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American Forces Press Service

Admiral Describes Tsunami Response, Praises Servicemembers

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2005 - The top U.S. commander in the Pacific described his command's response to the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster to reporters at the Pentagon today and praised the work of servicemembers involved in the relief effort.

Navy Adm. Thomas Fargo, head of U.S. Pacific Command, said PACOM began planning its relief efforts within 24 hours of the catastrophe. By Dec. 27, he said, command officials were communicating with ambassadors and senior military leaders in the countries most affected. The goal, the admiral told reporters, was to understand how U.S. military resources could be best used to assist the countries.

"We see our job as one of assistance," Fargo said. "We are in support to the host nation who is responsible for its citizens."

From experience in disaster relief, Fargo said, the command knew the immediate needs would be drinking water, shelter, food and medical support. That experience, he added, also taught officials the value of helicopters in the aftermath of natural disasters that obliterate roads and scatter debris.

About 45 helicopters are deployed to the region now, with about that many more on the way, Fargo said. These will join the mix of those from the USS Lincoln and the USS Bonhomme Richard as well as foreign aircraft supporting the disaster relief mission.

Joint Task Force 536 -- now designated as a combined support force - was set up under the command of Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Rusty Blackman. From that force, damage assessment teams were deployed to Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Those teams provided some immediate relief and reported the scope of the devastation, Fargo said.

The admiral added that sending the USNS Mercy, a Navy hospital ship, is a serious consideration. The ship is intended to treat trauma cases, but the admiral said the relief operation "may be an opportunity to use the Mercy creatively."

Fargo praised the efforts of those assisting in relief operations. "We should all be proud of our servicemembers as well as the other government and (nongovernmental organizations), all of whom are responding quickly, with great energy and compassion," Fargo said. "They are putting an extraordinary humanitarian face on a particularly large undertaking."

The admiral promised the best possible effort in an endeavor that will take time to accomplish. "Over the next days, weeks and months, we will push forward to provide aid and comfort, responding with a team of dedicated countries and organizations," he said. "And we will continuously improve our efforts as we go."

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