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U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Paul McHale and Deputy Director, Anti-Terrorism, Homeland Defense, Joint Staff Brig. Gen. Terry Scherling Wednesday, August 31, 2005

DoD Excerpts from the Department of Homeland Security Press Conference


            ASSISTANT SECRETARY McHALE:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  In responding to this crisis, the President has captured the message quite succinctly, and that is, it's all hands on deck. 


            We in DOD understand that commander's intent.  Secretary Rumsfeld, Department Secretary -- Acting Deputy Secretary England have communicated to our Department at all levels a requirement that we pro-actively lean into the mission, and that we be fully prepared to assist DHS, FEMA, and our interagency partners in supporting their lead efforts in responding to this natural disaster.


            Let me just give you a thumbnail sketch of what we in the Department of Defense have been doing, not only over the past several days, but, in fact, over the past several weeks as we anticipated the impact of this hurricane.


            The commanding officer of our operational response is Admiral Tim Keating.  He is the Combatant Commander of the United States Northern Command.  He has, at the direction of the Secretary of Defense, formed a joint task force, JTF Katrina.  It is commanded by Lieutenant General Honore, United States Army, ordinarily the commander of the First Army, now commanding, for the time being, the JTF that has been formed specifically for the tactical response, regarding this relief effort.


            Lieutenant General Honore has for the past several days been at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, where he is closely coordinating with his FEMA counterparts.


            Let me just give you, again, a very succinct summary of some of the kinds of capabilities that we have been providing and that we anticipate we will provide on behalf of the Department of Defense.


            We ultimately expect that we will make available a fleet of approximately 50 helicopters to support FEMA's operations.  That would include aerial assessment of damage, movement of FEMA personnel and other interagency partners who, for reasons that are obvious, had difficulty achieving ground transportation.


            We have transported from California eight civilian swift water rescue teams to assist those civilians who are still trapped by the collected water.  We anticipate providing from the Department of Defense a 500-bed mobile hospital.  That will be deployed in the New Orleans area.  We may provide -- it's under active consideration -- as many as 800 personnel to assist the American Red Cross with shelter support.


            Some of you may have seen media broadcasts that relate to the movement of United States Naval Forces.  That reflected again the proactive, very aggressive message given to us by the Secretary of Defense that we are not to merely be passive in our response to FEMA requests for assistance, but as a fully cooperating partner to anticipate the kinds of needs that FEMA may bring to our attention, and to put in place in a forward-deployed status those kinds of DOD capabilities that will likely be called upon.


            For that reason, we are moving to the area approximately eight ships that have various competencies in terms of medical support, humanitarian relief, transportation in a maritime environment.  We are forward-deploying everything that we think might be required by FEMA.  And we'll be fully prepared to respond to FEMA's request for assistance when they inevitably are forthcoming. 


            We anticipate the movement of the hospital ship USNS Comfort from Baltimore, Maryland to the Gulf region.  It will depart on September 2nd, and likely arrive in the Gulf region on the 8th of September.  As of today, there are more than 11,000 National Guard in state status deployed in and around the affected area providing humanitarian relief, assistance in maintaining civil order.  Those Guard personnel are currently under the command and control of the governors of the affected states.


            We're looking toward the possibility of medical surge capabilities.  We've had to provide that kind of support in the past, for instance, during the hurricanes last year in Florida.  We are identifying medical specialties that FEMA may call upon us to present.  We've also been working very closely with HHS on those issues. 


            And lastly, we have in excess of 1.5 million cases of pre-packaged MREs in the event that that food is required to augment the food supply.


            Our commitment is unequivocal.  We stand in a supporting role, and we are not only willing, we are eager, in a time of national crisis, to provide whatever relief we can in support of DHS.  And Secretary Chertoff takes the lead on behalf of our federal government in providing assistance to people who are so desperately in need.




            QUESTION: One thing we haven't heard yet are the steps you'll be taking for security against the looting that seems to be expanding in the region. 


            SECRETARY CHERTOFF:  I believe I'll call on Paul McHale to talk a little bit about the National Guard's role and DOD's role.


            ASSISTANT SECRETARY McHALE:  Obviously, the first point we emphasize is that law enforcement and local security is, first and foremost, a matter of civilian law enforcement capabilities.  We in the military provide certain backup capabilities, but the first line of defense against criminal conduct is provided by our law enforcement agencies at all levels of government -- state, local and federal.


            If, for some reason it does appear the level of criminal threat exceeds the immediate capability of civilian law enforcement, the National Guard in state status, under command and control of the Governor -- not under command and control of the Secretary of Defense -- can work side by side, lawfully, with civilian law enforcement agencies, police officers, to maintain public order.


            We anticipate at this point that the nature of the criminal activity is such that civilian law enforcement and National Guard in state status will be able to establish and preserve civil order.  In an extraordinary circumstance that we do not at the present time anticipate, if the capabilities of law enforcement and the Guard were to be exceeded, the President does have certain statutory authority to make certain declarations and then to use the active duty military in order to restore civil order.  And although we don't expect that to happen in this case, we do have units that are on alert, as we always have such units on alert, prepared to deploy in order to use active duty military forces for the lawful restoration of civil order. 


            But those are the three tiers -- civilian law enforcement, the National Guard in state status, and then ultimately, under extraordinary circumstances, active duty military forces, as we have used those military forces -- rarely -- but have used them in the past.


            QUESTION: What's your assessment of the status of the National Guard in that region, though?  We've been hearing so much about the deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan -- do you have a deep enough bench to also do this domestic function?


            ASSISTANT SECRETARY McHALE:  The simple answer to that question is, yes, we do have a deep enough bench.  I looked at the figures this morning -- I'll invite General Scherling, who is a member of the Air Guard herself, and who is currently on duty with the J-3 of the Joint Staff, to address the same issue.  But I looked at the figures this morning and as of late this morning, 60 percent of the Louisiana and Mississippi members of the Guard, between 60 and 65 percent, would be available for state active duty under command and control of the Governor. 


            So despite the fact that significant portions of these Guard units are currently deployed overseas, a very robust capability remains within the affected states, and in fact, as I said, we're now using more than 11,000 of those forces for missions to include security and law enforcement in those areas.  But again, I emphasize, that's under command and control of the Governor, not the Secretary of Defense.


            Let me invite General Scherling up here, who can comment upon the availability, the training and the authorities of the National Guard in these areas.


            GENERAL SCHERLING:  Yes, the National Guard would be able to assist the states at the Governor's request.  I would also add that the active duty military and the National Guard provide a deep bench for any of the missions that are requested by FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security.  And so we are prepared to anticipate those requests.

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