Admiral Papp on the Gulf Oil Spill: “Every day is a Monday down here”

Gulf of Mexico – On his third visit to the Gulf coast region, Admiral Robert Papp, the Commandant of Coast Guard spent a few minutes with Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Hackley, conveying a message to the responders and discussing the Coast Guard’s role in the effort.

Q. What are the top priorities for the Coast Guard in this response?

A. The top priorities for the Coast Guard are to make certain we are getting all right people down here, the right aircraft, ships, and other resources that Adm. {Thad} Allen needs. My responsibility as the Commandant is as a Force Provider, in other words, Adm. Allen is the National Incident Commander and is responsible for the carrying out of the operation for the Secretary of Homeland Security. As the Commandant, I’m providing people and resources. So I make sure we have the right talent down here. We’ve recalled over 1,500 of our Reservists, and we’re sending ships, aircraft and boats from around the country to help out in carrying out the operation.

Q. Are there any milestones we can cite as Coast Guard successes in conjunction with the response?

A. One of the milestones that I’m very proud of is the fact that we have organized our Vessels of Opportunity out there. We’ve had close to 5,000 people step forward to volunteer their boats to help out in this effort. The good news is its 5,000 boats. The bad news is its 5,000 boats. You’ve got to organize them; some of them may not even have radios or means to track them. So if you just send these boats out there, you’re very ineffective in terms of carrying out the operation. So what we’ve done is we’ve provided a Coast Guard overlay to that, forming them up into groups with task forces and strike teams in there. Each one of these groups comprising about 125 vessels that now ultimately can take surveillance from satellite data, long-range aircraft surveillance, and helicopter surveillance and provide them the information so we can direct them to the oil rather than have them out there searching for oil.

Q. If you could talk directly to public about our response efforts, what would you tell them?

A. If I was speaking directly to the public about our response efforts, what I would tell them is that they’ve been subjected to an awful lot of pictures of tar balls on the beach, pelicans that have been soaked in oil, and all that is very regrettable and we feel very deeply, emotional about that as well. But I don’t think that the great, positive story about all the hard work being done by all these patriotic Americans, not just the Coast Guard, but the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, NOAA, and other intergovernmental agencies are down here really working hard. One of the terms that someone used with me is ‘Every day is a Monday down here.’ People aren’t getting weekends; they are working 14, 15, 20-hour days in some cases, and just really working their hearts out for the citizens of the Gulf region and for our country to make sure this very challenging situation is taken care of.

Q. What has this response taught the Coast Guard as responders for longer-term events?

A. I think what it has taught the Coast Guard is that sometimes we have to think out of the box a little bit. We have drilled for years for oil spills, but they’ve been spills that probably were predicated on a finite amount of oil being in the water and then having to respond to that and get it cleaned up. We never conceived of an operation where the oil flow would go on for now 62 days and it’s probably going to go on even much longer until they finally get the well cap. So we’re going to have to think about this. I think it’s just not going to be the Coast Guard, it’s going to be our entire government. It’s going to need to think about permitting of offshore drilling rigs, equipment standards, technology, etcetera; that’s all going to have to be taken into consideration. We’re going to have to look at the lessons learned from this operation to decide how we organize the Coast Guard to respond to these things in the future.

Tech. Sgt. Cheryl Hackley is serving as a Public Affairs Specialist with the Deepwater Horizon Response. She’s from the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 133 Airlift Wing in St. Paul, Minn.

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