ADM. TIMOTHY J. KEATING, COMMANDER, U.S. NORTHERN COMMAND
Sept. 11, 2005
Thank you all for coming. It’s good to have you at Northern Command and NORAD headquarters. I’d like to give you a couple of thoughts to start and then I’d be happy to take your questions.
Despite the enormous effort we’re making to support the hurricane survivors, it’s important for everyone to remember our primary mission is homeland defense. I will assure you this morning that we at Northern Command have remained very, very vigilant in that mission. We’re watching our ports, our skies, and our borders. For example, for the United Nations General Assembly meeting next week in New York City, we have numerous Department of Defense folks deploying forward. NORAD is providing air cover throughout the week as our president and heads of states of dozens and dozens of countries gather for their important session in New York City.
Currently in support of operations in the Joint Operating Area, our active duty forces are deployed throughout a region that is the size of Great Britain. This morning I was talking with the Secretary of Defense. We’re examining closely what further and more specialized resources might be requested and what forces that are on the scene continue to be best utilized and most needed.
In partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal, state and local agencies, we believe we are making clear and steady progress. We have about 20,000 active duty forces in the region. This is in addition to more than 46,000 National Guardsmen who are operating under their state’s leadership. A 49-truck military convoy from Mexico, equipped with field kitchens, is in San Antonio linking up with our Fifth Army. These field kitchens can prepare three meals per day for 7,000 people for nearly a month. In addition, the Dutch have a ship, in addition to a Mexican ship, operating with the USS Bataan in the Gulf of Mexico. Germany has sent heavy pumps, Russia has provided disaster relief supplies and NATO is sending some as well. There are dozens and dozens and dozens of countries that have offered aid, and we are very grateful. Your soldiers and Marines are actively conducting search and rescue, evaluation, humanitarian assistance and presence operations, and have taken part in waterborne search and rescue with the United States Coast Guard and local authorities.
Now supplies that the Department of Defense has assisted in delivering include over 32 million liters of water, nearly 80 million pounds of ice, and 15 million Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs. The United States Air Force has moved more than 23,000 passengers and over 10 tons of supplies. More than 2,500 patients have been transported on United States Air Force aeromedical flights. Air Force medical teams in New Orleans’s Louis Armstrong Airport have treated more than 5,800 patients -- 700 in first the 24 hours of operation. United States Ships Iwo Jima, Shreveport, and Tortuga are pier-side in New Orleans providing command and control, as well as billeting, hot showers, and meals to Joint Task Force personnel and New Orleans city officials.
Today we’re concentrating on boundary and search grids in the flooded areas and in the areas that are being dewatered in New Orleans, in support of FEMA. We’re continuing search and rescue operations throughout the Louisiana and Mississippi areas. We’re continuing to assist in the distribution of water, food and ice. We have thousands of beds available for medical assistance if required. We are assisting in debris clearing, which is, of course, a significant effort in following a disaster of this magnitude. And we’re assisting the Louisiana, principally the New Orleans fire department, as they battle some blazes there.
In the days ahead we’re going to continue to work the 82nd Airborne, 1st Cavalry, and the 11th and 24th Marine Expeditionary Units, the MEU forces in New Orleans, as they continue to work the area looking for survivors. The United States Naval Ship Comfort, the hospital ship, is proceeding to go pier-side in Pascagoula, Mississippi, as we speak. We’re conducting house-to-house searches in support of local authorities. And we’re always responding as quickly as we can to FEMA’s request for assistance. I know we’re providing relief and support to the region’s first responders who are putting forth monumental effort. We think we’re bringing stability and security to the disaster zone.
And I need to emphasize one more time that we’re not taking our eyes off the larger mission of deterring, preventing and defeating attacks on those who would threaten the United States of America. I’d be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION (LAURIE MARTIN, KKTV, CH. 11): Admiral, hi, Laurie.
KEATING: Hi, Laurie, good morning.
QUESTION (MARTIN): (inaudible) Obviously you (inaudible) and this is the first really big disaster that NORTHCOM has ever responded to since you (inaudible). How do you think you responded overall?
KEATING: We responded well. We have lessons to learn, to be sure. Before Katrina got to be a big storm, before she got to Florida, the Thursday, Wednesday, Thursday before she hit New Orleans and Mississippi, we had defense coordinating officers in Florida and in Alabama so as to be ready should Katrina develop to be a bigger storm than she did before Florida.
Remember, Katrina got into the Gulf, kind of unsure about where she was going, and then she took a hard right and really began to pack some wallop Saturday and Sunday. I was in communication with the Secretary of Defense and was given VOCO, verbal authority, to begin moving forces as I would see necessary, should this storm continue to develop. And we had defense coordinating officers in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana before the storm even hit.
That is not to say that there aren’t lessons to be learned. We have almost 50 folks in the region now talking to federal, state, local officials across the spectrum in coordination with our friends at the Joint Forces Command, to compile an exhaustive critical lessons learned report, which we will then use so we don’t just have lessons observed, but we have lessons learned.
I think we did a good job anticipating the response we would provide. We did a better job of actually putting those forces into place. We have lessons to learn and we are going to study them hard.
QUESTION (MARTIN): Do you think there were any communication problems between DHS and NORTHCOM?
KEATING: We did not have any communication problem. Pam?
QUESTION (PAM ZUBECK, COLORADO SPRINGS GAZETTE): (inaudible)
KEATING: I had the opportunity to go to the disaster region Sunday. The Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs came down Sunday from Washington. A couple of us flew over from Colorado Springs.
And while we were in the Louis Armstrong Airport, I found myself standing next to a guy in a green smock, he was a doctor. I introduced myself to him; he was from Massachusetts. He got in his car and drove down as soon as Katrina cleared because he knew that they were going to need help.
So that sort of outpouring from our citizens, not to mention the offers of relief that are coming in, as I said, from a hundred countries, many of whom have already moved goods forward. Integrating these is a bit of a challenge, to be sure. The individual contributions and the significant plane loads of disaster supplies -- it’s a challenge, but it is an opportunity for us, and we go back to Laurie’s question, we’ll figure out how better to integrate all of these contributions, donations, capabilities, Next time we’ll know that we’ll probably need more folks who are pathologists and fewer who are OB/GYN, for example. We haven’t had a tremendous drain on our medical capabilities. Lots of folks are willing to help, lots of folks have rolled up their sleeves to help coordinate. Again, it’s not a DoD function, it’s a DHS function, but we’re working closely with the department and the state department to make sure it’s done efficiently and effectively, and we’ll get better.
QUESTION (BILL SCOTT, AVIATION WEEK): Bill Scott.
KEATING: Hi, Bill.
QUESTION (SCOTT): Hi, Aviation Week. Do you have any indication of that terrorists are going to try to take advantage or (inaudible)?
KEATING: Great questions. I just took a very comprehensive intelligence brief this morning from our intel folks, and there are no indications, repeat, no indications that there is increased terrorist activity that would be of concern to us. We’re watching it as carefully as we can across the entire spectrum of intelligence gatherings resources that we have, including our reach back to Washington D.C. Our international analysis and national analysis indicate no reason for increased concern. That’s not to say we’re not paying close attention, but there is no reason for increased concern.
QUESTION (RICH TUTTLE, AEROSPACE DAILY): Rich Tuttle, Aerospace Daily.
KEATING: Hi, Rich.
QUESTION (TUTTLE): In terms of BRAC, do you think that this hurricane will have any effect on NORAD recommendations in the hurricane area?
KEATING: We’ve looked at that. That’s a good question. And the answer is no, sir. I went back and testified before the commission two, three weeks ago, seems a lot longer ago than that, and reported that if the department’s recommendation were implemented we would not assume any unsatisfactory or unacceptable risk. I’m told that the commission’s report went to the President yesterday, I think, and it is essentially mirrors the department’s recommendations. Long-winded way of saying we do not think Katrina will adversely impact NORAD’s ability. I know it will not adversely impact NORAD’s ability to respond, nor do we think BRAC will adversely impact NORAD’s ability to continue aerospace warning and aerospace control.
QUESTION (ZUBECK): As everyone knows, Northern Command is set up not to handle one incident (inaudible), so given the concentration of (inaudible) that we are seeing could you give, as detailed as you possibly could, tell us (inaudible). Do you have 15 ships available off the coast of California if necessary (inaudible).
KEATING: It’s a difficult question to answer quantitatively, so I might try and do it qualitatively. Twenty-some ships, Navy and Coast Guard, a couple of hundred helicopters, twenty thousand active troops, forty-six thousand guard members from many states -- but we’ve been very, very careful, working with Joint Forces Command, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Staff, to prevent the very situation you described, the what if. As soon as Katrina went through and we started putting forces in the region, we set up a group to think about what’s next. One of our, we call them “eggs,” our groups, one of them, that’s their job. To think the unthinkable and make sure that we do not over-commit resources to a specific area that would fundamentally affect our ability to respond to -- not just another, but several other varying, equally significant response situations. Remember, a lot of times we’d be in support of the Department of Homeland Security in those responses. But we watch very carefully the allocation of forces and the distribution of forces in working with them.
QUESTION (SCOTT): Looking forward over the next few weeks, what do you see the long role of NORTHCOM (inaudible), particularly concerning the aftermath.
KEATING: Number one -- lessons learned. You know, it is unfortunate, but no less inevitable, that there is going to be another hurricane. As our meteorologist points out, we’re just coming to the real part of this year’s hurricane season. We have get to Thanksgiving before we’re out of it. So we make sure we learn and implement the lessons that we’re observing. We continue to maintain a broad scope, a broad vision, of the world-wide situation, so that in terms of terrorism, the global war on terror, we continue to fight and win that battle. We find ways to continue working closely with the Department of Homeland Security, to assist them in the very important work that they are doing down there. And through it all, we devote every single resource we need to help those folks, principally in Louisiana and Mississippi. They need help.
QUESTION (SCOTT): Just a follow up to that, do you have a mechanism for rapidly (inaudible) the things you are learning in the field so that you are ready if something happens next week?
KEATING: Yes, as an example, we have senior mentor here, retired Marine Corps General Charles Wilhelm. He is in Mississippi today, I think, he was in Louisiana yesterday, and he calls me from the field, hourly if he needs to. I haven’t spoken to him every hour. But he is in constant communication with us, and is observing, providing from the field on-the-spot comments, “Why don’t you think about this or that?” So we have a near real-time dynamic experience feedback loop, in addition to those 47 or 48 other Northern Command and Joint Forces Command personnel who are scattered throughout the area. Our personnel are integrated throughout all levels -- federal, state, and local -- law enforcement, and DHS response forces, so that, as you just described, we could almost instantly take a situation, analyze it and turn it around for a near real-time response feedback. And it’s working pretty well.
QUESTION (SCOTT): So you can change processes on the fly?
KEATING: You bet. Laurie.
QUESTION (MARTIN): When do you think NORTHCOM will eventually pull out of the Gulf?
KEATING: The short answer is, I don’t know. I talk to the Secretary about it this morning. We are making plans to begin redeploying some helicopters. For example, the 4th Infantry division out of Texas, the first guys and gals to fly into the disaster scene in the hours after Katrina, the day after Katrina cleared -- those are likely the folks who we’ll look to get back home first. That part of the mission, the search and rescue airborne part, that requirement is decreasing slowly. We were flying hundreds and hundreds of sorties, thousands of sorties in the days immediately following Katrina. We’re down to the low hundreds, or dozens of helicopter sorties, so we’ll be able to send some of those forces home. We have naval forces in the Gulf, and we’ve got a Navy nuclear aircraft carrier down there, and several amphibious ships. We’re looking to the days ahead to allow those folks and platforms to return to their home port, to continue the missions that they would have been performing had we not had to call them down here to Northern Command. So it’ll be measured in weeks rather than days, but we’re actively engaged in that planning process right now.
QUESTION (ZUBECK): In the past there have been drills, exercises, that have included hurricanes, and I am wondering why was this different. Some would say the government’s response has not been as great as it could have been (inaudible) or did it arise in the drills to be problematic also? (inaudible)
KEATING: It’s a good question. In exercises, we have never been able to replicate or to simulate, with sufficient fidelity, how dramatic the challenge is when the first responders aren’t able to respond. You know my job, from the President to the Secretary of Defense, is to -- in addition to protecting the country, is to provide assistance when directed to civil authorities. When those civil authorities literally aren’t there and can’t communicate and are just not capable of functioning as first responders. And the storm clears and we begin moving in assets and when there is no infrastructure upon which to fall, you have to build that infrastructure, literally, construct the communications node -- the highways are impassable, the waterways are impassable. In exercise we have not been able to simulate with fidelity that which we saw in the Louisiana and Mississippi.
So you would say, what are you going to do about that next time? If I might ask a follow-up question -- What are you going to do about it next time? That’s one of those critical lessons learned. If nothing’s there upon which to build, you have to think about what you’re going to bring to the area first, so that the Department of Defense assets, if required by DHS, have that infrastructure to use. That would be a big challenge for us to address.
QUESTION (ZUBECK): Considering (inaudible) fact that the exercises didn’t give you opportunity to have a good grip on how that would play out, how is your response is a lot better than people (inaudible)?
KEATING: It’s very hard for me to be unbiased here. I harken back to the meetings that we had in this headquarters in advance of Katrina and then once we realized “uh oh, this is a monster,” we were moving things, again under the authority of the Secretary of Defense. He gave me broad latitude. He said, “If you think you need it, get it moving.” Cases in point, the ships out of Norfolk, Virginia were sailing south as the hurricane was still moving through the central states. Helicopters, as I mentioned, from Fort Hood were airborne and inbound very shortly after. I think we applied lessons learned as best we could from those exercise you talked about, Pam. There are many things we will analyze very critically here. But in my view, the Department of Defense’s response, Northern Command’s response, was not to downplay the effect that the suffering of those in Louisiana and Mississippi. I saw first hand, those folks were struggling, but we got as much as we could get as quickly as we could.
Thanks, everybody. It’s good to have you with us this morning.
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