Katrina Archival & Historical Record Team (KART)
Q: Admiral Sir, if you could give me your name and spell your last name please, Sir.
RADM Pearson: Name is Clifford Pearson; P-E-A-R-S-O-N.
Q: And your position is?
RADM Pearson: Commander, Maintenance and Logistics Command, Atlantic.
Q: How did your career prepare you for the chair you’re sitting in now Sir?
RADM Pearson: Actually most of my career has been the C4-Information Technology world; communications and computer systems, not too heavily on the electronics side. That’s pretty much been for like the preceding 25 years’ assignments; TISCOM, CAMSLANT, Headquarters.
Q: You’re Academy or OCS?
RADM Pearson: Yes.
Q: What year?
RADM Pearson: I was commissioned in ’73. I went to the University of Maryland, undergrad, Physics.
Q: Great. This was a big lift for you folks. What did it stress on the other side of your house? What were you working on as this whole storm spun across Florida and then into the Gulf and you had to spin up for this operation?
RADM Pearson: Good question. As you probably know, the scope of MLC’s responsibility in both LANT as well as PAC run the full spectrum of support for the engineering aspect; civil, naval, and electronics. We also do finance, medical, personnel, industrial activities and so forth. So as you might well imagine a lot of those areas have constant work going on day in and day out just keeping the store open so to speak. And probably one of the big ongoing issues that we were dealing with before Katrina were a number of naval engineering issues associated with keeping our Legacy Fleet alive. CASREPS, work in keeping those up to speed and so forth.
Q: Would you put that as the biggest stress on MLC before Katrina?
RADM Pearson: If you go into each program they would each, I think, come up with their top issue or initiative of the particular period. I’d say one of the big ones is keeping our older fleet together in advance of delivering the Deep Water assets and that’s mostly naval engineering. On the C4 side there are components of those older vessels that apply to the C4 side as well plus a lot of ongoing work that is not necessarily Deep Water, transitioning to Rescue 21 for example. And one of the big issues on the C4 side is standing up the Sector Command Centers Coast Guard wide as we, in our case; MLCLANT wide, as we stand up the Sectors throughout the area and obviously a requirement and a need to establish the Sector Command Centers. So that’s big in their area.
You get into medical, TRICARE’s a big issue. We’ve got to go around trying to
make sure that all the issues are taken care of in a different TRICARE by region so it’s not like you can just go to one place and that’s all.
On the Comptroller side there are always budget challenges and from the Comptroller’s side they’ve got a lot of pressures from A-76 as well as 1102 civilian contracting specialists - I’ll say sort of a squeezed down efficiency move - that has taken up a lot of their time.
So again, not all of those bleed over to other programs but each of the programs have had their fair challenges of new initiatives, plus, as I say, just keeping the store open on a day to day business supporting the Area and the Districts.
Q: In terms of the C4, that’s an interesting point. One of the things that we’re curious about is these activity sector constructs that have been spinning up mostly in the post-9/11 world. From where you sit, are those in place? Were those more effective in responding to a situation like this than the old MSO Group structure or do we know that yet?
RADM Pearson: Well when you talk about responding really that gets more into the operational venue than . . . ?
Q: But I mean in terms of the C4 version . . .
RADM Pearson: Oh, the Command Center? Personally I would believe that it has to be better. A Coast Guard officer I would say that you’re bound to have a better opportunity to respond if you’ve got two entities of the Coast Guard that had previously been operating, I’m not going to say autonomously but somewhat separately, wherein in the current construct of the Sectors they’re operating as one more integrated entity. I mean intuitively I’ll tell you that is going to go smoother. You combine Command Centers where perhaps you might have had a Marine Safety Office Command Center and a Group Office Command Center and now you’ve got one Office Command Center, again, just intuitively as a Coast Guard officer with 30 years experience, it’s like, yes, that’s going to make a response much smoother, that you’re operating as one cohesive team as opposed to trying to coordinate across two locations.
Q: In your position you’re providing logistics support throughout the Area. What’s your relationship . . . we’ve gotten the sense that when you get a request, lets say in this case it comes from Saint Louis, to an area within . . . asks you folks, “Can you do this”, what is your personal relationship say with the Area Commander and the District Commander? Is there any interplay during these situations at the senior leadership level; do you folks talk and work things out or is it all done at the staff level and then they bring it up to you?
RADM Pearson: I would say probably the best way to answer that is both. Obviously I work in an organizational construct. I work for the Area Commander but part of my role is also to support the District Commanders. Obviously it’s a small service - I know all of them personally. We visited each of the Districts since I’ve been here and obviously spent a lot of time dialoging with the Area Commander. It happened to be friday morning following the hurricane - I went with Admiral Crea to Saint Louis and down to Alexandria, New Orleans and Mobile and then came back, to illustrate my relationship with the area commander.
Q: If I could just ask you, what kind of things were you passing back and forth as you’re looking at this? This was the first time I guess you had realized what had happened and presumably her as well. What were you going back and forth with; “We’re going to need this”, and she said, “I think we’re also going to need this”; those sorts of conversations?
RADM Pearson: The way I would describe it and obviously you would have to get her impression from her, but as with most things the Area Commander’s of course concerned with the operations and obviously to be able to conduct the operations and there is also an interest in the logistics component. So I think she had both but I think it’s very clear that the issue of primacy from her standpoint was probably, “Do we have the operational assets? Are we conducting it with the right concept of operations”, “Are the people here to do the job? Do we have the right connections between the Coast Guard and the Navy”, for example, “other armed forces, with the city, the state”, and all those kind of relationship issues. And then as we’re traveling around certainly there might be an issue of, “Do we have enough berthing space for the people who are flowing into theater? Do we have enough MREs? Is the water adequate”, and since we’ve got additional people on scene, and obviously it’s still really summertime, “We’ve got places for them for berthing. Are the spaces air conditioned? Do you have proper medical care”, and so forth. Issues even with dependents as, “What are we doing as far as their housing and so forth?” So yes, we did certainly discuss those issues and from my standpoint I think it’s always important and of course is critically important in an operation like this as well for me and my staff to have a clear understanding of what the Operational Commander on-scene is going through, and if you discern what his or her needs are specifically and then just being in the support end of the business you can draw a very clear conclusion even if somebody doesn’t tell you. You’ve got to provide a basic infrastructure for housing and messing facilities and so forth and so you get a very clear picture of not only just a task list because we’re getting that fed up through the system, but sort of a validation of clear need even though we say we’re providing berthing at one location it really is, “We can do better. That’s good for now but let’s put this on the list of . . .”, “. . . find something as far as an improvement for it.”
Q: Do you get to the level . . . I mean for three days you’re seeing helicopters flying around. Is it MLC’s sort of business, are you in the business of saying, “Well that’s x-number of gallons a minute and I’m going to need a spare engine part and these guys are going to need support”, is that part of your . . . ?
RADM Pearson: Well actually aircraft maintenance is done more centrally compared with the rest of our asset support through AR&SC in Elizabeth City so the MLC really doesn’t get involved in the flow of spares for aircraft. With that said there are obviously components associated with the aircraft operation. The MLC does have a large input in, again, making sure that you’ve got to wait for additional crews to get down there. They get the transportation arrangements, the berthing, messing and that type of thing.
Q: So when those helos are taken from say Cape Cod down there you folks would be responsible for actually physically getting the crews in them so they didn’t have to put that time on . . . so that when they got there they were fresh to go?
RADM Pearson: Right, and the rotation of crews that, you know you might leave the same airframe there with the rotating crews, which goes for the same as like watchstanding for the Sectors. It runs across the board.
Q: As this came across Florida, goes into the Gulf and starts spinning into this large storm, was there a point at which you called your staff together and said, “What do we have prepositioned and what do we need to get down there?”
RADM Pearson: I will say that – you can probably think back to last year when we had I think it was three or four major hurricanes that hit Florida and obviously that was unique in itself but obviously we have a number of significant hurricanes each year. The MLC has, over the years, garnered lessons learned from each season and applied those in planning and response capabilities for the contingencies and so you keep building on that. So when Katrina hit we went through our normal preparation as far as deploying right around the fringes of the impact area. Obviously you’re not going to deploy to New Orleans if you know the hurricane is going to strike there but within relatively easy close access to go in.
Some of our first teams that always go in – and the same as for Katrina – are Disaster Assessment Teams, really sort of Civil Engineering if you will, and then Emergency Reconstruction Teams. So they’re usually one of the first groups on-scene, visit a unit, do an assessment of what is needed and then the Emergency Response Team will come right behind them and do some of the initial repairs. And then for the C4 standpoint, obviously you typically would expect that you’re going to loose landlines and so we’ve got an assortment of cell phones we can provide and unfortunately sometimes the cell phone infrastructure goes down as well and so cell phones aren’t going to do you a heck of a lot of good. We provide satellite phones, Iridiums, and satellite/portable antennas that you can connect up to the Coast Guard Data Network which we did for places like Air Station New Orleans for example.
Q: How do you conceive of your role in these meetings? You’re the boss of the support system. Do you look for, around at your staff, listen to what they’re saying and say, “Does somebody have this aspect of it covered? Is somebody working this issue”, and based on your experience how do you handle those situations?
RADM Pearson: Yes, that’s a part of it, recognize that, it’s very important to keep it in, I’ll say, the forefront of your mind that we’ve done a lot of responses to hurricanes in the past so some of it is standard planning; a standard operational plan, if you will, that’s already set in motion. It’s not like I should have to say, “Do you have your Disaster Assessment Teams ready to go?” I mean that’s the normal course of operations. But still with that said, yes, as any hurricane approaches it’s those check-off lists, “We are doing all of our normal things.” Yes Sir, we’re doing all those things”, and if there’s anything that looks a little bit different - like obviously this one is a major one - you may ask some additional questions like, “This probably is going to be a heavier lift than the other ones. Where are we drawing additional assets from over and above what we typically do?” So from that standpoint, yes, and of course all of our Program Managers here in the MLC like our head Civil Engineer or head C4 guy are very experienced within their own professional element. They’re senior Captains and so they’ve been working within their program for 25 years for example and they know exactly what they should be doing and most of them are very aggressive, lean forward, try to find as many solutions as they can to whatever the problem is that they happen to be facing.
Q: Presumably I would assume, even during this heavy lift, you are still having to feed and care for the rest of the fleet, the maintenance and all of that.
RADM Pearson: Sure.
Q: It must have been stretching the system on all of the fronts.
RADM Pearson: It does and of course this was an extremely heavy personnel lift. You can get the numbers or we can get the numbers for you but I think currently we’re probably providing something like 1,700 additional Coast Guard people to the 8th District AOR and obviously they’re not from necessarily the MLC. We’ve got people that are in there doing MLC jobs but drawing throughout the rest of the Coast Guard of these 1700 people, some of whom are Reserves but not all. I think out of that 1,700 –it’s probably like 600 and some odd Reservists so the rest are active duty taken from throughout the Service; all of the Districts. The 1st District as an entity has given up some of their folks to do it. The service is stretched thin.” It’s not just the 8th District and certainly not just the MLC but from a lot of standpoints like Naval Engineering. Anytime where you’re doing preventive maintenance if you were scheduled to do some work today, if you think of maintenance on your car, to be honest, if you had something come up today you’d probably say, “Well I can do it tomorrow. I don’t really have to do it today.” You keep putting that off long enough and then you probably wouldn’t be surprised that something’s going to break and then you have to refocus your assets there and say, “Okay, now we’ve got a CASREP on this. We’ve got to spend some extra work.” And so in some ways I think throughout the Service and certainly for our aircraft fleet we’ve done a little bit of mortgaging in the future but obviously you have to. You know it’s an operation that is called for it and you’ve got to do what it takes to take care of that. But I think we’ve got a lot of maintenance that has been put off during Katrina and certainly a very high PersTempo that we’re paying a cost, that we’re going to have to have some downtime for folks so they can rest and recover from it as well.
Q: But the maintenance issue seems to be with the Coast Guard more or less constantly . . .
RADM Pearson: Well it is.
Q: . . . repairing an aging fleet and waiting for these new platforms to come online. If you could pick out one or two or three areas where you’re flowing people in, picking people from this District to go down here or whatever, what would you put your finger on as assets, platforms, people, that this kind of a situation hoys the need to have more on?
RADM Pearson: It’s a tough one. You’re really – and I’m not trying to be vague – it’s a little difficult – it’s almost a case of cause and effect, a chicken and egg that you can’t do anything without highly qualified motivated professional people but the people are only going to be able to do so much if they have hard assets. You aren’t going to reset a buoy just by having people there. You’ve got to have a buoy tender. You aren’t going to communicate with somebody you need to communicate with if you don’t have the Comms gear. So it’s a little difficult to say, “Boy, if you had people you could get everything done.” But by the same token you can’t say, “If I had perfect equipment staged up but I didn’t have any people I’m all set.” It’s kind of like you really do have to have the right mix of both. I personally think that it perhaps could be a little bit easier to acquire equipment and have that staged and then say, “Okay, we can always surge the personnel from throughout the Service. We’ve got a Reserve contingent that we can call up”, and so forth, but I would also say I think we’ve been, I believe, very successful, and from the reports I get from the District Commander and the folks in the 8th, very effective and responsive in providing the hard assets.
I’m just going to jump back.
RADM Pearson: We sort of went off course and I’m not sure I fully answered your question when I started talking about traveling with Vice Admiral Crea down to in-theater with her and talking about how did we interact Area wise and District wise, at least at the Flag level. Throughout most of this there was a daily teleconference with the Commandant and his headquarters’ staff and on the telecom was Vice Admiral Crea and her staff, me and some of my staff, Admiral Duncan out of the 8th and Captain Kevin Marshall who was the relocated 8th IMT up in Saint Louis. So we’d have a daily teleconference to coordinate and make sure everything was lined up. And then for each of those evolutions, like before going to the Commandant you get on a teleconference with the Area Commander and the 8th District Commander, and so at the Flag level probably three times a day we’d have direct coordination. And then as you appropriately said, the staff level from the Flag on down is working a lot of issues. I couldn’t even tell you the number of standing teleconferences we had but I know that the Comptroller had a daily teleconference with his counterparts in FEMA and what have you to get acts lined up on, “How are we doing our accounting? How are we doing our contracting?” The head of the C4 Division had – it wasn’t a daily – it was very frequent standing teleconferences and I thought one very smart move is our CO of our Civil Engineering unit in Miami went up full time to be an adhoc member of the D-8 IMT. I think that was an extremely effective move and obviously he’d reach back to our Civil Engineering here.
Q: These conferences, I know after . . . I interviewed Admiral Allen after 9/11 and in those first few days he said everybody was plugged in tight. There were a lot of Flag conferences. But he also said it was kind of like an anthropological laboratory where you had this incident but then the other Districts didn’t know if there was going to be another shoe that dropped in a port or something so everybody was asking for resources and, “I need this here, I need that there.” What was the character of these discussions? Were they more informational or was it more of, “This is what’s happening here and this is what we’re going to need to work this issue.”
RADM Pearson: Yes, of course there’s always, in those kinds of evolutions, a strong component of passing information but I would say probably the better thing was for everybody participating it allowed for full situational awareness and alignment. And so if there was any need for discussion of , “We’re going to go out that way”, and if the Area Commander said, “No, maybe we ought to do this, do you agree?” “Sure we do”, and so you have that kind of dialog before you got in a teleconference with the Commandant. And it was not – I don’t mean it to sound at all like it was kind of a staged evolution – I think it was information sharing and achieved alignment among the 8th, the Area and the MLC, and so I thought it worked fairly well. We didn’t really have – and I guess that would be something different I think from 9/11 – is that this was a natural event and except for something like Hurricane Ophelia that came up the East Coast it wasn’t like the 1st District was really competing. It’s like, “We weren’t expecting a hurricane”, you know again a slight probability for Ophelia. And so I think all the Districts outside of the impact area were very forthcoming almost saying, “Hey, I’ve got people here. I can squeeze down a little bit.” The 9th District sent, which I thought was a great asset, some iceboats that they use, like the airboats used in the swamp.
Q: So that’s where those things came from.
RADM Pearson: Yes, they came down from the 9th.
Q: So those are actually iceboats, they’re not swamp-buggies.
RADM Pearson: The Darts came down from the 9th and of course the PSU-309. It was almost an equal spread, which makes sense that if you’re trying to draw like upwards of 1700 people - and that was our focus of reaching out to the Districts for certain skill sets and making sure that we weren’t tapping one District too hard - and everybody kind of contributed equally. So that was, I’d say, a little bit different from, right after 9/11 that everybody was not in a position where they needed to be overly staffed up or supplied hard asset wise. There certainly were some components within the 8th, Sector New Orleans and Sector Mobile, each had their own requirements and those were vetted up through the 8th District IMT, so we weren’t the ones adjudicating whether New Orleans got it first or Mobile. We said, “8th District, you’re the guy on-scene. You’re the one who calls the shots. You prioritize it how you want. You just tell us what you need and we’ll make sure that you get it in the time in which you need to have it.”
Q: How about in the opposite direction? We talked a lot about how requests come up to you in these situations where its going to be unique in that for three days there’s nothing but Coast Guard helicopters on national television and then a couple days later a Coast Guard Admiral gets put in charge of the whole thing. What kind of requests, if there were, were coming down the chain into your shop?
RADM Pearson: Like from the Area, from Headquarters kind of thing?
RADM Pearson: I would say – and this is really sort of an overall view - that from Headquarters I can’t recall an instance of, “You need to provide ‘x’ to ‘y’”, and I think to me its expected that the person on scene is going to know what their requirements are and people don’t need to be pushing. That said, there certainly were some offers from Headquarters, which I think is entirely appropriate and I think it just goes to the core of our culture depending on the program. Like Admiral Gable; Chief of Engineering, would say, “Hey, we’ve got this capability at the Yard. If you need it we can provide it.” Or my old area in C4; Admiral Hewitt saying, “I’ve got this link with this kind of people or asset. If you need to have it give me a call and we can provide that”, that sort of thing. But it was not an issue of, “I’ve got this here, it’s coming, you figure out a way to use it.”
RADM Pearson: Now again, that said, certainly in conversations with the Area Commander – I can’t recall specifically – but she said, “I think we need some more here.” We’d say, “Yes, we certainly can do so.”
Q: Just a couple of general things. As this situation started to shift out of rescue mode into recovery mode where do see MLCs providing support, for example this what’s going to be this enormous “M” response over the next months or years?
RADM Pearson: Well actually I guess we had a little bit of a situation on which to plan and get some experience when we had the big spill up in Delaware Bay this past winter. They got a lot of contracting support out of our F-shop; Captain Krupa’s group, where we would do rotating watches of folks from here that were on-scene that were a part of the 5th District’s, in that case, cleanup group on site providing contracting support, and however it evolves if there’s also requirements for people to be on-scene we’ll take our cue from Admiral Hereth or whoever relieves him in taking care of the cleanup stuff.
Q: In terms of this C4 architecture one of the things that came up yesterday was, for example, ATON folks weren’t able to talk to say some of the river tenders that were setting buoys out in the middle of nowhere. Are you comfortable that the architecture as it’s now being developed for down lines of smaller platforms or more obscure platforms is going to be adequate as the Service moves forward to address those kind of connectivity issues?
RADM Pearson: Yes, you’ve got to look at each class and what the communication requirements are with that class of vessel and where they’re operating, and obviously in a voice mode there are certain ways of solving that. Communications offer different solution sets. I think that certainly I can speak over the last 25 or 30 years that we are not developing it all but we have unique communications requirements that are not like a lot of commercial entities. Obviously maritime, and so it’s really an adaptation of technology and how we uniquely and in some ways custom fit, technology to meet our requirements. That said, and then there’s money involved in doing that. I think we made a great deal of progress and so if the question is, “Can we do more”, sure we can do more. You can always bring a more robust communications capability to any platform. The challenge becomes a little bit more the case of the smaller the hull the smaller the area on which you have to install antennas. And, there’s always a price tag on what we’re able to afford. You want the most capability for the best dollar value recognized and you’re going to have to spread the dollar value across the Service and we still have 378s out in deep water and 270s that you’ve got to account for and the breakers and all that, so it’s a matter of how are you allocating and prioritizing. But again, I think we’ve made some great progress over the years but are we where we need to be? No, not yet and we probably never will be. It’s a moving target that you want to improve today but when you make those improvements there are still further improvements that you’re going to want to make downstream.
Q: I guess after 9/11 there was a sense that the construct that they were moving toward was no matter what the platform was they were still on a Homeland Security platform. So even if it’s a river tender out there setting buoys it’s still potentially an anti-terrorism Homeland Security platform because its part of the Coast Guard.
RADM Pearson: Yes.
Q: Do you see that as not necessarily a model that the Service would follow?
RADM Pearson: Well we’ve always obviously been multi-mission capable, all of our units, and I think that very much is the view even with ATON platforms, that they’ve got their, their primary mission but they’re also eyes when they’re on the river and the Gulf and so forth. And I think the Rescue 21 project certainly is going to go a long way in improving what we’ve had as the system that was installed in the mid-70s. That technology, and is now 30 years old, and so not only do you have older technology but you’ve also got older equipment with maintenance requirements and so forth. You get a storm like this come through and it takes out some of the nodes of the NDRS system so Rescue 21 will certainly work to fill up a lot of those holes and then the restoration capability that at least is under the contract for Rescue 21 is very robust. So that will work a long way for these. We probably still need to, even though we’re talking about the rivers, have capabilities that are not based on fixed infrastructure because obviously you get a hurricane, no matter how good the installed system is if it’s a Coast Guard owned system, for example, VHF Comms, that very clearly could be taken down. So if you had satellite phone capability, that you could have up on the bridge, it provides a great backup to VHF. You know we certainly have experience with commercial telephone networks that go down understandably in a hurricane, a lot of times people tend to think, “Well, cell phones are always reliable. You can always get a dial tone.” Well you can until a storm comes by or it gets totally clogged because if that’s the only game in town it’s you and everybody else trying to use it at the same time.
Q: We’ve got this multi-mission person and it’s easy if you’re a Marine because as they say, “Every Marine is a rifleman”, so what’s every Coast Guardsman?
RADM Pearson: Probably every Coast Guardsman is a Coast Guardsman, which I think really does sort of describe it. That prideful statement of the Marine Corps is really inherent in what the Coast Guard does. I can’t honestly say that I’ve known people in the Coast Guard who said, “I only do Law Enforcement. I don’t ever do ATON”, or “I only do ATON.” Yes, people spend a lot more time in one function than others but I think that that really goes to the core of what the Coast Guard is and does every day, but I think if you really spend much time thinking about it, it means a lot more than just . . . nice to say multi-mission. It goes to the core of the requirements and of training and really just attitude of the Coast Guard.
Q: How does the Coast Guard transmit that attitude?
RADM Pearson: Internally?
Q: Yes. If you could pick out say an esprit de corps mechanism that the Coast Guard uses to get people to recognize that it’s nice to be this single purpose rifleman that’s trained to kill people, we’ve got to do 14 things and we might train to do 14 things on which we may be doing eight or ten on any given day, it’s not as easy to put on a bumper sticker, so how does an organization like this transmit that in a kind of esprit de corps way from one generation to the next?
RADM Pearson: I don’t know, maybe it really does in fact come down to the Search and Rescue component there for the humanitarian construct and I certainly think that if nothing else the media coverage of especially the real heavy SAR response immediately after Katrina struck has got to resonate with everybody in the Coast Guard, and I certainly think that it does and I think that it also goes well outside the Coast Guard. Obviously broadcast media reaching whatever percentage it is of the U.S. public and I’m sure perhaps like you, just a neighbor that says, “Wow you guys are doing a great job there.” And so I think that kind of thing resonates throughout the Service and when you look at an operation like Katrina, even if you’re doing ATON work or whatever it is, reconstructing a station, I think deep down folks recognize that what we’re really doing is a major humanitarian operation, a major SAR case.
Q: Well if you set those buoys wrong you’re endangering somebody’s life.
RADM Pearson: Yes, and in a very real sense you’re rebuilding this whole area; this entire region, and everybody is not a rescue swimmer but its all part of that same ethos.
Q: Yes. So you think that’s why it struck such a cord throughout the Service to see those guys doing that because that is kind of the core of the Service, that whole lifesaving heritage.
RADM Pearson: Well yes, I think it is . . . I think probably most of us if not all do believe deep down inside that that’s what we’re about, that’s who we are, that’s what we do, and to see something that successful, like I say, everybody obviously is not a rescue swimmer but the analogy would be a football team that if it’s the running back that scores the touchdown the people that were on the line recognize that they are part in that success as well and ultimately it’s the team that wins the game, not the person who happened to score the winning touchdown. So I think here it’s the same sort of - I’m not going to say sharing the glory – but its all part of the same team.
Q: Would you like to add anything or any thoughts about this operation; in support of this operation that you would care to add?
RADM Pearson: Yes, I would say obviously we always look at lessons learned after an operation. We’ve also looked at applying lessons during an operation and we’ll go through a very significant scrub afterwards. I think, to be honest with you, my personal assessment plus validated by inputs from both Admiral Duncan and Admiral Crea is that MLC, by in large, has done a very commendable job and I’m not saying that as a pat on my back. It’s one of those things that I certainly will pat everybody else on the back but its one of those issues of having gone through basically this kind of evolution in the past that we have learned and applied those lessons to date and so we’re able to be very responsive in getting housing trailers, getting fuel, food and all that sort of thing into theater. And of course the difference here is in just scope and in scale, just entirely different from all the hurricanes we’ve dealt with in the past where usually a hurricane comes through, unfortunately devastates an area but immediately after its passage you go in and you start reconstructing. I mean you get some kind of recovery operations but it’s not the kind of SAR cases you were dealing with in Katrina so that changed it a great deal. I think perhaps some additional lessons learned is we’re certainly moving into a more robust PFO role and so the Coast Guard, the 8th District and the MLC and an Area, operate within the Coast Guard’s construct. We also operate within the PFO construct and its becoming more and more of a Coast Guard mission obviously as Flags are pre-designated to the PFO. And then you get the JTF, which is unique.
We’ve certainly drawn upon working with the National Guard and DOD forces but clearly not to this extent, but again it’s a different scale and scope and I believe – I’ve said so long before it was ever associated with Katrina – the Coast Guard is a very unique entity within that whole national infrastructure. We obviously, as a member of the Armed Forces, not within DoD of course – I’m not telling you anything new – but we work very closely with DoD on a normal basis depending on what the mission is and so we speak DoD and I think as a part of that they therefore speak clearly with us and it’s a very close relationship. In an area like New Orleans, 8th District typically or the 1st District in Boston, the 5th District here in Portsmouth, you work very closely with the locals and by extension you work with the state entities. Of course as members of DHS we work closely with FEMA and CBP and so forth, so I personally believe that the Coast Guard – I mean this isn’t any great newsflash – the Coast Guard is in a very unique position within the national structure to say, “Okay, you’re kind of the bridging mechanism amongst all of these components. You work well with the JTF. You probably are plugging in and working that angle. You run the PFO; not necessarily a Coast Guard officer but that’s the background so you’ve got Coast Guard people in there. You’ve got ties to the local, you’ve got ties to the state. And I think obviously we proved ourselves as an organization in Katrina, a very responsive, very capable organization. So you put all those things into the mix and, “This is working very well”, and I would honestly expect that from the President through Congress that it’s both an opportunity and a challenge to leverage how we engage in the planning and in the execution of plans from here on out and I believe that it would be and should be fundamentally different in having a much stronger role in it.
Q: If they come to you tomorrow and say, because of this more robust PFO role, “You guys did a great job. We want you to take over all these responses from now on and by the way, you down in MLC, you’re going to be responsible for bringing in food and water to the whole city tomorrow”, what’s your response?
RADM Pearson: I think to be honest with you I would say we can do it. We’ve got to do some planning on what’s required and as always there are price tags that come with it, price tags of either buying something, contracting for it and what have you, but again I think when you look at it, whether it’s protecting the homeland in whatever the evolution is, whether it’s a weapon of mass destruction or a natural disaster, that it obviously is the right thing to do and if the Coast Guard is the one that has say the experience and the infrastructure and the organization to carry it out then by God we ought to. But as I say, I mean there are price tags and so I think what would be unfair is for everybody to say, “Okay, you were built to do this. Now you do this with the same number of people”, and it might not work out that well. If you fund and organize the whole enchilada you could say, “Yes, we should and could do it.”
Q: Do think the Coast Guard’s senior leadership has the stamina to work that kind of a list through the bureaucracy if they’re in fact tasked to do those kinds of things?
RADM Pearson: Oh, I think if it’s something that we want . . . well if we want to do it and we have the will to do it we absolutely would.
Q: In fact I mean in that situation it seems to me like you’re talking about doubling or tripling the size of the Service to be able to respond to a situation like this and evacuate a major metropolitan area and have plans in place to spin up and provide housing and all those support facilities that you would need to support half a million, a million people on 24 hours notice or something like that.
RADM Pearson: Yes.
Q: If they had the week’s notice or whatever it was and then even after that they’ve got a couple days, if it’s a nuke in a harbor or something like that you’re not going to have that kind of lead time, you’ve got to be there – or an earthquake – you’ve got to be there the next day.
RADM Pearson: Yes, I think you’d have to look at a lot of alternatives and options, and even for example my belief because of the Coast Guard’s reputation is to route but then also establish in the early phases of Katrina, and of course Admiral Allen is a very capable individual and if he’s assigned ultimately as the PFO and they have Admiral Peterman as the PFO for Ophelia and Admiral Hereth assigned as the PFO for Rita, saying, “Okay, I’m starting to see a real trend here.” So if you take on those roles does that mean you have to do everything within that and I would say probably a lot of people would contend that, “No, if you’ve got somebody like a PFO that happens to be a Coast Guard Flag that is directing it, it doesn’t mean that everything that he or she does has to be Coast Guard owned and it would be certainly reaching out, and it’s much more than a coordinating role. You know that individual is under the authority of the Secretary in tasking - you name the organization - to deliver a certain product or service.
Q: Just off the top of my head it would seem that if they were going to do something like that, let’s say for the sake of argument, describe DHS, the Coast Guard, “You guys did a great job. We’re going to turn you guys into the Homeland Defense Force”, you know, Euro-style Homeland Defense Force.
RADM Pearson: Sure, yes, the domestic rapid response force type of thing.
Q: Then you would have to reorient the Service in ways that it really hasn’t thought about doing for a long time.
RADM Pearson: Right, yes. I mean I think it’s aligned with our basic mission set but it’s a pretty substantial change from it, and again, obviously the scale and the scope of that increased responsibility has some price tags associated with it.
Q: Do you think that’s a challenge the senior leadership would welcome?
RADM Pearson: I would tend to think so. I don’t see why not.
Q: Admiral Sir, I want to thank you very much.
RADM Pearson: Okay, great. It’s been my pleasure.
END OF INTERVIEW