LIEUTENANT COLONEL DEVIN ROBINSON: All right ladies and gentlemen, it is 5:01 so we’ll go ahead and get started.
My name is Lieutenant Colonel Devin Robinson, I’ll be your moderator for our briefing today. Just to quickly run over a few of the ground rules, we’re really grateful that Colonel Fielder is able to make some time for us today. He and his team are extremely busy with the important mission that they are working on. So we want to make sure that we keep this briefing as brief as possible.
We’ve identified which reporters would like to ask questions ahead of time. So I’ll call on reporters as we work through the list. Because of time constraints, I’d ask you to limit your questions to one question and potentially one short follow-up. Given the audio challenges of operating in the Zoom environment, we’d also ask you to please mute your phone until you’re called upon. So police yourselves on that.
And today’s press conference as a reminder is on the record. Looks like we’ve got some live mics here, so let me just take a minute to check those real quick. Okay. I want to just restress before we get started that Colonel Fielder is here to discuss the DOD’s response to the wildfires in Maui. So please limit your questions to that topic.
And without further ado, I’d like to introduce the Joint Task Force 5-0 Title 10 Deputy Dual Status Commander, Colonel David Fielder. Sir, can you hear me?
COLONEL DAVID FIELDER: Yeah, I have you. Thank you.
Hey, good morning everybody. Again, my name is David Fielder and I am the Deputy Dual Status Commander for the Title 10 response for Task Force 5-0. I work with Brigadier General Logan daily and we provide the support to the local and state authorities here. And I’m proud to represent the men and women providing this total DOD response in support of this mission.
This mission is critical. At the end of the day, these are our neighbors and our families that have been affected by this and we’re proud to be part of the response. And with that, I’ll open it up for any questions you might have. Thank you.
LT. COL. ROBINSON: Thank you, sir. Appreciate that.
We’ll start with Ben Kesling, Wall Street Journal. Ben.
Q: Hi, Colonel. Thank you.
I wonder if you could just talk to me a little bit about the difficulties with remain recovery, both in identifying remains, identifying DNA that’s in those remains and how long the timeframe is on how long it could take, weeks or months even? And then also talk to me a little bit about DOD’s involvement in the forensics and anthropology that’s happening.
COL. FIELDER: Hey, thanks for that question, Ben.
I’m not by no means a professional at DNA and being able to identify the remains and the timeframe. I will tell you that from the DOD response to it, we’ve got members of the Department of Defense, POW Missing in Action Accountability Agency over here assisting the local authorities. We have one in the forensic lab who’s helping out and we’ve gotten multiple on the scene down there as they’re doing the search for remains and they help with that every day. But that’s about as far as I can answer on that. I don’t have any timeframes. I know it’s a difficult task, but I am not the subject matter expert by any means. Thank you.
LT. COL. ROBINSON: Okay, thank you, sir.
Our next question is Oren Liebermann, CNN.
Q: Hey, how are you, sir? Thank you for doing this. I’m just wondering if you can give us a sense of as you get more into the affected area, do you have a sense of how long that will take? What sort of assets or capabilities you may need going forward that you didn’t know you needed up until now? And then can you give us a sense of what’s on standby and how that’s evolved?
COL. FIELDER: Great question. And I don’t know if I can answer it all completely because they’re about 85 percent, 87 percent cleared right now. But the last structures they have to clear are going to be extremely complicated. They already started mobilizing some equipment to go in there to remove some of the structures to get to the remains. The very earliest projection and we’re talking weeks, it’s not going to be days to get through all that. We’ve got a lot of assets available. We continued to dialogue with the local and the state to provide anything they need. We’ve got 25th Infantry Division, the Marine Corps if we need to provide that, and the Navy has got some construction capability too. If anything is needed, they’ll request it and we are more than happy to provide that support to it. But at the end of the day we are at the behest of the local responders down there that are integrated completely into the Emergency Operation Center at the county level. And if the mayor needs it, he’ll request that up through those appropriate channels and we’ll get them over here. It takes hours, not days or weeks. Thank you.
Q: Thank you, sir. Just a quick follow, what are those structures and what makes them complicated? Can you just describe that for us and, again?
COL. FIELDER: Yeah. Those structures, they’re just multi-dwelling high risers that they have to be very careful on descaling those to get down there. That’s the most complicated piece to it.
LT. COL. ROBINSON: Okay, thank you, sir.
Our next question will go to Jennifer Hlad from Defense One.
Q: Hi, sir. I’m not sure if you have seen this Honolulu Magazine article that the headline is, “What’s with the Underwhelming Military Response in Maui?” And I know there’s been a lot of discussion, I’m in O`ahu, a lot of discussion in the Islands just about the military’s response. And the contrast was with Hurricane, I believe, Iniki is how you pronounce it in 1992, but also Katrina, just military passing out water and food and medical supplies. And this time I know the military is helping with, like you mentioned, the one part of the mission but not really with the relief for the survivors, I guess. They’re helping find the deceased. Anyway, I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about that and maybe a little bit about why the military so far is not doing a lot on the other side with helping the survivors get water and medical supplies and those kinds of things? Or if they are, and I’m unaware, please let me know.
COL. FIELDER: Jennifer, thanks for that question. I’m not aware of the article. I have not seen that. I’ll talk to my public affairs and make sure they get me that article there. But listen, I would tell you that the DOD response, just me personally, when I got word that we were going to stand up this taskforce, I was in Guam. And within the timeframe I could get over here, I left on Friday, got here on Friday, we stood up this Joint Taskforce within 72 hours. And we are ready to respond to anything that the mayor had asked for. And it’s extremely complicated when you look at, it was immediate action on the ground down there. They had to assess some of that. And then we came in and provided the mayor and the governor a list of capabilities. But it’s got to be programmed out to some extent. I’ll tell you that the National Guard had people on site within hours to help with the response. We had helicopters on standby to help with the firefighting. And, in fact, we’ve stood up those assets up and just by coincidence we needed to use them on another island as the Guard was dropping water over here. And then as soon as a request has been given to us, we haven’t been waiting for all of the paperwork to go as long as there’s been a request that we could fulfill, we’ve started. And I’ll go back to – we just received Navy divers. And within 24 hours of that request they were on the ground and they’ll be in the water today that help look for remains and help salvage. They do some underwater surveying for salvaging and they’re responding to it. There’s a capacity issue. You can’t send everybody at one time, it’s got to be kind of layered out. But thank you for that question. And it’s important. It may seem slow from the outside but it’s been going very quickly – as needed, as requested by the local and state who are ultimately in-charge of the entire operation.
Q: All right. Thank you, sir. And sorry to ramble so much.
LT. COL. ROBINSON: Thank you ma’am. For our next question, we’ll go to Mosh at NBC.
Q: Thanks so much for doing this. I was wondering if you could give us a breakdown of the 725 or so DOD personnel. How are many are active duty versus not, also contractors? And then with the dive teams, the three dive teams from PAC FLEET, I’m wondering if you could just give us a bit more sense of what they’re going to be doing, what’s been found. If you could just talk a little bit more about their mission. And is this different from over the weekend, I guess, it was Maui Fire said that their dive mission with the Navy had concluded. So I’m wondering, if you could talk a little bit about the different mission sets there, that would be helpful just for some clarification. Thanks.
COL. FIELDER: Sorry, for taking a second, I was just trying to write some of that down just make sure I answer your questions clearly. So right now we have a total of 572 personnel. And that includes both Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard, and a couple of Department of Army civilians that make up the DPAA, that Defense POW Missing in Action Accountability Agency. Out of that, we also we have some USACE contractors are over here, that total about 44. Coast Guard is providing some in the 50s range that they’re providing support too. But they don’t fall under DOD, they’re part of the Department of Homeland Security. So it is a total force integration that the JTF here doesn’t necessarily control everything but we monitor things, so there’s a unity of effort. And so as for the dive team, to answer your second question, so they were requested for from the Maui Fire Department. They’ve linked up with them and they’re in here to help coordinate. They work with the Fire Department and they work with the Coast Guard. And they provide an expeditionary and deployable diving and salvage operation for the harbor here and the waterway. Couple of things, the map out part of it with the boats that have sunk out there and also to look for remains inside the harbor and then in some of the channel. But they’re in direct coordination with the Maui Fire Department and their divers and United States Coast Guard. Did I answer all your questions, Mosh?
Q: So has that mission ended? Because I think there was some reporting that it had. I just wanted to kind of figure out where that stood.
COL. FIELDER: No, no. Not at all. We don’t have an end date for right now. And they just entered the water today. They got on the ground two days ago and they made their assessments with the Maui Fire Department and with the Coast Guard yesterday. And, in fact, they’re probably diving right now. And we’ll get a really good update by the end of the day on what they’ve done and what they look like as they move forward. And they won’t end until the Maui Fire Department and the Coast Guard thinks that they no longer need the capability.
Q: Okay. And then one last quick one, earlier, I think it said US Army Pacific was executing nine FEMA missions and then today at the briefing it was said that there were eight. What’s the difference there? Was there one lost or can you just explain that?
COL. FIELDER: Yeah. So I got to go back and look. Nothing is ended yet for the mission assignments. I think what the difference was that we have a fueling operation over here and we have modified on those mission assignments to give us a closer end date. But everything is still open and we haven’t completed anything at all right now.
LT. COL. ROBINSON: Okay ladies and gentlemen, thank you. Those were the questions that we had collected ahead of time. Sir, I’ll turn it over to you for your closing remarks.
COL. FIELDER: Hey, thank you Devin. Hey, I appreciate this opportunity to talk to everybody and get what we’re doing out to the greater public and I appreciate everything you’re doing to support that. At the end of the day, this is a very critical mission and there is no place I’d rather be. I know that there is no place that this Taskforce would rather be in support of this mission. And I thank you again.