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Major General Harrison Holds Conference, Offers Condolences to Crash Victims' Families

Aired March 4, 2001 - 4:21 p.m. ET


DONNA KELLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Let's interrupt and take you to Florida right now; this is a news conference by the Florida National Guard after that military plane crash in Georgia yesterday.


MAJ. GEN. RONALD O. HARRISON, ADJ. GEN., FLORIDA NATIONAL GUARD: ...I had the opportunity to visit with the families of Chief Warrant officer John Deuce (ph), Chief Warrant officer two Eric Larson, and Staff Sergeant Robert Ward, to pass on the condolences of Governor Bush and our fellow members of the Florida National Guard, and to offer any assistance that we may provide.

We feel the Florida National Guard is one big extended family, and as a family, we will share the grief from this tragedy together. The soldiers and airmen who were taken from us yesterday were dedicated citizens, soldiers, and airmen, that exemplified the best of what America is.

When our country loses any member of the military, we have suffered a great loss. Governor Bush approved flags at the national guard armories throughout this state and the state capitol to be lowered to half-staff in honor of these patriots. I will be glad to answer any questions that you have if I can answer them.

QUESTION: When you first heard, was it a shock to you, like a hit in the gut?

HARRISON: It absolutely was. We are very comfortable with these aircraft; we are very comfortable with and our crews. We know that they are professionals and it was an unbelievable tragedy that when we heard about this, yes.

QUESTION: Not getting too specific, how are the other families taking it today?

HARRISON: The families, again, I don't want to be trite, but as well as to be expected. Obviously, there's a great deal of shock, disbelief and yet they are married to professionals and they are handling it as well as any one I think could expect during this time. They were all grateful that we came by to see them and we certainly will support them if any way we can through the assistance that is offered as the military normally does these things. QUESTION: Have other jobs? Monday through Friday, usually, they're doing something else.

HARRISON: Well, Mr. Douse actually works for the National Guard as a military technician in Jacksonville, and yet he's a member of this unit. That's the way this operates. You can be a member of one unit and work for another part of the Guard. Staff Sergeant Ward was in Active Guard Reserve -- that's AGR -- and he is -- that means he is full-time personnel or person, and then, CW-2 Larsen was what we would call a traditional guardsman that is only in the guard on times he's called to duty, but civilian otherwise.

QUESTION: Do you know what he did in his professional life?

HARRISON: I know that he is a qualified pilot. I think it's the right term to fly a 737 aircraft. I don't know who he flew with. I just don't happen to have the information on that. But he certainly -- and I say that, because he certainly let you know he was a very well qualified pilot, as all of our people are.

QUESTION: Any of your staff members have any second thoughts about getting into the other aircraft now in the hangar right now? You said the aircraft is reliable and trustworthy, but after something like this, do you kind of step back and say I don't know if I want to get in that plane?

HARRISON: I haven't heard that, I wouldn't expect so, I am not myself, and I will be flying in these. I fly in them all the time, and we have missions to do and we will do that. I would be surprised if anybody would be worried about that. Of course, there's an investigation going on as to what happened. And we won't know for a while about that and that will tell us something, but I don't think anybody is concerned about it. These have been very reliable. So, it shouldn't be very difficult, of course.


HARRISON: I think you will have an opportunity to ask some of these folks here with me. It's a big loss, any time something like this happens certainly with three of our professionals, it's a pretty big loss and that's why I wanted to come down too today to be with these folks; that's why I ended up here to be with members of our unit, because our concern now is for families, friends, members of the unit, that will have to continue to do the mission that we are trained to do, and we will continue to support them in every way we can.


HARRISON: Well, it's a task that I have had the opportunity to do in the past, fortunately not very often. It's the task that comes with command and responsibility. And I accepted it in that way. I really went today also on behalf of our commander in chief of the Florida National Guard that is the governor, by law. So, even though it's not easy, these are things you just do because they are part of the job and it's part of what we need to do as we take care of our families. So, it was not pleasant, but I have to tell you, it was a privilege.

QUESTION: Did you relay any specific message from the governor?

HARRISON: I did. I offered his continued support and I will tell you, that I have talked to the governor and he has made calls to the families. I don't know which ones he has been able to talk to, but I know that he has made calls, and that's the way he does business. He offered that -- told me that's what he wanted to do, and so as I finished the call with the families, I let him know, and that's the way he does business.


HARRISON: I have visited all three, yes. Just finished that this afternoon. We were unable to fly anything because of the weather that's been all over Florida, as you know, so we drove today from St. Augustine to Orange Park to Landilakes (ph), and to Lakeland.


HARRISON: Well, there is a specific division of work. The Army's safety center out at Fort Rucker, Alabama, has now already taken over the crash site. We had security police from Warner Robins Air Force base, an active Air Force base in course in Georgia near the site. I came in immediately and secured and helped that -- the local law enforcement agencies take care of that.

There's a great deal of cooperation. Remember, we are dealing with two states: Virginia National Guard and the Florida National Guard. We have all the agencies involved. The National Guard Bureau which is in Washington, and the Army and Air Force. Chiefs of staffs of both services have been in touch with us and are doing everything possible to help us with anything they can do, and so we just have a lot of agencies and we put them together and the ones that can best do things we let them do, and we accept that kind of assistance. We're all a military family trying to get this job done.

KELLEY: Major General Ronald Harrison, he's the adjutant general for the Florida National Guard having a news conference this afternoon to update us on the military plane crash that happened in Georgia yesterday.



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