CNO Speaks with Local Media in Guam

by From Chief of Naval Operations Public Affairs
03 August 2021
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday spoke with local media during a press conference in Guam, July 30.

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VIRIN: 201123-N-SH402-1080

Below is a transcript of the conversation:

ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY:  (In progress) – Governor Leon Guerrero displayed last year when she made a very difficult decision – maybe it was an easy decision for her, but from my vantage point back in the Pentagon, early in the pandemic when she made the decision to allow Theodore Roosevelt to come into port so that we could treat those that were affected by the pandemic at the time. 

And if you remember back in March of 2020, there wasn’t a lot – we were still learning a lot about the pandemic.  And at the time, there was a – the island was in a state of emergency, and we were bringing in a ship with people that were infected.  And so there were some unknowns there.  And again, I just think it was very courageous and brave of her to do it.  But when she brought – when she allowed us to bring the ship in, there were no strings attached, there was no small pint, there were – there were no significant conditions that we had to meet.  She just asked the question:  How can I help?  And so again, that was really, for me, the most important part of being here today, is to just say thank you.

Guam is, obviously, a strategic hub for the United States Navy and for the nation.  It’s the best deep-water port that we have between San Diego – or, actually, between Hawaii and Manila.  And we don’t take it for granted.  You see all of the services of the United States military that have a footprint on this island.  I think that’s indicative of how we all view its strategic importance.  But I think it’s easy to – it’s easy to just say it’s strategically important with respect to geography, but what makes that even more meaningful is the partnership that we have with the people of Guam.  And that is just magical on a day-to-day basis.  It’s very complicated to knit together the requirements of the United States military and a great-power competition with China and Russia, and at the same time be respectful in the environment, respectful of the people that we share this – that we share this island with, and to do it in a way that’s respectful and to do it in a way that’s very deliberate and thoughtful.

And so with that, I’m happy to take any of your questions.

STAFF:  Ma’am, we’ll start with you.

Q:  Yes.  Thank you.  Thank you for the opportunity.  And I’m Maureen Maratita.  And I’ll give you business cards afterwards, perhaps.  I’m with the Marianas Business Journal.  And I did prepare a little.

So, sir, the pandemic relief effort has cost the U.S. Navy a lot of money.  And so there has been talk that that’s one of the reasons why there will be budget cuts that will affect the whole of the U.S. military, not just the Navy.  But in particular, I understand that the – that Congress is requesting more details on plans for missile defense for Guam.  And so I wondered if you would address those points.

ADM. GILDAY:  So, with respect to the pandemic and its impact on the Department of Defense Budget, I would tell you that the United States Navy has benefitted from actions of Congress under the CARES Act, as an example, where we received significant funding that offset much of the money that we spent on pandemic relief and pandemic prevention.  And so I haven’t seen a direct cause-effect link there between the pandemic and where we are right now with respect to resources.

The latter point about missile defense, that right now is a – as you know, is a hot topic in Washington and was in the Congress.  And I think that there’s a lot of effort, based on the commander of Indo-Pacific Command’s assessment of what he believes he needs to defend the island.  I think there’s a great amount of momentum right now to complete an assessment, and then to properly resource it.  But we’re in the early stages of that.  And I think it’ll take some time before all of those pieces fall into place. But, again, the momentum and I think the drive is heading in the right direction.

Q:  OK.

STAFF:  All, right, sir.

Q:  Hi, sir.  Norman, Guam Daily Post.  Welcome to Guam.

I recently read some comments that – about the Indo-Pacific region, that you just mention, that the First Fleet command is going to be somewhat dynamic in its placement.  You mentioned the Indo-Pacific and Western Pacific.  Where does Guam fall under?  And would Guam be – Naval Base Guam be a place for this dynamic positioning of the First Fleet?

ADM. GILDAY:  So we aren’t really talking about First Fleet as an entity in and of itself.  And so the comments that I made recently had to do with the fact that, A, there are no firm plans in place to establish a First Fleet.  And that the broader point that I was trying to make is that we don’t tend to – at least, I don’t tend to think of our fleet commanders and their headquarters as being specifically or necessarily tied to a geographic region. 

And so in other words, they have recently taken the Second Fleet commander out of Norfolk, as an example, and deployed him and his staff south to North Carolina.  We’ve deployed them to Iceland.  We’ve deployed them to Norway.  We’ve deployed them on a command and control ship in the Mediterranean, and actually up in the high north by the Arctic.  And so the point there is that as naval forces are inherently maneuverable, so are our headquarters.  And they can move around and we can move our headquarters wherever we might need them, including the Western Pacific, including – and including locations like Guam.  But not specifically tied to those locations.  Does that make sense?

Q:  Yes, sir.  Thank you.

STAFF:  Sir.

Q:  Hey there, Admiral.  Joe Taitano, Pacific Daily News.  Welcome to Guam.

ADM. GILDAY:  Thank you.

Q:  One question.  There’s something that’s interesting that’s kind of been going on through DOD new initiative this year is the integration of additive manufacturing, 3-D printing.  And I’m wondering, you know, I know U.S. Army has some stuff that they’re doing with that.  As far as the Navy, you know, weapons systems and equipment, the goal is kind of, I think, that efficiency and cost saving, especially in sort of far-flung regions.  Is that something that we’re kind of considering for the Indo-Pacific region?  And how does that factor into kind of the Navy’s mission –

ADM. GILDAY:  So I’ll give you – I’ll give you tangible examples.  We’re investing in that technology on our ships right now.  And so the key – the key aspect of that is sustainability.  How can we keep our ships at sea without having to pull them in port, let’s say, for repairs when we don’t have a specific part, right?  And so if your ship’s in the middle of the ocean and it has some type of equipment casualty, we can actually now, with 3-D printing or additive manufacturing, we can actually take care of that problem while we’re at sea, and prevents us from having to divert a ship and come in port.  So those capabilities are out there in the fleet now, and we’re continuing to invest in them.  But it really gives us a self-sustainment capability that perhaps our competitors don’t have.

STAFF:  All right.  We’ll go ahead and come to you in the back, sir.

Q:  OK.  Welcome to Guam, sir, and thanks for the opportunity.  The Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz is expected to become fully operational in the next few years.  As the first new Marine base in 70 years, can you talk about its significance and what you believe its role will be in the Indo-Pacific theater?  And as a follow-up to that, there’s a segment of the local population that is concerned about the environmental and cultural impact of that base.  How important is it to you that their concerns are understood and addressed?

ADM. GILDAY:  I’ll take the second part of your question first.  I think it’s vitally important, for all the reasons I said upfront.  If we can’t work hand-in-glove with the people of Guam to make sure that as we expand our footprint that we’re doing that in a way that’s completely respectful of cultural concerns and environmental concerns, then we’re destined to fail.  And so this has to be – these projects have to be a win-win for the people of Guam and for the Department of Defense.  And I think that we, in good faith – in good faith, we’ve shown we can do that.

My wife, Linda, who is here with me on this visit, was up by Camp Blaz yesterday and that construction.  And one of the things that she talked to me about afterwards was the fact that we are – we are growing the indigenous plants of the island of Guam, so that we can transplant them.  So in other words, for every – for a tree that is cut down, we’re going to – we’re committed to planting a tree.  And so we want to do that in a way that respects those concerns.  Likewise, when we come across archeological items of interest, as we – as we – as we work up at Camp Blaz, or the soon-to-be Camp Blaz, that we actually have altered construction plans to respect, for example, some gravesites that we have – we have come across.  And so we’re absolutely committed to doing that.

In terms of the overall utility of that particular installation, I think the name of the game – or, the key aspect it gives the Department of Defense and the Marine Corps is it gives us options.  It’s a launching point, if you will, into the Pacific, where across many vectors we can move Marines where we need them most in a way that’s very agile, very flexible, and very rapid.

Q:  Thank you, sir.

ADM. GILDAY:  You’re welcome.

STAFF:  All right, ma’am.

Q:  Patti Arroyo with Newstalk K57.  Welcome to Guam. 

ADM. GILDAY:  Thank you, ma’am.

Q:  Admiral, nice to see you again as well.

I wanted to ask you about the pace of the excess land – Navy lands to Guam.  We are already earmarking property to build a new hospital.  And a follow-up question on whether or not you intend to fortify this area with bases in the FSM, and perhaps where?

ADM. GILDAY:  So I can say this, I think – I think at the heart of your question is perhaps what are we doing with property – DOD property that might be excess capacity, and how are we working directly with the government of Guam so that we can – as we – as we build things, if we have property that might be – that might be of use to the government or to the people of Guam, that we give that property back.  There have been many instances of that.  But when I spoke with the lieutenant governor when we met earlier today, that was one area that we – that we both agreed to continue to work together very closely, and to make sure that not only are we meeting the needs of the Department of Defense but, at the same time, again, looking for where we can make every project a win-win for the people of Guam.

Q:  And the question about the FSM and any intentions of fortifying this area with a base –

ADM. GILDAY:  Can you –

Q:  Federated States of Micronesia, sir.

ADM. GILDAY:  Oh, OK.  But can you give me a little bit more detail on the –

Q:  Just on the possibility.  You know, we’re in compact impact talks in its relationship with the United States.  And there’s some competition from China to take interest in this area, and probably woo the FSM which, I’m sure that you know, is crucial to the defense of the United States.  And so wondering whether or not there is any plans for a fortification of U.S. military assets into the FSM.

ADM. GILDAY:  So I just don’t have enough background to speak about that specifically at this time, but I’m happy to get back to you with more details on that.

Q:  Thank you.

ADM. GILDAY:  I don’t mean to be evasive; I just don’t know.

Q:  No, I – yeah.

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah, I just don’t have enough background to speak substantively about it.

Q:  Hafa Adai.  Welcome to Guam.

ADM. GILDAY:  Hafa Adai.

Q:  Thanks for being here, Admiral.  My name is Pauly Suba of PNC.

If you can just give the people of Guam an update on the training that’s going on in the area.  We’re having planes going by.  And if we could just a little bit more detail and peace of mind as well.

ADM. GILDAY:  So we’re ramping up for the U.S. Navy’s biggest exercise in a generation.  And so Guam is – Guam is a part of that.  But it really – this exercise spans 17 time zones, it involves more than 25,000 sailors and Marines.  And so for the people of Guam, you’re a part of this – you’re a part of this exercise.  And we’re trying to do it in an integrated fashion with other services as well, including the Marine Corps and the Air Force.  So that likely explains a higher level of activity you’re seeing, as we ramp up for this exercise in early August – just next week.

Q:  And partnering with other militaries in the region?  Australia –

ADM. GILDAY:  So for – so those exercises and that partnerships is going on on a day-to-day basis all the time.  As you’re probably aware, we did a significant exercise off of – off of Guam with the Singaporeans recently, as an example.  But our day-to-day operations include the Australians, the Japanese, the South Koreans, and many other Southeast Asian nations that we continue to work hand-in-glove with, in order to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Q:  Thank you for your time.

STAFF:  All right, everybody.  Thank you so very much.  I appreciate your time today.

Q:  Oh –

ADM. GILDAY:  Go ahead.  Sure.

Q:  I’ve got another question as well.

ADM. GILDAY:  OK.

Q:  Thank you very much, sir.  I appreciate that.

So I saw the statement today by deputy press secretary – the deputy press secretary at the Pentagon on the president’s guidance that all military and civilian DOD personnel will be asked to attest to their vaccination status.  Do you want me to read further, you know what I’m talking about?

ADM. GILDAY:  I’m familiar.  So the direction was to the secretary of defense, I believe, to take a look and to come back to the president with a recommendation.

Q:  Yes.  So my question is, that I assume that this will be one policy for all branches of the service and all bases.  So are you, sir, in favor of adding COVID vaccination to the requirements list?  And would that be your recommendation for the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s message to the president?

ADM. GILDAY:  Well, since I’ve been on travel, I haven’t had a chance to talk directly to my staff about this, but I would tell you my priority first and foremost is to ensure the safety of our sailors and our civilian personnel.  So with that as the objective, I will look to base my recommendation to the secretary of defense on science and on facts.  And so I’m not at the point yet where we’ve laid out all the pros and cons.  I want to make sure that it’s not a knee-jerk recommendation from me, but it’s very thoughtful and deliberate.  And so I will weigh all the information and then make my recommendation in the coming days to the secretary of defense.  But I’m just not at that point yet.

Q:  OK.  Thank you, sir.

ADM. GILDAY:  Yes, ma’am.

Q:  Sir, about 10 years ago there was talk about home porting an aircraft carrier here on Guam.  Is something – is talk like that still on the table, or?

ADM. GILDAY:  No.  Not that I’m aware of.  Not across my desk have we talked about options of home porting an aircraft carrier in Guam, to be honest with you.

Q:  Thank you, sir.

Q:  Real quick.  You know, I know one thing that China has been forwarding the last couple years is their stealth bomber capability.  And I know there is one specific vehicle that the DOD is tracking.  What thoughts are being given to that, especially if they’re likely to be able to penetrate into the Indo-Pacific region, should that aircraft come online fully?

ADM. GILDAY:  I don’t want to get into classified aspects of either Chinese or U.S. capabilities.  But I will tell you that, speaking just from the United States Navy, our investment in fourth-generation aircraft that we have now, which are the – which are the F-18E/F Super Hornets, we are upgrading those aircraft as I speak.  And at the same time, we’re investing in fifth-generation F-35s.  Likewise, we’re also investing in unmanned.  And so we’re flying unmanned off of aircraft carriers right now in a refueling role.  And we’re getting to the stage where we’re getting a better understanding of how we would integrate unmanned platforms into our carrier airwings.  So I think we’re on a really good track to maintain – to stay in front of any potential competitors with respect to our capabilities.

Q:  Thanks, sir.

ADM. GILDAY:  You’re welcome.

Q:  Admiral, I know that you were very closely involved when the Teddy Roosevelt was ported here.  Can you talk about how that experience helped set the table for the rest of the pandemic, with the ships?  And second to that, Captain Crozier, that decision was yours.  Can you talk about what your analysis was because at the time, here in Guam in particular, there were a lot of people who were in support of Captain Crozier, and they felt that he did that for the benefit of his troops, to make what was happening aboard the ship known to the public.  So can you comment on that?

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah.  So there were – as I – as I detailed in the – in the report, which we released and actually is available online – I really looked at standards of command and what my expectations were of Captain Crozier at the time with the pandemic.  And really, the key thing at that point for me was, again, safety is my number-one concern in the pandemic and putting people in a safer place.  The safer place was off the ship.  When he had sent that email up the chain of command – basically popping a red flare, in his words – agreements had already been reached with the government of Guam to begin to – to begin to talk to the business community about opening hotels so we could move sailors from the ships into those hotels.

So those discussions were going on with Admiral Nicholson’s predecessor, with the governor’s office.  And we were moving very rapidly to a place where we had a solid solution to put the sailors in a safer position.  And so in my view I did not feel that Captain Crozier at the time moved as quickly as he should have.  And that played a large part in the final recommendations I made at the chain of command as a result of the broad investigation that we did.  That said, to your initial points, we learned a lot from what happened on Theodore Roosevelt.  We took great care to develop detailed standard operating procedures that we uniformly implemented across the United States Navy that kept our – that contained the virus when we did – when we did see occurrences on our ships and kept those numbers very low.

Throughout the pandemic, the Navy has operated at historic levels, where 30 to 35 percent of the Navy has been underway and deployed.  And so we’ve been able to meet missions because of the – because of the ability of our sailors – actually, because our sailors have been responsible in following CDC guidelines and acting very safely on board – on board ship, with respect to – with respect to wearing masks, with respect to maintaining social distancing, with respect to cleaning the ship.  And so all of those protocols were followed very, very strenuously on our ships, and I think allowed us to operate at a very high level.

Q:  Thank you, sir.

Q:  I wanted to ask you about the conversation about the movement of Afghan evacuees and possibly to Guam, and maybe the command’s outlook on whether or not we actually have the ability to monitor as many – as many evacuees that are potentially going to come to Guam, considering, you know, we are the tip of the spear.  Do we have enough resources to monitor that?  And then a follow-up question is what do you think about the first female Navy SEAL?

ADM. GILDAY:  So, with respect to your second question, I can’t wait for the second.  (Laughter.)  Very, very excited about the fact that we have our first – we have our first Navy SEAL – female SEAL.  With respect to the first one, we know that the decision has been made in the Department of Defense to make Fort Lee, Virginia available for those – for those Afghans that we’re moving out of country.  And we’re also working with a couple of other countries in the Middle East along those same lines.  I haven’t heard any serious talk about Guam as an option that’s going to be executed.  There are many bases that were looked at.  The decision was made by DOD with Fort Lee.  And that’s where we stand right now.

I will say that I wouldn’t expect any surprises.  That the government of Guam – the degree of transparency between the Navy, the Department of Defense, and the government is very, very strong.  I think, you know, the fact that the governor’s back in Washington this week is testimony to that.

Q:  Thank you.

Q:  Admiral, you spoke about the partnership with the governor and the government of Guam.  And then you just read out an award for Joint Region Marianas.  The governor, Meagan Guam Lou Leon Guerrero, is out in the Pentagon right now speaking with Navy officials right now for fully funding the missile defense and fully funding a hospital campus.  How much do you feel that the Navy or the U.S. federal government should provide in assistance as far as even funding fully?

ADM. GILDAY:  So I’ll just say that it really comes down to priorities.  And so it really comes down to taking a look across all the different requirements that we have, not only in the Indo-Pacific, but really globally, right?  And I’m not trying to be evasive here, but just to – but there are demands everywhere for more funds.  And so we have to take a deep look, a hard look at where we need to put every dollar, and make the best decisions for the right reasons.  Whether it’s a hospital on Guam, or whether it is a – whether it’s a facility elsewhere.

STAFF:  All right, everybody.  Thank you so very much.

Q:  Thank you.

Q:  Thank you for the opportunity.

Q:  Appreciate it.

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