THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Norfolk, Virginia) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release April 1, 1999
PRESS BRIEFING BY ADMIRAL PAUL REASON AND LT. GENERAL THOMAS KECK Norfolk Naval Base Norfolk, Virginia
2:28 P.M. EST
COLONEL CROWLEY: If I could have your attention, please. During the course of the President's stay here in Norfolk, following his arrival, he had a chance to interact for about 30, 45 minutes with a cross-section of military families from the Tidewater area, representing the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. Some of those families are deployed in the European theatre and participating in the operation in Kosovo. I think one family, at least, came from -- whose military member is deployed to the Gulf region, as well.
But I thought before we leave it would be a good opportunity for you to hear a little bit more about the meeting with the family. And at the same time, following the meeting with the family, the President had a brief conversation with the crews in the ready room at Aviano Air Base before they were going out to launch an additional mission.
Norfolk is a very important military center, where you have both the NATO Command here, the United States Unified Command and then the subcomponents for the Army, Navy and Air Force. And we have two representatives here to give you a little bit of insight into the President's conversation with the families and with the crew at Aviano.
So first, we'll have Admiral J. Paul Reason, who is Commander of the United States Atlantic Fleet; followed by Lt. General Tom Keck, who is the Vice Commander of the Air Force Air Combat Command. And these folks are the force providers who are providing many of the forces that are participating in the operation in the European theater.
So we'll hear first from Admiral Reason and then from General Keck.
ADMIRAL REASON: Thank you. Well, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. When the President arrived in Air Force One here at Naval Station Norfolk this morning, he went into a session with about 18 family members -- spouses and children of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that are deployed from this region. Some are in Europe, some are at sea in the Mediterranean or the Adriatic. Some are as far away as the Persian Gulf. But to a person, they were very focused in providing information about their own personal situations to the President.
He was exposed to how these families that were represented are coping with their service member's being deployed in an arena where every day the tension is heightened a little more than the day before.
Some of the exchange was very pointed; some of it was full of candor, perhaps, as a force provider, beyond the point that I would have expected. There was one military wife who explained to the President -- and she was accompanied by her three children -- that even though her husband was in a very high pay grade, an E-6, he had lots of years of service -- that, in fact, she was drawing welfare. And she explained exactly how that could happen and the fact that it is not uncommon; but that as a patriot, that really concerned her and bothered her and she felt that that was wrong. And she made that crystal-clear to the President and to everyone that was gathered, so that there was no mistake.
There were others who were there that talked about family separation. There was one wife whose husband had just deployed only two days ago for six months, and she expressed the situation that she was left with her family to face. And as just an aside, she was pregnant, and she was due to deliver before her spouse would return home.
So these were very graphic images and graphic explanations that the Commander in Chief was exposed to this morning. Now, there was a lot more, but if you need more you can ask questions right after you hear a few words from General Tom Keck.
GENERAL KECK: I am Lt. General Keck, the Vice Commander of Air Combat Command up at Langley. For those of you who are not familiar with ACC or Air Combat Command, we are the prepare and provide force -- the force provider for our service CINCs that are overseas.
We have a very large number of aircraft that are deployed right now, supporting, actually, two small-scale contingencies right now, in Kosovo as well as the one in Southwest Asia. We number over 101,000. We have changed our culture significantly as we've moved to the expeditionary Air Force -- that is a light, lean, lethal force that deploys on very short notice with great power.
Following the meeting with the families this morning -- and I have to say the Air Force and all the services -- soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marine -- greatly appreciated the President spending time with the families. We have a saying in the Air Force that we recruit the individual, but we actually retain the family. And if a service member can deploy and know that his or her family is being taken care of back home in a safe environment, with a great network out there to take care of them, they can perform their task while deployed overseas much more efficiently and effectively, as they concentrate on their work.
Following the meeting with the spouses and the families, the President came upstairs. We had patched into a ready room at Aviano one of the squadrons there, but they actually had members from three different squadrons there -- some F-16s, some air-to-ground F-16s, some HARM-targeting F-16s, and some A-10s. We had maintainers in the room, communicators and intelligence supporters, the entire shooting match.
I have to tell you, morale was extremely high. The individuals were getting ready to step. The President's words were that he was extremely proud of them for what they're doing. He also told them that America is behind them and pulling for them.
Again, it was fairly short, as a lot of the crew members had to go to their aircraft. But I know -- I got to talk to them while we were waiting for the President to come up -- it was really important to them. And again, morale was extremely high.
I'll turn it back to Admiral Reason.
COLONEL CROWLEY: They're here if you have any questions you want to ask about this or -- you don't get that much interaction with the military -- if you've got any kind of military questions that are on the fringes of the operations that are going on over -- the Admiral and the General would be willing to take those questions as well.
Q When you said there were some pointed exchanges --
ADMIRAL REASON: Not pointed, there were exchanges that were steeped in candor. They were very frank. They were honest, somewhat emotional sometimes. But there was nothing argumentative.
Q I mean, did any of it involve the current conditions in Kosovo? Or was it mostly military life and --
ADMIRAL REASON: It was the life of the individuals that were there conversing with the President. You know, it was all focused on having the President, the Commander in Chief, understand and appreciate that also those who remain at home serve and serve diligently.
And the President made the point to each of the spouses and the children, individually, how proud he was of the fact that they served, that they sacrifice, that they went through hardship in the name of supporting their spouses who are doing what they want to do. They're volunteer, American patriots. And so there was never a complaint that cast any doubt on the fact that they were doing what they wanted to do. It's just that it's tough; it's hard; it's a very difficult lifestyle.
Q Did any of the family members there express concern about the three captured Army soldiers and what their all concerns are about possible capture for their loved ones?
ADMIRAL REASON: Yes, there was an expression that said when you're involved in conflict and the situation escalates, it reaches into every family. It reaches into every home of those who are deployed in association with a conflict. There was some expression that the nation needs to recognize for these people who are deployed in that arena that they really are involved in a war.
And for them, it's very personal. And the ships that their spouses are attached to fire weapons -- for them at home, it's very real, it's warfare. And so they wanted to make sure that the President understood that very clear fact that, in their home, their husbands are off to war.
Q But they specifically mentioned this particular capture incident, and that they expressed that concern to the President about the capture?
ADMIRAL REASON: They did. They did very much. And I'm sure that impacted the comments that he made in a larger forum here, how strongly the entire nation stands behind those on the front line. It was very clear this morning.
Q Was there any concern expressed by perhaps family members of Enterprise crew members about the possibility that the carrier is going to be coming back later than its currently scheduled return date, and what did the President --
ADMIRAL REASON: There was not a specific concern about Enterprise coming back later. However, there was the expression of concern that a given other ship might return late from deployment and, fortunately, I was there and as the commander-in-chief of this fleet, I assured that wife the ship would be back on time.
Q Can you make that same promise for the other ships that are deployed right now, including the Enterprise?
ADMIRAL REASON: I believe that I can, but we're professionals at this, and when situations change that cause us to extend schedules or change schedules, we do what the nation asks of us.
Q -- the President referred to talking about financial hardships. Was any of that in relation to this, or this was generally about military pay not being high enough?
ADMIRAL REASON: It's one in the same. Like I said, there were personal situations. And those situations talked about, one, the level of pay, but the impact that that level of pay, which was universally predicted as low, not high, impacted their families -- especially the ability of a spouse to work. And a couple of wives expressed that they could improve their financial position if they could work, but to work generates a child care need which may offset the gain they might enjoy. So it's a tug of war which was expressed by at least three spouses -- of work, child care, spouse being deployed, so not at home to help in the rearing.
Q Admiral, the President said America takes care of its own in his speech in relation to the three personnel who were taken. Did he reassure the families in any way that everything that could be done, would be done to either rescue these service personnel or go after the people who did it?
ADMIRAL REASON: That did not come up.
Q You said they talked about this tug of war. What was his response? What was the President's response when people described, like this woman on welfare described her situation -- what was his response?
ADMIRAL REASON: The President did not respond specifically to every bit of information that was provided to him. He gave a general response after several people had informed him of their particular situations, that it was important to him that they understand that the nation appreciated their service and the service of their spouses. He also expressed that it was very important to him that their quality of life be as high and be as full as could possibly be engendered.
You know, there were many people in that room, sort of spectators along the back wall -- the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Navy, Senator Robb, Congressmen Sisisky and Scott, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs -- they all heard this entire series of interchanges. So he looked to the back of the room to sort of indicate that we can do things to make this better. But he could not address and did not address specifics to the individuals of what would be done.
COLONEL CROWLEY: Okay. Thank you. You will notice, for Admiral Reason this is a welcoming home to the White House Press Corps since he served as Military Aide to President Carter. So you see the presidential service badge here, so I know several of you have met him in a prior engagement.
Very good. Any other questions? Thank you very much.
END 2:44 P.M. EST