Coast Guard commandant visits Gulfport - - The News for South Mississippi

Coast Guard commandant visits Gulfport

Photo Source: USCG Photo Source: USCG

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The U.S. Coast Guard's new commandant visited the Gulfport station Wednesday and took a helicopter flight over the Mississippi Sound.

Admiral Robert Papp assumed that command position just six weeks ago. He succeeded Admiral Thad Allen as the Coast Guard's top commander. Now, as Admiral Allen directs the oil spill response, Commandant Papp must come up with the personnel and resources to get the job done. 

It's been "baptism by fire" for Admiral Papp, who assumed command just a month after the oil well explosion. He admits Coast Guard resources are "spread thin" by the disaster response.

"We took off from a standing start when this spill started and we have actually put together what amounts to two brand new Coast Guard districts. We have 800 people over in Mobile who are manning the command post and other people spread out along the coast. And that really for us represents, it's actually larger in terms of people, than one of our normal Coast Guard districts," said Admiral Papp.

"I could not be more proud to be the commandant for this organization," the new leader told his men and women at the Gulfport station.

Admiral Papp says the broken well is spewing oil that's the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez "every five days."

"And it's not the type of spill that just stays in one area and you can collect it. The winds, the current that are out there, just break it up and send it in various directions," he told the Coast Guard men and women.

As for those critical of the Coast Guard response, Admiral Papp said lessons are being learned.

"There has never in the history of our country been an environmental disaster this size. No one. No one in the world has ever had to deal with an oil spill like this that does not stop, continues every day and has gone on for 80 days.  The fact that the Coast Guard has picked up a little criticism here and there I think is just a result of the frustration that everybody has felt, us included, that we haven't been able to beat this thing yet," said the commandant.

He says future personnel challenges will involve not only calling up more reservists, but possibly calling on the states for additional help.

"We're going to have to come up with a long term sustainment plant which will include voluntary reserves, a mix of involuntary recalls, some of our active duty folks. And we're also looking at how the states perhaps can help us out by filling some of these command post positions with perhaps national guardsmen," he said.

Admiral Papp says the Coast Guard has mobilized 1500 reservists to help meet the need for the oil spill response.

Along with personnel, the Coast Guard has also brought in resources from around the country, including ships and helicopters from California, Alaska and Virginia.

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