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Interview: Rear Adm. Victor G. Guillory

Commander, U.S. Fourth Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command

Rear Adm. Victor G. “Vic” Guillory, a native of New Orleans, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1978 with a Bachelor of Science in Management and Technology. His early sea assignments were aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Towers (DDG 9), the guided-missile frigate USS Lewis B. Puller (FFG 23), the cruiser USS Vincennes (CG 49), and as the commissioning executive officer on the cruiser USS Gettysburg (CG 64). He commanded the guided-missile frigate USS Underwood (FFG 36) and the cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57).

Ashore, Guillory’s assignments included several Washington-area tours in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Surface Warfare Division, as branch head for Combat Systems, and as the assistant deputy director for Surface Ships. He also served in the Joint Staff as the J-38, Current Readiness branch chief.

Guillory was selected for flag officer in early 2004 and assumed command of Amphibious Force, U.S. Seventh Fleet and Amphibious Group 1 in October 2004. During this tour, he was responsible for Joint and Combined amphibious operations throughout the Western Pacific. In addition, he served as the deputy commander of U.S. Naval Forces for Combined Support Force 535 (Southeast Asia Tsunami Relief Operations) in early 2005.

In December 2006, Guillory returned to Washington, D.C., and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations as the deputy director of Surface Warfare (OPNAV N86B). He assumed the duties as director of Surface Warfare in October 2007 and the responsibility for the warfighting requirements and resources for all surface combatant ships and combat systems.

In June 2009, Guillory was selected to assume command of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. Fourth Fleet. Immediately following the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in January 2010, Fourth Fleet coordinated the U.S. Navy’s response to the disaster relief operations. Fourth Fleet exercised command and control of approximately 15,000 sailors and Marines and nearly two dozen ships and embarked aircraft in direct support of the larger U.S. government effort.

Defense writer Edward Lundquist interviewed Rear Adm. Guillory about Fourth Fleet, Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR).

Edward Lundquist: I understand that your role as commander, Fourth Fleet, is not simply a Navy role, but also as part of the U.S. Southern Command. Can you talk a little bit about humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and what military forces can bring to a disaster like the earthquake in Haiti?

Rear Adm. Vic Guillory: To just frame the discussion about what Navy capabilities bring to SOUTHCOM in support of HA/DR, let me tell you about who we are. The Fourth Fleet was reactivated four years ago, in 2008, and I’m the second commander since the reactivation, and have been the commander now for about two years. When I took command, we started to grow in expertise, personnel, and our responsibilities. We were building credibility not only with the Navy, as the newest numbered fleet at that time, but also with my joint component counterparts in the AOR [area of responsibility]. We established ourselves as a joint partner in every way. We have brought Navy capabilities and expertise to just about every priority mission that SOUTHCOM has.

The staff here at NAVSOUTH [Naval Forces, Southern Command]/Fourth Fleet is about 140 strong – that is active, Reserve, civilian, and contractors, part of our Navy’s total force. My staff also includes five foreign liaison officers [FLOs] representing Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia. Together, we have been on a path identifying what maritime capabilities bring to the challenges we face in the AOR.

When the devastating earthquake occurred in Haiti on 12 January last year, one of the first assets to conduct aerial surveys and provide valuable imagery for assessment, rescue, and relief support was a P-3 aircraft from Naval Air Station [NAS] Jacksonville [Fla.].

Additionally, a destroyer, USS Higgins, was en route back from a CENTCOM/EUCOM deployment. She’s a San Diego-homeported ship, so instead of going back the traditional way through the Pacific Fleet AOR, she was coming back through the Panama Canal to San Diego. A naval asset was in a key position to be one of the first responders and we used that ship to develop an air picture to support the air bridge that would follow to provide relief supplies. We had other maritime units in addition to support.

The salvage ship USNS Grasp was doing Southern Partnership Station-Navy Diver in Belize. I tasked Grasp immediately with their divers on board – actually a contingent of Army divers – and they proceeded to Port-au-Prince, where they conducted initial assessments of the damage to the pier and the port infrastructure. Looking back, they really were key in developing a repair plan for the pier.

As you know, some of the more “signature” naval capability that went down was USS Carl Vinson, [which] was off the coast of Virginia conducting carrier training and pilot proficiency, and she was tasked by Second Fleet to proceed south to the Fourth Fleet AOR. Rear Adm. Ted Branch was the carrier strike group commander. He and his staff embarked and became my joint maritime component commander [JMCC].

The JMCC was responsible for executing the maritime mission inside the joint operating area [JOA] for JTF Haiti. And not far behind the carrier were two Amphibious Ready Groups with Marine Expeditionary Units embarked. The hospital ship USNS Comfort arrived with a contingent of Navy care providers, but also with non-government organizations [NGOs] that were embarked.

During that time, we also activated a Joint Logistics Over the Shore [JLOTS] capability that provided a means to move containers from Port-au-Prince Bay across the beach, and do that in such a way that we exceeded the pre-quake shipments of containers within two weeks of that capability being on station. It soon became the largest medium to move humanitarian and much-needed supplies and materiel to the people that needed it. It was an impressive collection of Navy capabilities, and sailors and Marines, all committed to the larger U.S. government response to the people of Haiti. Along with our joint partners from the other services and, of course, the Coast Guard and several partner nations, really, from around the world – the aircraft carrier [Conte di] Cavour came over from Italy; ships from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Canada; and aircraft from militaries around the hemisphere. Together, we were able to collectively provide not only much-needed care, but, utilizing the maneuver-space of the sea, we were able to do so in farther-reaching ways and providing care in different parts of the country.

So, it’s that maritime capability – being able to move at sea – that allows you to do more on the land.

The response in Haiti further demonstrated that maritime forces are in position and always prepared to support a humanitarian and foreign disaster response in these disasters – [with] earthquakes, especially the maneuver room of the sea is probably the least impacted by the devastation itself. So, the ships could get there, and they came with landing craft, helicopters, and other capabilities to move people and supplies from the sea base to where it was needed.

They could address not just the focal point – being Port-au-Prince – but also the displaced areas where people went in search of help, which was really all throughout Haiti. So, we could work with the JTF commander on the ground to align capability to where it was needed and do it quickly and do it from the sea.


How did you know where help was needed, and where people were going? How did you keep track of all of that?

Again, the Joint Task Force Commander-Haiti had an impressive organization that basically fused intelligence, took information from non-government organizations, from social media sites, word of mouth, the government of Haiti itself; basically they were able to map where displacement camps had stood up and where people had gone either in search of basic supplies or what they thought would be free from the aftershocks that were occurring. And so there were large – and we’re talking tens of thousands of people – [groups that] basically moved to different places around the country. Some were moved by the government of Haiti; some just walked to different places. And so these places became a source of need for basic things like food, water, shelter, and medical assistance. We not only had to help with response to the Port-au-Prince area, which is certainly the core, the focal point for the relief efforts, but there were certainly other areas around the country where the U.S. and other countries basically used the sea to provide assistance to people.


I imagine it becomes problematic when displaced people move somewhere because they think there are some resources or aid, but there are people who are already there who don’t have that much to give, giving rise to tension between the people who are there and the new people that suddenly show up.

The infrastructure of Haiti certainly didn’t demonstrate that [it was] capable of absorbing a large number of people, either for basic needs, like food and water, [or] for the much-needed medical care that was required. Although there were not the security issues that were a concern in the first few hours after the earthquake … just the sheer number of people in small places with no infrastructure, no shelter, no reliable access to water – that was the problem. So, from the sea we addressed those basic needs early – of food and water – but also working with the larger U.S. government effort – tents, and support to the non-government organizations – so that they could go in with their capability and help the people. These NGOs would learn that we had ships moving, so they would put all kinds of extra equipment and all kinds of donations and supplies [aboard], which really helped their folks on the ground in Haiti. The communications just from that “whole of government” approach was essential.


Where was that focal point? If people were gathering materials to share with the people in Haiti who need it, how would they know where to send it?

At the tactical level it was here at NAVSOUTH/Fourth Fleet for both people and materiel. Much of the materiel that was loaded aboard Navy ships came through Blount Island or here at Mayport, and they were loaded aboard Military Sealift Command [MSC] ships right here. And, in fact, every couple of days, there was a different MSC ship over at the carrier pier here and they were being loaded.

A lot of the non-government organization personnel came here for a brief indoctrination and then they would board Navy flights. We would fly them on the C-2 carrier onboard delivery [COD] aircraft … down to the carrier, and then onward to where they needed to go in Haiti, or … down to Port-au-Prince when the airport was open. So this became a staging area to move people and materiel and high-priority supplies quickly down to where they were needed, either at Guantanamo Bay, or to Port-au-Prince, or aboard the carrier to then go ashore.


How was all of that prioritized?

We had a massive joint organization here that identified the supplies that needed to go and to make sure that those supplies were aligned to the need. So, if there was a need for particular medical supplies, that had priority aboard the aircraft going south. We knew the number of airlifts we had each day, so we optimized the loads of those airlifts to do that. And some could go by slower means, or aboard the MSC ships. It was only a two-day transit from here in Mayport to the Port-au-Prince area.


When ships arrived at Port-au-Prince, they found a damaged, austere port situation. How did we manage to get that materiel ashore?

The demonstrated value of a sea base, the Military Sealift Command ships, the carrier, the amphibious readiness ships, all of those ships were staging points to accept supplies from the MSC ships and then – using vertical lift aircraft, V-22s, surface craft, LCUs [landing craft utility] – they would move those supplies to where they were needed ashore. And again, a line of supplies would move to the need for that day, so that if there was an area that required water, that is what went in that direction, as opposed to food in another direction, or medical in a different direction.


So to be able to do that, particularly when you have unimproved or damaged ports, you need some special capabilities, such as LCACs that can go up on a beach, or lighterage craft that can take something off a big ship and get it ashore.

We used traditional lighterage and the improved JLOTS. The Navy pushed a tremendous amount of its inventory and capability to Haiti. It was all needed, all utilized, but there was a push of Navy assets. So, we had the assets necessary to move supplies from the sea base to the shore. At the high point, there were nearly a hundred helicopters, two dozen ships, between 14,000 and 15,000 sailors and Marines. It was pretty impressive at the height of it.


What lessons did you learn about the capabilities that we have and what we might need in the future for a similar type situation?

Every humanitarian disaster response event that I’ve been involved in – and I’ve been involved in a few – is different. They’re unique. I have learned that there are different phases associated with these humanitarian efforts. The initial phase is the first-responder phase, where we send everything we can immediately to deal with a shaping problem, where we don’t have a good assessment exactly of how much food or water or medical is necessary, or what infrastructure exists in the country that they can restore and take care of their needs. The initial phase of the first-responder phase in Haiti was tremendous, because each day we learned that the devastation was at a magnitude that most of us had never experienced before – both in the death and injuries, but also in trying to address the fragile infrastructure ashore. But, within a week, we started to develop tailored capabilities. As assessments were coming in, some from the military, but others from U.S. government organizations and the NGOs, we began to learn what the port requirements were, that required certain capabilities that the Navy had. So we went from the first responder, to the tailored capabilities, to ultimately meeting transition criteria to turn over the operations to the government of Haiti and to the non-government organizations that were there, and they continue today.

Sailors and Marines who were trained to go over to CENTCOM for potential combat operations could, on a dime, turn that ingenuity and enthusiasm into impressive accomplishments in the HA/DR realm. There are countless examples [of] how Seabees set up tent cities and divers who worked on the restoration of the port facilities. This essentially was “rocket science” – a port that was devastated had to be reinforced one pillar at a time, and to have underwater diving expertise to fortify these bollards was just impressive.

The Port-au-Prince airport has one runway. The Air Force got in there and they were able to basically manage what ended up being one of the busiest airports in the world. How the services work together to move supplies from ships, across the beach, from the airport ramps to distribution points all over the country in a matter of days to address the needs. I think the result was that it reduced suffering; we certainly brought some hope to the people. I also think in some ways we also provided the people of Haiti the alternative of remaining in their country, not perhaps seeking to migrate to other countries, including the United States, in search of help. They were getting their needs addressed in their country, and I think that helped alleviate the concern that existed about the potential for a migrant-type operation.


Many people expected a huge migration after that earthquake; you’re right, it didn’t materialize.

Well, there were a number of people that moved from Port-au-Prince to the north, and there was some concern that they were moving to the north to board vessels to leave Haiti. But they were moving there in search of basic needs, and finding family members. Fortunately, together with the Canadians and all of the partner nations, we were able to source those needs in those pockets of areas that people moved.


When you were an expeditionary strike group commander, you were called upon to respond to a major earthquake in Pakistan. Do you think that prepared you to be better able to respond to Haiti?

I think so. I think it taught me that the Navy brings tremendous capabilities, but we don’t have to do it all on our own – that we’re part of a larger U.S. government response; that we need to be able to contribute to that larger U.S. government response with the right capabilities at the right time. We do a good job at that, and we’re going to get better as we work closer with our partner nations in the region. They also have tremendous capabilities and expertise and I think they want to work with us, especially when it comes to the humanitarian and disaster relief challenges.

This article was first published in Defense: Summer 2011 Edition.


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...