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Home : News : Transcripts : Transcript View
TRANSCRIPT | Aug. 21, 2023

Joint Task Force 5-0 Dual Status Commander Brig. Gen. Stephen F. Logan Off-Camera, On-the-Record Press Briefing with Updates on DoD's Ongoing Response to Maui Wildfires

LIEUTENANT COLONEL DEVIN ROBINSON: It is 5:01, so we'll go ahead and get started. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Lieutenant Colonel Devin Robinson, and I will be your moderator for our briefing today.

For our Pentagon press corps friends, it has, thankfully, been a little while since we did a Zoom-only briefing. So, I want to quickly run over a few of the ground rules.

We're incredibly grateful that Brigadier General Logan was able to make some time for us today, and out of respect for his busy schedule and the important mission that he and his team are engaged in, we need to keep the briefing to 30 minutes today. We've identified which reporters would like to ask questions ahead of time. And I'll call on reporters in turn as we work through the list.

Because of our time constraints, I would ask that you 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.

Finally, I just want to restress that Brigadier General Logan is here to discuss the DoD's response to the devastating wildfires in Maui, so please limit your questions to that topic. Without further ado, I'd like to introduce the Joint Task Force 5-0 Dual Status Commander, Army National Guard, Brigadier General Stephen F. Logan. Sir?

BRIGADIER GENERAL STEPHEN F. LOGAN: Hey, aloha, and good morning from Hawaii. This is Brigadier General Stephen Logan. Thank you for joining us this evening. We are deeply concerned about the situation in Maui and our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the wildfires.

As the Joint Task Force 5-0 Commander, our primary mission is to support and augment the efforts of county, state, and federal authorities, ensuring that the people of Maui receive the necessary aid and assistance during this challenging time. Make no mistake, this Joint Task Force is not in the lead. We're not in command. We're in support of the county of Maui and are working along the lines of effort that are prioritized by the elected mayor, Mayor Bissen.

We value transparency and open communication. And I'm here today to provide an update on our ongoing efforts and address any questions you might have. At this time, I'll turn it over to you for any questions.

LT. COL. ROBINSON: Thank you, General. The first question we have and she messaged and said she might not be able to unmute her mic, but Tara from AP, if you are able to speak, if not, I can read your question.

Q: You'll have a lot of outside noise, but just thank you for doing this. We have a couple of questions on what the DPAA team and mortuary teams will be doing, if you can give us a few more details. Will the DPAA team actually take remains back to their lab to help identify them? Or while they're on the ground, are they advising on how best to collect evidence to preserve DNA? And then with the mortuary team, they normally send bodies home, protect them arriving to families, what will their role be? Are they going safeguarding remains, any details? Thanks.

BRIG. GEN. LOGAN: Well, thanks Tara. Thanks for your question. So, recently, we did bring up six personnel from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, mostly anthropologists that can help in the identification and also some forensic DNA testing. At the present time, I know of no plans for them to patriate those remains back off of the island of Maui.

We have a rather large team that's been working there. It's comprised of FEMA, the local fire departments, along with a lot of volunteers that came over from the continental United States. We currently have a fatality search and rescue team out of our own Hawaii Air National Guard that's been on the ground since we were able to establish operations here. So, this would augment their efforts that are currently ongoing.

Those remains, once recovered, are then taken to the local county morgue and for further and subsequent testing. The DPAA team that's here is a welcome augmentation to what we currently had on the ground. But in answer to your original question, I don't know of any plans to move any remains off of the island of Maui at the present time.

LT. COL. ROBINSON: Thank you, sir. So, next we are going to go to Ben Kesling from Wall Street Journal.

Q: Thank you. There's been some concern with locals about a perceived slowness of the federal government's response to all this. I know that this has been addressed multiple times but, General, I wonder if you can talk to that. And sort of a follow-on question to that is I know that the Marines down there, especially the Marines with the 3rd Littoral Regiment, have been on standby for days now and nobody's availed them of those resources. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about that and if things are being offered that FEMA is not using.

Q: Yeah. Thanks, Ben. And let me try to clarify, I believe the federal government's response has been nearly immediate. I will tell you, when Governor Green was contacted by President Biden, the federal declaration came in rather quickly.

We, the Hawaii National Guard, stood up in a tiered response which we normally do to any other type of disaster, whether it be wildland fire, hurricanes, tsunami, or an earthquake threat which is some of our more common ones here. And we started pushing some forces forward in support of the lead agency which is the Maui Emergency Management Agency.

Part of that tiered response that we have does contain the ability to stand up a joint task force and if Title 10 or active component, active military assets are anticipated, to stand up a joint task force. And it's a request process that goes through the governor's office. It goes through the commander of USINDOPACOM. And then it goes up to the Secretary of Defense's office. And that process happened rather rapidly.

So, my authority as the Dual Status Commander was established closely thereafter. And we rapidly assigned a Title 10 Deputy Commander, Col. David Fielding, who had just come back from a disaster response operation in Guam. And then we quickly formed the JTF, came in, met with Mayor Bissen and his staff, brought over an advanced party, and then brought over the main body to establish initial and then full operational capability.

At that time, General Charles Flynn, a USARPAC Commander also designated as the Theater Joint Land Component Command Structure was offering up all of the DOD capacities and capabilities that he has at his disposal. Some of those are Army assets, obviously because he's the USARPAC Commander, but he's also reaching out to other DOD elements.

But let's make that clear that everything that we're offering is at the request of the county and it's for the phase of the operation that we're in. I'm not sure what capabilities that Marine unit that you mentioned has or what they can bring, but right now the focus of our operation is to secure the impact zone. And the impact zone is identified as the portions of the town of Lahaina that have been impacted by the fire. And the primary focus of that is to render the area as safe as possible, to prevent entrance by unauthorized personnel because of the hazardous nature of what the operational environment is like, and then to facilitate the dignified and proper recovery of the decedents and their remains. And that process is ongoing. So that remains our priority at the present time.

Much of the Title 10 or active component response capabilities will probably be folded into a subsequent phase as we start to process the impact zone itself. So, I believe that that perception that the federal government or the greater DOD population has been slow to respond is not accurate and may be a perception because of the phase that we're in right now. Thank you for your question.

Q: Thanks.

LT. COL. ROBINSON: Thank you. Oh, go ahead. Did you have a follow-up, Ben? I'm sorry.

Q: Very quickly. To talk about having subsequent mission after the initial recovery stuff, there are people from the very beginning in the disaster who are hurting and need relief. Could you explain how those two missions stagger most of the time and aren't done in subsequent nature and the ways in which DOD is addressing that?

BRIG. GEN. LOGAN: Yeah. Hey, thanks for that follow-up question. So there were some disaster shelters that were set up. There has been a huge public outcry support for donations and other commodities that are here. In order to secure the impact zone, it actually shut down a major highway that connects East and West Maui. And prior to the standing up the JTF, they tried to open that. But what happened was more people trespassed into the impact zone and the road had to be closed again.

So when we came here, we recognized that after consultation with Mayor Bissen and his staff and the chief of police. So we brought up additional security elements to help provide that security to the impact zone. Most recently, those conditions were met and the mayor was able to open up that main road. So it opens up this line of communication so-to-speak between West Maui and East Maui, and now commodities are flowing much more smoothly. While this will never attain a normal status for the residents of Maui, it is a gateway to the restoration of normalcy in their lives.

And the populations of the shelters that were here are being reduced dramatically because of a contract that was entered into with the American Red Cross, whereby they're offering hotel rooms within a block for people that are in the shelters right now. This was a major initiative by Governor Green, the governor of the State of Hawaii and the American Red Cross by which they'll be able to bring people out of shelters or congregate living conditions into non-congregate.

And now people who are affected by this dramatic fire are going to be able to have their own room, their own bathroom, their own bed, and around those blocks of rooms that are provided by the American Red Cross, there will be wraparound services for behavioral health, emotional support, obviously food, laundry services and follow on assistance for people that might have lost everything. And they might need to get another copy of important documents, a driver's license or a picture ID. Also how they can apply for the various types of insurances that they have. So I believe that it's been a rather rapid response and we're seeing a dramatic decline in the amount of people that are actually in congregate sheltering.

LT. COL. ROBINSON: Thank you very much, sir. Our next question will go to Jeff Schogol from Task & Purpose.

Q: Thank you. I'm wondering what mental health services are going to be available to National Guardsmen and other service members who come across human remains and also recover human remains. Are they going to be given any extra mental health access?

BRIG. GEN. LOGAN: Jeff, thanks for that question. And you read my mind.

Upon standing up this JTF and seeing what our Soldiers and Airmen were going to be seeing, we actually mobilized as part of it, practitioners for behavioral health. We also have members of the chaplaincy corps that are on station. And we have requested additional behavioral health specialists and practitioners from the acting component through our process here. We have one chaplain who is on scene at the incident site or the impact zone, and he talks to the Soldiers and Airmen as they report for duty in the morning and afterwards. And we do have a behavioral health specialist that will set up a clinic that's in close proximity to the impact zone and be able to accomplish the same thing.

I was on a phone call with the Chief of the National Guard Bureau last night, along with the adjutant general the State of Hawaii and that was paramount on his mind, I'm talking about the Chief of the National Guard Bureau because of his experience with other major disasters that the National Guard has responded to. Additionally, we're not too concerned about the component of where the soldier or our man is from, whether it be National Guard or active component that might experience some of the impacts from their mission here. So we're fully prepared to be able to provide those services, not only now, but on into the future because as we all know PTSD doesn't happen rapidly in all personnel. So we have to be prepared to be able to provide these services on throughout the rest of the career of these brave Soldiers and Airmen. Thank you for that question, really important.

Q: Thank you.

LT. COL. ROBINSON: Thanks Jeff. For our next question, we're going to go to Jennifer Hlad from Defense One.

Q: Hi, sir. So the day after the fire I had called and it's my understanding that the initial active duty support was only to the Big Island not to Maui.

It was National Guard only on Maui for the first couple of days. I was just wondering, was the DOD not really asked for any additional support in Maui? Because even the support on the Big Island, it was helicopters with Bambi buckets is what I was told. And then I do have one follow-up question, sorry.

BRIG. GEN. LOGAN: Well thanks, Jennifer. Another good question.

And I think we made a decision early on that because the 25th Division, the Combat Aviation Brigade had some assets that were training at the Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island, it might be best for them to help out the County of Hawaii to be able to put those fires out.

In retrospect, we could see that that was effective, and that you don't see the impacts to the Big Island as you see here. We immediately launched our aircraft over here in support of the Maui Fire Department. And we're able to put our heavier helicopters, our CH-47 Chinook helicopters here.

And it was more of a bifurcation of effort to be able to take care of two emergent emergencies happening simultaneously. And then, so let me also say that I have CH-47 Chinook helicopters on call. I have two right now. We brought them in earlier this week to douse some of the fires. We actually had them on standby as they started to reenergize some of the Hawaiian Electric lines in the event that it sparked another brush fire to immediately put it out.

And then while I brought them here to the Island of Maui, we transmitted that back to USARPAC and the active Army put aircraft on status with buckets on an alert status to be ready to rapid respond, if what was required here exceeded our current capabilities. So, I think we have a multicomponent, multilevel approach to be able to -- to be able to fight those brush fires, should they come back.

Q: Okay, and then my follow up and it's a little bit -- it's related, obviously, but not quite. I was just wondering, have all the military and family members who were on Maui at the time of the fire, have they all been accounted for? Or at least the ones that live there? I know if anybody was on vacation, it might have been a little bit harder to get accountability.

BRIG. GEN. LOGAN: The answer is yes. Within two hours of the incident occurring, the military conducted an accountability exercise and was able to account for all their people. We also have units on Maui that are currently here. Many of them are on status with us right now. And that's one of our first steps is to get -- execute our alert roster, find out where everybody's at and then look at the impacts.

What you have to understand is with a small community like this, everybody kind of knows somebody else. There is not one person on Maui, I think, that I can think of that doesn't have a friend or family member that has been impacted. And then we offer services to our National Guard Soldiers who may have lost property or may have a relative who have lost property. So, the short answer to your question is yes.

Q: Okay, thank you, sir.

LT. COL. ROBINSON: Thank you, Ma'am, for that question. Our next question is over to Kimberly Underwood from Signal Magazine.

Q: Thanks, Colonel Robinson and General Logan, thanks for your time today. Could you speak about the communications environment that you've had to put in place for the JTF effort on the island in support of the local and state authorities, especially for command and control? Thank you.

BRIG. GEN. LOGAN: I think the question is about the communications that we've had with the county and the locals here. So let me just describe that. I sort of touched on this upfront. We are in support of the county of Maui mayor's office.

So first of all, we put liaison officers into their structures like their emergency operations centers. We then have periodic meetings along an operational rhythm that's been established by the county and we tailor ours to be complementary to that.

So, we have a morning meeting, a tactics meeting, and then meetings with different other partners. So, it's that face-to-face coordination. As far as communications, Kimberly, a lot of it is being done by cellphone.

We do have radio networks. We have brought in additional StarLink systems to try to reestablish communicative capability up in the West Maui area. And then we also have some limited radio systems that we use for more tactical uses for our actual checkpoint, roving security and quick reaction forces that are there, all tied into the Maui Police Department.

So, I think we have a pretty good communications architecture at the present time with a near real-time response capability for the county of Maui.

Q: Sir. thank you. And just kind of one clarification question. Of course, the Hawaii Air or Army National Guard is there. Are there other services, Guard members or Reserve units there in support? Or is it mostly just an Army based contingent? Thank you?

BRIG. GEN. LOGAN: Well, we have members of the Hawaii Army and Air National Guard that are currently serving both here and back on the island of Oahu. We also have members of USARPAC, the active component forces that are here with us to either build out our joint task force here, rapidly.

Currently, on the island of Maui, there are Army Reserve forces, which are more of an engineer capability. And we look to access those forces as we move forward into the subsequent phase of processing the impact zone. We're already having with our future operations cell conversations with USARPAC, so that we can more readily access those forces. And they can be put onto a status.

I cannot tell you how many of my friends and coworkers from the different states and some of the nations that we do overseas deployment exercises with have also called and offered their services.

So, we also have access to the 54 other or 53 other states and territories through an Emergency Management Assistance Compact System to be able to bring them in if the need arises. And I said it before, but I'll say it again, I have daily conversations with General Flynn at USARPAC, who is basically amplifying this same message throughout the greater DOD. When the time comes and the county can absorb the additional services to either make this process more efficient or quicker, then we’ll definitely have the forces ready to go on a moment's notice.

Q: Okay. Thank you.

LT. COL. ROBINSON: Thank you, Ma'am. Thank you, Sir. Our final question, I believe is going to be a local question, General, and that is Jolanie Martinez from Hawaii News Now.

Q: Hi, my first question is what is the DOD's long term role in the recovery process for Maui?

BRIG. GEN. LOGAN: Hey, thanks, Jolanie. That's a good question. And I'm going to actually quote somebody for my initial answer, which is Major General Kenneth Hara, the Adjutant General. When we normally do a disaster response like this, we try to what we call work ourselves out of a job.

What that means is we try to restore services or capabilities for the county or the state that were already in place and then we can kind of tailor down our forces so that they can take back over and go back to sort of how it was before the disaster occurred.

This one is just the opposite. There is a long-term commitment for us to be here. Governor Green has been on this island numerous times, meeting with the local officials, meeting with the Mayor's Office, conducting some of the press conferences earlier.

General Hara is here on-island. General Flynn and some of his staff came to visit to actually see the impact zone and understand the magnitude of what's going on here. We feel that this is going to be a multiyear operation to be able to process this fully.

We're working hand-in-hand with FEMA. The Region 9 administrator is on-island right now. And they're working out how we're going to go through the subsequent phases of this process.

And let me just touch on those phases now, so you can gain a greater understanding of the kind of timeline that we're looking at. So, we're looking at removing all of the decedents from the area. That's kind of a first step. It really is a more humanitarian -- and it has -- and we want to be able to treat them in a dignified manner, and give some closure to the families. Once that's complete, and as many of those have been identified or removed as possible, the next phase is to render the area safe.

You have to remember that there was some industrial and some residential areas that were impacted by the fire. Each one may have some type of propane tank. There could be some live electricity rolling through, there's some other utilities, there could be paint thinners, there could be hazardous materials that were used in the construction of the building that is now -- that has now been consumed by fire. So the next phase will be to render the area safe.

And then the phase after that will be to open it up for the families to be able to come back to where their land is, and look for any kind of valuables or something of sentimental value, or something that they need to get out of there. And then -- and then a much later phase will be to what to do with all this hazardous material. And many of those conversations are ongoing, but not really the purview of JTF 5-0 right now. I'll just say that we're focused right now, on assisting the county of Maui with the location and removal of the decedent remains.

Q: What is the security situation in the burn zone right now?

BRIG. GEN. LOGAN: I'm sorry, Jolanie, I missed that question.

Q: No worries. What's the security situation in the burn zone?

BRIG. GEN. LOGAN: Okay. So the security situation, of course, originally was handled by Maui Police Department. And they, as you -- as you know, if you've been to Lahaina, Jolanie, it's got a lot of inroads that go through it. There's a major road that runs right through the middle of it. And there's a bypass road to alleviate traffic, and a lot of feeder routes in there. So they had a series of what we call traffic control points or static control points, with some roving patrol, and then a reaction force in case somebody was trying to breach it to get in there.

We brought up two separate security teams, and we've been able to relieve most of the Maui Police Department from those static checkpoints. And with that, we're able to kind of prevent unauthorized personnel from going in there and disrupting the fatality remains recovery process that's ongoing. We also have a roving patrol, because unfortunately, there's a lot of motorists that are stopping on the side of the road in order to get a better view, and almost treat this like a tourist attraction. So us -- between us and the Maui Police Department, they discourage people from stopping and would rather they would just transit through the area.

The State Department of Transportation has come forward and they're rapidly erecting some fencing material to prevent unauthorized access, as well as some what we call dust walls. And the dust walls, you might -- you might see at a common construction site to do just that, to contain the dust within the construction site. But it also prevents those from trying to stop on the side of the road so that they can get a view of it while these important operations continue. It's a - it's a multi-agency, multi-component approach, and we're happy and honored to be able to help support the County of Maui and the Maui law enforcement community as a whole in completing it.

Q: So this fencing and these dust walls are being put up right now as we speak?

BRIG. GEN. LOGAN: Yes, they are. In fact, I drove out there yesterday to go to the Lahaina Police Department and I was amazed at the rapidity in which the fencing is being -- is being emplaced.

Q: I have one more question. Obviously the quality of the water has been a huge concern. Does DOD have any role in restoring the water system?

BRIG. GEN. LOGAN: Hey, Jolanie, that's a -- I haven't heard that. But we have not been tasked, nor do we have the capability to be able to restore that water system.

Q: No worries. Thank you so much. I'm sorry. Last one, maybe? What about rebuilding the harbor?

LT. COL. ROBINSON: All right. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. That ends the question and answer portion. Thank you so much for joining us. I will turn it over to the General for closing remarks.

BRIG. GEN. LOGAN: I want to thank everybody for participating. This is very important as we try to get the messaging out to the rest of the country and obviously the rest of the world. I want to reiterate our commitment to the residents of Maui County and the broader Hawaiian community. The combined strength of our military and civilian partners is making a significant impact on the ground. And I'm immensely proud of every individual contributing to these efforts. We will continue to support and aid local, state and federal authorities and partners, ensuring that we offer the best possible support in the days and weeks ahead. I thank you for helping us keep the public informed. And please keep the people of Maui in your thoughts and your prayers. Aloha.

LT. COL. ROBINSON: Thank you, General Logan. And thank you to our media colleagues for joining us. A transcript of today's press conference will be available on our later on this evening. Thank you very much.