good morning everybody again. Welcome back to Pacific Command.


I'm going to give you a large overview today of what kind of assets we have in the field and what they're doing. I think that everybody's going to be very interested in some of this stuff. We also have a few maps to show you and a couple of pictures, although there's more than enough coverage live and recorded in pictures, but these are just a few of them that are posted on our web site.

Where we are today. We've established a Joint Task Force Headquarters in Utapao, Thailand. As of yesterday Lieutenant General Blackman is there with his staff.

We have also established U.S. Support Groups in all three countries affected. That includes Colombo, Sri Lanka; Jakarta right now in Indonesia, and we'll probably move forward into Medan or Banda Aceh; and Phuket in Thailand. Each of these is led by a one star brigadier general, and these military officers are working hand in hand with OFDA and USAID representatives to work the control and the flow and the organization of relief supplies and personnel in each of these countries.

There are approximately 12,600 military forces deployed. That includes Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. As we talked about yesterday, about 6,000 of those are afloat. We've actually almost doubled our number of people ashore. We're up to about 1,030 people now ashore.

These numbers do not include the augmentations of personnel that have come to the staffs including to this staff. It also doesn't include some of the other civilian agencies that we're working with hand in hand to include State Department, OFDA, AID, et cetera. Those folks have also come down range and have augmented our staffs.

Admiral Fargo established a full spectrum Joint InterAgency Coordination Group and their charter is to coordinate with the other government agencies and the non-government organizations, NGOs, and work to align and synchronize efforts. That full spectrum GIACG, we call it, Joint InterAgency Coordination Group, is led by the Center of Excellence's Director, Mr. Pete Bradford, here in Hawaii.

In addition to the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance crowd that's here, Mr. Phil Wilhelm is here from OFDA, there are as I mentioned, representatives in each of these countries.

The State Department rep that is here is from State Department East Asia Pacific and his name is Mr. William Connelly.
We have 21 ships providing direct assistance. About 80 military aircraft are flying daily support supply ops. That number is dynamic, of course, because as lift flies in and out of the region those numbers change.

The same with helicopter numbers. You're going to see lots of different slides and reports on how many helicopters are doing various things. For example, on Abe Lincoln alone, helicopters come and go and they take off and land. And they are coming from various places to include the supporting ships and the shore, et cetera.

So we've got about 80 aircraft total. Eleven of them are cargo planes, C-130 type airplanes; several strategic lift type airplanes -- C-5, C-17, et cetera. A total of about 62 helicopters continuously delivering supplies in the areas of need. You have I'm sure by now seen live and recorded coverage of these helicopter efforts as well as from them, probably. Thirty-nine of them have flown continuous humanitarian assistance with the weather and the host nation permitting.

Supplies delivered. So far, 430,000 pounds of food, supplies and equipment have been delivered to Utapao in Thailand. Of that about 76,800 humanitarian daily rations delivered to Indonesia, and another 32,000 delivered up to the Maldives. In Thailand alone we delivered 70 short tons of humanitarian supplies and equipment. Once again, the priority here is usually in order, food and water, medical supplies, and shelter and clothing.

PACOM is supporting as kind of the Department of Defense's central effort here, JTF-536. Of course JTF-536 is executing all this relief that we've talked about.

Just backing away from that particular structure, if you will, the continuum of relief starts all the way back in hometown USA where either your money or your things are transported to the region. From there they are then distributed from Utapao or wherever they land, via some of these lift assets we talked about and/or helicopter to one of these three locations. From those locations they then are, your pallet or your box is taken to the survivors, either via helicopter, truck, or some other means of transportation.

So this is not just a PACOM effort. This is a U.S.-wide effort, and it's actually a global effort from all these coalition countries. All the countries are providing the same kind of support to these hubs from which our mission is to distribute what's needed, when it's needed, to the right place.

We do this in support of the host nation. So as they need it and as they can take it. It's through coordination with them and through coordination with all the other government agencies and all the other countries' agencies that are working this effort.

So what I'm trying to relate to you here is this is a team effort. This is not a PACOM or DoD effort, this is a team effort.

From PACOM's perspective, we have integrated multinational planning and planners into our headquarters, into the Joint Task Force downrange, and into each of these U.S. Support Groups. What that means is we had a program ongoing where we had multinational planning, training and exercises conducted. We have conducted about 14 of these exercises where these planners from various countries gathered together, then they come and they go through an exercise that would simulate something like this. So they're all used to it, they know each other, and within hours they were talking to each other after this thing commenced. So they have been integrated into the staff, they bring to that staff what those countries' assets are, what their capabilities are, and what they need. This is a critical piece of this team effort that I talked about.

We're also working hand in hand with the other government agencies as I talked about. We don't do anything without checking with OFDA and neither of us does anything without checking through the embassy and the host nation. Once again the host nation is leading this effort.

So all told we have about 1,000 people on the ground, about 12,600 in the field. Some of them are just about there with the Expeditionary Support Group. Some of the things that the other countries are providing, and this is a list from OFDA through the UN's Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Assistance, what they say they need. Not surprisingly, fortunately, this is exactly what we bring. They say they need helicopter carriers, air traffic control units, trucks, fixed wing aircraft, boats, landing craft, cargo aircraft, fuel and storage handling units, water treatment units, generators. All these are the kinds of things that are being requested and this is the kinds of things that the support structure we have built is postured to supply.

On the good news front, if you've been following the news of all the chaos in the region, here's some of the things that have started to improve.

In Indonesia, electricity is restored in the eastern coast. Fuel has been arriving and all that's being enabled and facilitated by some of the support that we're getting there.

In Sri Lanka, in Colombo, the airport congestion is reduced, once again because we've started moving and distributing things. In Thailand the organization is going great and that's pretty much handled by the Thai government and we're supporting them fully.

So with that I will open it up to questions. After the questions perhaps we can talk to some of these charts.

Q: One clarification, Captain. When you announced the overall number of food and supplies and equipment to Utapao, I didn't hear what you said after 430.

A: Just a second.

430,000 pounds of food, supplies and equipment delivered to Utapao.

Q: Thank you, sir. And can you clarify, there's been some discussion about the Hospital Ship Mercy, whether it has been deployed or ordered deployed or simply ordered readied?

A: DoD is looking at all aspects of support to include broader medical support. Any other questions about Mercy I'd ask you to direct to DoD/PAO.

Q: Can you run through those humanitarian aid numbers again? Including the humanitarian rations. I didn't get them all.

A: Okay. So far, and once again it's probably already dated even as we speak because they're flying stuff continuously. 430,000 pounds of food, supplies and equipment to Utapao. That's the central hub. Of that, 76,800 humanitarian daily rations delivered to Medan in Indonesia.

Q: That's part of the 430,000?

A: That's correct. Into the central hub, then to the three locations, and from there out to the survivors. So 76,800 daily rations to Medan in Indonesia; and 32,000 daily rations to the Maldives. So that had to go through Sri Lanka, obviously.

We don't always have the latest and greatest numbers on these because they are so dynamic, but I'm just trying to give you a snapshot of some of the kinds of things that are happening.

Q: Okay, and finally, the total personnel you have. 12,602 U.S. military personnel involved; 6,000 afloat; 1,030 ashore, is that right?

A: It's actually 11,000 afloat. Six thousand are in the Carrier Strike Group and another 5,000 and some change are in the Expeditionary Strike Group.

Q: Got it.

Q: Phil Dunnam with Reuters. Can you just give us an update on where the carrier Abraham Lincoln is and what it's up to, and where the helicopter carrier Bonhomme Richard, and where it is and what they're doing?

A: Sure. In fact we may go to the maps here. I'll tell you first and then we'll show you. Abraham Lincoln has a couple of CBOAs or operating areas, carrier operating areas. They're currently operating off the western coast of Banda Aceh in Indonesia. That's because that's the most direct route to Medan and the impacted areas.

The Expeditionary Strike Group, and once again I think I talked to this yesterday. In the Carrier Strike Group and the Expeditionary Strike Group there are several ships supporting another. They may or may not be with the carrier or the flagship of the Expeditionary Strike Group. We are looking at these units not as a single unit but as a total inventory available for the Joint Task Force Commander to use. So it wouldn't be unusual for a few of the ships to be disbursed in various places so as to best facilitate this distribution effort. That's where those two units are.

We expect that the Expeditionary Strike Group helicopters will start flying some support missions here within the next day or two. If you want to scan to the map I'll show you where that is.

The Carrier Strike Group is in this vicinity. They have operated up here as well, but they're currently operating there. The Expeditionary Strike Group is en-route and they should be there within a day or two.

Q: On the one map it says the Bonhomme Richard is supposed to arrive -- is that today or yesterday?

A: If you look at the Straits of Malacca, that's quite a distance to travel, so they have actually, they are in the straits transiting, is my understanding, and they will be on station here within a day or so. That doesn't mean that they can't start flying helicopters before that, because of course helicopters have a range to get down range.

So we won't just inundate some of these places with helicopters as they become available. These are all well thought out plans where the Task Force commander and the local tactical commander takes a look at what he needs, helicopter wise, and moves things and helps distribute it.

At the end of the day if there are another additional 20 helicopters on the ESG, that doesn't mean that as soon as they get in range we launch 20 helicopters. There needs to be a flow of events, there needs to be a sequencing, there needs to be requirements versus capabilities. And keep in mind, we aren't the only ones providing assets here. There are several countries providing assets including, the host nation is leading with, they're providing assets. So if you can imagine the air traffic patterns are very clobbered, I mean they're full. So we have to flow these in correctly. And once again there are USAID airplanes, there are other kinds of airplanes coming in that we all have to sequence and put into an airplane, if you will.

So as we need these helicopters we will use them, and their main purpose, once again, is to get to these distribution points and get the stuff out to the people who need it.

Keep in mind, this is a two-way trip, so once they get it out there then they bring something back. Either people and/or things come back. So that's how we're using these helicopters.

Q: Are all the helicopters still based on the ships, or are you moving some of them to shore?

A: It depends on which country you're talking about. Obviously in Utapao we have all kinds of airplanes, fixed wing and rotary wing. We also have started some operations out in Malaysia. I think right now we're using [Linkawi] and if you look at this map here, that's up in Malaysia; I know the Australians are using Butterworth to transport supplies and airplanes. As you can see, that's even closer than Phuket. So we're using various feeder bases and various bases to station these airplanes so as to best and most efficiently move things and people.

The answer to your question in short, though, is yes. There are helicopters on the ground.

Q: January 3rd, is that U.S. time or is that --

A: That's their time. So they're there now.

This is actually Pacific Command laydown, and I'll let the cameras take a look at that to show you where all these people are and they'll help you kind of put a picture here. Keep in mind from Utapao, for example, to Sri Lanka, about 1500 miles. It takes time for ships to move that distance, if you will. You can see that we've got a handful of ships and/or other assets that are on the way or preparing to be on the way. That's what I mean when I talk about assets either there or en-route.

Q: Would you be moving any Navy assets or Navy ships to either Sri Lanka or the Maldives?

A: We'll see. The answer to that as initially proposed was that the ESG would take some forces up of course to provide support. There are British ships there already and I think I talked yesterday about the coalition. I won't call it a coalition. We'll call it a group of partner nations right now, but that is one of the primary issues is getting all these nations that are contributing with things and assets to align and synchronize their efforts. But the answer is, I have a strong suspicion that we will send some ships into Sri Lanka. That will be a Task Force Commander decision as they arrive. It will be based on need, and it will be based on host nation request.

Q: Can you talk about the coordination that's going on? Do you have any idea yet about what the coordination is that's going on between the different nations and the aid agencies, what's going on on the ground?

A: Once again in Utapao and in each of these places we have multinational planners so each of the countries is represented in some capacity or another in each of these places, so they are working hand in hand to try to coordinate the and align efforts.

The challenge is trying to get an inventory of all the things that are in there and all the things that are coming, and that's not easy, especially from places where cell phones don't work, et cetera.

I think I have time for one more question.

Q: This is Rupert L. Niberger. How long do you expect you can sustain this sort of operation?

A: I don't have an exact answer to that, but I will tell you that we intend to sustain it until the host nations no longer need our help.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Captain, Scott Foster with NBC.

A: Okay, this is the last question. Go ahead.

Q: Can you give a breakdown of what the 1,000 [inaudible] are doing once they're ashore?

A: Sure. Most of them are, a good portion of them are in Thailand as a part of the large staff and/or the staff in Utapao and/or the staff in Phuket. There are 50 or so folks in Indonesia, and these are military only. And the same amount or so in Sri Lanka. Those numbers will change. They will get bigger and smaller, once again depending on the staffing needs and depending on what the host nation wants us to do and what other countries are providing assistance.

So right now a good majority of the folks are in Thailand, the ones that are on the ground.

I think that's all I have time for.

Q: One last question. Can you just clarify or spell your name again, and clarify your title?

A: Sure. My name is Captain Rodger Welch. I'm a Navy captain. R-O-D-G-E-R W-E-L-C-H. I work in the J-3 Directorate, that's the Operations Directorate here at Pacific Command. I'm a director of one of the branches. I'm actually a director of the Joint InterAgency Coordination Branch.

Q: Okay.

A: Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you, Captain.

(END)

 
 



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