THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Bossier City, Louisiana) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release April 12, 1999
PRESS BRIEFING BY LT. GENERAL RONALD MARCOTTE, COMMANDER, 8TH AIR FORCE Barksdale Air Force Base Bossier City, Louisiana
11:00 A.M. CDT
COLONEL CROWLEY: Last week when we had you in Norfolk, we're actually giving you a -- last week you had a military organization 101, going to Norfolk to encounter the unified CINC that's involved in supporting General Clark over in Europe. And you had briefings from the air combat command, Vice Commander General Tom Kech and the CINC land fleet Commander, Admiral Paul Reason.
So we're going to bring you down one more echelon this week in terms of the folks who are providing the outstanding forces that are participating in this NATO operation, thought we would have a target of opportunity here with Lt. General Ron Marcotte, who is the Commander of the 8th Air Force here at Barksdale. But he is primarily providing the heavy weapons that go into General Clark's arsenal, the B-1s, the B-2s, the B-52s that you see out here on the ramp, but thought we might spend a few minutes and he can give you a little sense of how the operations are going from the host unit's standpoint. And we'll be happy to answer any questions on his realm in terms of the operations.
So, General Marcotte, the floor is yours.
GENERAL MARCOTTE: Thank you. Well, it's a particular honor for me to even be part of this event as well, from the perspective that all this has been ginned up primarily to allow the leadership to thank all the folks that are doing all the hard work and the heavy lifting in the action going on. Of course, the 8th Air Force is just one part of it. The entire aerospace forces, so to speak, are working it, but I can speak most specifically about -- or more specifically about the 8th Air Force.
As was said earlier, we've got B-52s, which were kind of first in the fight, as it tends to be. They were asked to deploy to Fairford, England, and be prepared to operate in the Kosovo area of operations. They did their job, they deployed, and soon thereafter, we had B-2s flying CONUS to CONUS missions, 30-hour-plus missions in addition to the B-52 cruise -- air-launch cruise missiles or conventional air launch cruise missiles. And then, of course, the B-1s are now part of that force. They, too, deployed to Fairford and it's a maximum operation for those folks.
Of particular note here, at Barksdale with the Second Bomb Wing, the largest B-52 outfit, has been -- for almost its entire history they have done an awesome amount of work in regards to deploying. They've been deploying almost in every operation that's gone forward, from Diego Garcia to Fairford previously, and back to Fairford. And they do it on the drop of a hat, and they know how to do it very, very well.
And so it was extremely heartening to the young folks to have the President and the entourage to come in and spend some time with 20-plus crew members that he spent about 45 minutes with, interchanging, asking questions, just talking about business, how they felt about the operation and so on.
To synopsize that a little bit, first questions you can be obvious is, the President asked: How did you prepare for the mission? And again, this is a kind of folks sitting around a table right in front of him in a small room, all wearing flight suits and just returned from flying missions.
Their answers were interesting from the perspective that they said that we had been very, very prepared. In fact, they think that as a result of how well that they prepare, that the actual missions are the easiest part of their training, which is an interesting perspective. And that came from their mouths, not from mine -- that they're training back in the States.
How they are prepared, they're flying training missions; the support personnel back here work them to such a degree that when they have to execute a mission like a conventional air launch cruise missile mission, that it's basically a piece of cake, it goes like clockwork. And I think that's a tribute to all the hard work and support that they get back here.
Also, as the President indicated in his prepared remarks this morning, they talked about how well they're fitting into the NATO operation. One of the questions came up -- or comments, I should say -- hey, I'm at Fairford; let me tell you, Mr. President, how well we're being taken care of there, from the British folks, the support downtown, the fellow military members; it's second to none. So they couldn't ask for better support as part of a NATO Alliance in operation out of Fairford.
Do you agree with -- one of the interesting parts was, of course, they got into the comments and questions about the venerable B-52 itself, and the President asked, well, do you think it's going to be good for another 40 years. And there was a unanimous "yea verily." I mean, they're very, very -- yea verily. Yes.
Q Do you know how many years?
GENERAL MARCOTTE: About another 40 years, is the program plan for the B-52. And all of them chimed in, saying that, obviously, it needs to continue to be maintained very well. And I forgot to mention the fact that these air crew members were appropriately flanked by maintainers. And, of course, those maintainers are very bright and shiny. And I was proud of them. All the flyers chimed in every chance they got to say how well those young NCOs and airmen are doing maintaining their aircraft and supporting them from the ground, because it wouldn't happen without them.
And, of course, if that continues and we continue to attract the right kinds of people in our Air Force, that aircraft is, in fact, going to be around for another 40 years and doing very, very well. And as you know, it now carries the most variety of weapons in our Air Force inventory.
He was also -- the President also discussed or expressed his concern about the downsizing in the military and how that has impacted them in particular. And some honest and sensitive answers came out -- questions about, or comments about the fact that day in, day out -- in fact, one young captain said, I am not worried about my pay. He said, I am worried about the NCOs pay, I am worried about the airmen's pay. He said, I see very good mid-level non-commissioned officers departing our Air Force because their pay is probably not at the right level or the economy is more attractive on the outside, and those young men and women are indispensable to what they do.
But, clearly, there are some concerns. Spent some time talking about the challenges that our military members, particularly the dependents, face with the change in the medical system -- what we call tri-care, where the metamorphosis of what used to be in our military medical system is changed now to where we have clinics on bases and basically out-source medical care to the communities, which is coming along, but it is a dramatic change for our military members and something of great concern, as you can well imagine, to the dependents of those air crew members and support personnel out there -- talking about, well, my wife is really concerned and my kids don't get the care they used to get. And we're concerned about that.
So, clearly, the efforts that the administration and Congress are talking about with regards to getting a fair wage back into the system, working the retirement benefits, working the medical and making sure that that comes through -- quality of life issues are delivered or we're going to end up with a continuing exodus of our good people that we can't replace overnight. And as importantly, we won't be able to recruit young people like we have in the past, the ones that kind of keep the traditions and the great expertise going.
And so he was very serious with them and they with him about how the systems got to deliver, the systems got to deliver. But they're happy. They were very proud of what they were doing. One young man said, you know -- because the President asked him, what's the operations tempo doing to you, day in and day out, How is this affecting you?
His answer was, the Ops tempo of an operation like this is not a concern, because they feel like they're part of something very, very important, they are contributing to an effort that is important to the allies. They feel good about what they're doing, they feel it's right, they feel like they have the training behind them. So while this is going on, it's great.
The difficulties they face, frankly -- and they said it in several different comments -- was the fact that when this operation is over or when they come back to peacetime or when they come back to the States is when the operation tempo starts taking a different meaning, because they are split between exercises, inspections, other contingencies doing things for other operations and so on, and the fact that that is happening in -- almost to them, anyway, a random fashion, they can't tell their spouses when they're going to be gone. And, of course, that hits right on the mark of why the Air Force is going toward this aerospace expeditionary force concept where we'll be able to tell our folks when they're going to be vulnerable for deployment, for how long they'll be vulnerable, and then go back into a training cycle that will allow them to tell their family members when they're going to be gone.
That metamorphosis, of course, is taking place as we speak and to be brought into force 1 October -- actually, 1 January of the year 2000 when we start the AEF process.
And then President Clinton kind of concluded with his expression of his appreciation for what they did day-in and day-out. Spent an awful lot of time talking one on one with each one of them, group photo, shaking hands and making all those young men -- there were no young women in the crew force at that particular meeting -- but all the young men feeling very good about who they are and how they contribute to our national defense.
Very, very important meeting and, of course, those young men will go out and talk to their fellow crew force, along with the President's comments, and Barksdale is going to obviously be on a high for a long time as a result of the thanks.
That was generally it. I can take some time for questions, if you like.
Q Did any of the service members express any reservations about the wisdom of the mission itself or the way it's being carried out? And I have a follow-up, too.
GENERAL MARCOTTE: Okay. No, not at all. I mean, they were very -- and, of course, we spend an awful lot of time with these folks as they spin up and get the intelligence briefs and so on and so forth. It's very clear in their minds what they are doing this for and why it's important.
Q Some of the reporters were told after the speech not to interview service members out on the field because the White House had ordered no interviews. Can you explain that?
GENERAL MARCOTTE: I'll give you my spin on it. There is, I think, honest concern on the part of many that they don't want their name tag out there in front, given the state of the world today. And even though we're here in the United States today, I'm not sure I'd like to get a message from somebody saying they don't like Ron Marcotte because he's -- and those kinds of things. And to avoid that, I think it's important that we, to the extent we can, avoid showing names and faces and things of that nature, because this operation is still going on, these guys and gals are still on the front lines, and we have to make sure that we don't divert their focus from their mission.
Q Don't you think they should have the right to say, yes, I do want to talk, or no, I don't?
GENERAL MARCOTTE: Well, right.
Q Did you cover their names --
GENERAL MARCOTTE: No, I did not get involved in that.
Q No, no -- when they were out in the crowd were their names hidden so they couldn't be identified?
GENERAL MARCOTTE: No. But do you know who was flying missions?
Q I was interviewing a retired Air Force airman who had no name tag on, no identification whatsoever, and I was told to stop interviewing him. What possible justification --
GENERAL MARCOTTE: I do not know. I don't know why those instructions were given to you. They didn't come from my office. So this is -- I'm just giving you my theory as to maybe why. But I was not privy to that instruction.
Q Where did they come from?
GENERAL MARCOTTE: I do not know.
Q What office did they come from?
GENERAL MARCOTTE: I do not know.
COLONEL CROWLEY: We'll try to fix this. I think there is a disconnect here.
GENERAL MARCOTTE: Obviously, there is a disconnect. I'm hearing this for the first time. I didn't realize that this was occurring.
Q So you did not instruct --
GENERAL MARCOTTE: I do not know. I do not know. I honestly do not know. I'm not --
COLONEL CROWLEY: In fairness to the command, I think this is being attributed to a White House policy. We'll fix that policy. So I just think there's a disconnect here that we'll solve as quickly as we can.
Q It sounds like neither of you know of a policy, if there is or isn't.
COLONEL CROWLEY: There shouldn't be a policy. These are great folks and they should be accessible if they're willing.
GENERAL MARCOTTE: Exactly.
Q General, can you tell us any more about -- you said some of these folks had just returned from missions, presumably flying missions to Kosovo. How recently had they done this, and can you tell us anything else about that?
GENERAL MARCOTTE: It was a spectrum. There were some that had been back for two weeks, some got back last week, depending on the redeployment schedule of aircraft. And, of course, we swap out aircraft as necessary. For various reasons, they come back. They weren't taken back for this, they were just rotated. And in fact, some of them will be probably getting back on a jet here shortly going back and being deployed. So it's a crew-aircraft thing.
Q Now, these folks had flown over, and I imagine and had stopped in England and then run the mission from there, not directly from there.
GENERAL MARCOTTE: That's correct. Now, it could be done from here, but the decision was made to do it -- deploy and then employ from Fairford.
Q How many planes do you have in Fairford now?
GENERAL MARCOTTE: I think we have on the order of eight. And that's a combination of Mynot aircraft and Barksdale aircraft. Of course, we've got the B-1s there, too.
Q And the B-2s --
GENERAL MARCOTTE: And the B-2s are doing just from Whiteman Air Force Base back -- just; I shouldn't say it that way. They're doing Whiteman to the strike and back -- which is going very well, by the way. I mean, I talk to the commander there every day and it's amazing, he says, how the crews come back as rested -- amazingly rested and ready to go again after the appropriate amount of time. So that's working very well, as well.
Q Can you just describe what it does to the pace and order of operations here when something like this is going on? What's different here now than it would be a month ago?
GENERAL MARCOTTE: Well, number one is you take a number of, you know, 200-plus key individuals -- you're obviously not going to take the people just coming out of tech training and out of Lackland as new recruits. You're going to take your most experienced folks over there, from key leadership all the way down.
So when they do that it obviously leaves a lot of empty spaces back here that have to be filled in. As you know, we're not really manned today to do that. We deploy from here, we end up not being able to do all the things we do day in and day out here at Barksdale Air Force Base and 2nd Wing. Which is, again, one of the reasons they want to go to this expeditionary aerospace force concept, where you plus-up those wings and therefore when they know they're going to deploy, they deploy, and then operations are not affected back here.
But for this one, operations are affected. Things have slowed down here as far as training is concerned, but it's still up and running. You may or may not know this, but the 2nd Bomb Wing is in charge of all B-52 training for new crew members coming out of pilot training and for those returning to the B-52 after a long change in assignment. So that operation is up and running, continuing to develop the pilots and radar navigators and navigators and so on and so forth. So that one is still going.
But clearly, the pace of activity here, of things going on here, is slowed down quite a bit. Plus, our focus, our attention, is to making sure that they're supported at Fairford. So anything they need -- people, parts, aircraft -- I mean, it's like that. So that, obviously, takes our eye off the ball a little bit here. But things are going well. It's coming along well.
Anything else? Well, again, thank you very much for paying attention to the operation here, to the folks that make this all happen. And I think you can be very proud of the young men and women of our Air Force, and it's a great opportunity to thank them. So thank you very much.
COLONEL CROWLEY: Yes, I just -- we'll fix this problem. I don't know where the disconnect comes from, but we will fix it and give you access to folks from the base who are participating in the operation.
I might just physically describe, briefly, in the ready room where the President met with the crews. You had, around the table, Brigadier General Andy Smoak, who's the Commander of the 2nd Bomb Wing; and a representative pilot, co-pilot, navigator, radar navigator, and a couple of maintainers, who kind of represent the cross section of those that support B-52 operations here. And then surrounding that there was kind of an arc with another 20 or so folks, again both officers and enlisted, that could give the President that kind of feedback. And, as the General said, they spoke for about 45 minutes.
Very good. Thanks very much.
END 11:17 A.M. CDT