Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Shuttle Atlantis to Launch; Switching Generals in Afghanistan; U.S. Soldier Kills 5 in Iraq; From Hollywood to Hubble: Atlantis Commander is the Real Top Gun; The "Katrina Class" Graduates: Grads Were New Orleans Freshman When Katrina Hit

Aired May 11, 2009 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Meantime, Secretary Gates, Joint Chiefs Mullen there side by side. Let's see what they have to say with regard to that shooting on a Baghdad base. Also, the switch-out in Afghanistan.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: ... the process of gathering information on exactly what happened, but if the preliminary reports are confirmed, such a tragic loss of life at the hands of our own forces is a cause for great and urgent concern. And I can assure you that it will get this department's highest priority attention.

As you know, I just returned from a trip to Afghanistan where I met with our troops and commanders in the field. My purpose in going was to see firsthand the preparations and plans under way to execute the president's strategy for the region, especially as significantly more American troops begin arriving in country.

I thought it critically important to get a sense from the ground level what the needs are, what the challenges are, and what the solutions to some of the problems are. As I have said many times before, very few of these problems can be solved by military means alone. And yet, from the military perspective, we can and must do better. We have not been able to fully resource our military effort in Afghanistan in recent years, but I believe, resources or no, that our mission there requires new thinking and new approaches from our military leaders.

Today, we have a new policy set by our new president. We have a new strategy, a new mission, and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed.

After consultation with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commander of Central Command, and with the approval of the president, I have asked for the resignation of General David McKiernan. He will remain in command of both ISAF and U.S. Forces Afghanistan until such time as relief can be nominated and confirmed.

I am today recommending to the president that Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal be nominated to replace General McKiernan as commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan. I am also recommending that Lieutenant General David Rodriguez be assigned to the new position of deputy commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan. I have advised the secretary-general of NATO and the minister of defense of Afghanistan of these prospective changes.

I made these decisions only after careful consideration of a great number of factors, including the advice of Admiral Mullen and General Petraeus. In the end, I believe my decisions are in the best interests of our national security and the success of our mission in Afghanistan. I urge the Senate to swiftly confirm Generals McChrystal and Rodriguez so they can begin their important work as soon as possible.

Let none of this detract from, nor cause us ever to forget General McKiernan's long and distinguished career of military service. For decades, in peace and war, Dave McKiernan has led hundreds of thousands of men and women in uniform with conviction, integrity and courage. He has dedicated his life to the preservation of the freedoms we in this nation enjoy.

On behalf of the Department of Defense and the nation, I thank him for his years of selfless service.

QUESTION: Are you worried at all that switching horses in midstream has an air of desperation, or that what you saw on both of your recent trips there was worse than you expected to see?

GATES: Let me start then turn to Admiral Mullen.

I think that as the statement suggested, that with agreement on a new strategy and a new mission and a new national approach and international approach in Afghanistan, that if there were to be a change, this is the right time to make the change, at a time when we are at the beginning of the implementation of a new strategy. And it is in that context that I emphasize that the focus here is simply on getting fresh-thinking, fresh eyes on the problem, and how we implement the strategy and the mission going forward.

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: In fact, for me, based on my recent trip, the opposite is true. In the time that I spent in RC East, I was very encouraged by the progress that we've made and the depth of understanding of what the requirement was from our people on the military side to generate success.

Clearly, that is not the case in the south, because we have not had the forces there. And putting them there this year is critically important. And I would only echo what the secretary said from the standpoint of, with the new strategy, with the new team across the board, I felt it was very important for new leadership and supported this decision completely.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: For both of you gentlemen, while you say you felt there need to be fresh eyes, fresh thinking, General McKiernan, of course, has only been there for a period of months. He's yet to get the resources he asked the Obama administration for. The troops that he has asked for aren't even there yet.

So what specifically was he not doing? Did he -- you said you wanted fresh thinking, fresh eyes. Did he resist your ideas? Did he resist change? Was he uncooperative with the new thinking, the new way forward?

What went wrong here?

GATES: Well, first of all, General McKiernan has been in Afghanistan I think 11 months. And first of all, I would say nothing went wrong and there was nothing specific. It is -- it simply was my conviction based on my consultations with Admiral Mullen and General Petraeus that a fresh approach, a fresh look in the context of the new strategy probably was in our best interest.

STARR: Excuse me.

Admiral Mullen, why couldn't in your mind -- you said you supported the recommendation. In your mind, why could General McKiernan no longer do the job?

MULLEN: Again, he's been there almost a year. And, in fact, under normal circumstances, he would have rotated somewhere between 18 and 24 months, depending on timing.

I have said that we must focus all of our effort in terms of making Afghanistan better. There probably is no more critical ingredient than leadership. And again, along with all the other changes, it's time now. And that's why I made that recommendation.

STARR: Is it just loss of confidence? I haven't heard anything yet, I'm so sorry, about why you both think he couldn't do the job.

MULLEN: Well, I'm not going to say a whole lot more other than the -- I thought there was a need for new leadership. Clearly, we have in the two that Secretary -- the two officers that the secretary mentioned, a rich experience level. General Rodriguez, in particular, deep in Afghanistan, having been there before. And that I think these two officers will bring not just a renewed, but a focus, which we really need in 2009. And I just didn't think we could wait until 2010.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, when you talk to people who were involved in all of this, they say McKiernan was maybe too conventional, too old Army in his outlook, not nimble enough to deal with the complexity of counterinsurgency. As the admiral mentioned, McChrystal has a lot more experience in Afghanistan.

Can you just comment on some of that?

GATES: Well, you know, I won't -- it's hard to say anything more than we've already said. Admiral Mullen just talked about the experience in counterinsurgency that both General McChrystal and General Rodriguez have. I would tell you that those who are speculating on the ingredients in this decision, if it's not Admiral Mullen or me or General Petraeus, has no inside information on our thinking.

QUESTION: So General McKiernan just lacked a certain kind of insurgency experience, or wasn't nimble enough on this?

GATES: I think that what the admiral said is exactly where we are. It's time for new leadership and fresh eyes.

QUESTION: Secretary Gates, for you, talk to me a little bit more about why General McChrystal and his -- whether the special operations background came into your thinking.

And Admiral Mullen, if you would talk a little bit about the effort that General McChrystal has been doing for you in terms of how to resource the Afghanistan mission, why you assigned him that, what his mission was in that.

GATES: I would simply say that both General McChrystal and General Rodriguez bring a unique skill set in counterinsurgency to these issues. And I think that they will provide the kind of new leadership and fresh thinking that the admiral and I have been talking about.

MULLEN: For both of them, whenever you look for replacements, I mean, whenever that occurs, I took a broad range of input from military officers. And McChrystal and Rodriguez rank -- outside this discussion, outside this change, McChrystal and Rodriguez have ranked for the entire time that I have been chairman at the top of the list. So we couldn't pick two better officers.

And then, specifically, Julian (ph), with respect to the discussions and focus on getting the best people to Afghanistan, making sure that we resource that as rapidly and as thoroughly as possible, making sure that leaders who go there, that have that experience so that our ramp-up time when we turn over is absolutely minimal, all of that focuses on the importance of Afghanistan and, actually, lessons that we learned from Iraq, where some of our rotations would -- you know, we were starting over from an experience level. So it's how to do that and keep that focus, and move as fast as we can from a resourcing people, training, expertise standpoint in Afghanistan.

PHILLIPS: Well, boots on the ground isn't the only change under way right now in Afghanistan. You just heard it right there from the secretary of defense, also the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. General David McKiernan out as commander of NATO forces there. Who is in? Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal.

You heard our Barbara Starr, Pentagon correspondent, really pressing both of those men to why they are -- or why they have asked McKiernan for his resignation. They just said there's a new strategy, a new mission, a new national and international approach there in Afghanistan, and McKiernan is not the guy to do it.

They need fresh thinking, fresh eyes. And you heard the secretary of defense there saying he didn't do anything wrong. Nothing went wrong, he said, and that was all they would say in response to that. So no exact details to why they are letting McKiernan go or asking him to go, just that they are wanting a new approach there. Specifically, you heard Admiral Mike Mullen say in the south of Afghanistan, where they have not seen enough progress.

OK. The other story that they commented on was about those five Americans serving their country in the Iraq War, killed today. The alleged shooter, an American soldier.

Was it triggered by combat stress? We don't know. We do know that it happened at a stress clinic, though, at the U.S. Camp Liberty in Baghdad.

CNN's Cal Perry was actually at that base just a few days ago. He's joining us now from Baghdad.

Cal, what are your sources saying that may have been related to the stress of this man, this shooter? And you also heard, too, I just want to point out, the defense secretary saying that they are making this one of the highest priorities to investigate, what exactly happened.

CAL PERRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And there's no question that it should be a top priority for the Defense Department. I have no doubt that it will be.

Now, we don't know exactly the circumstances in which the shooting happened, other than to say that it did happen at a stress center where soldiers generally go to talk about problems that they may be having.

Now, a soldier's weapon is really an extension of the soldier himself, so, certainly, these soldiers walk around these bases with their weapons. That said, when they come on to these bases, they have to take the ammunition out of their weapons, and they are supposed to be walking around with their weapons unarmed.

Obviously, in this case, it would be easy to decipher, it's very easy with the ammunition they have, the weapons that they have, no problem for a soldier at all to just reload that weapon and use it. It seems at that point, even though we don't know the details, that that's what happened inside this stress center -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And we are going to talk more about that actually with a former military psychologist that actually worked at one of those stress clinics. That's coming up in just a little bit.

But before I let you go, Cal, this isn't the first time this has happened on an Iraq base.

PERRY: No, it's not. And it should be mentioned they call these incidents inside the military fraggings. And there was a number, a high number of fraggings, during the Vietnam War. And commanders here will tell you that has been drastically reduced in this war. But as you said, not the first time this has happened.

We saw in September, an incident in which a U.S. soldier was inside a tent, he was getting his performance review. The review was negative.

He picked up his rifle, he opened fire into that tent, killing two other soldiers. So this is not the first time that this has happened. And certainly, the U.S. military, as we heard from the secretary of defense there, is going to be investigating this incident and getting a good look at what happened -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Cal Perry, appreciate it so much.

And like I said, we're going to have more on this story and combat stress in just a few minutes. I'm going to speak with a former Navy psychologist who has actually worked in one of those stress clinics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Well, as we mentioned, an American soldier is in custody in Baghdad after allegedly killing five fellow U.S. troops. It happened at a stress clinic at the U.S. base Camp Liberty.

Joining us now from San Diego to talk about combat stress, retired Navy Lieutenant Commander Heidi Kraft. She's a clinical psychologist.

And Heidi, I remember when you were in Iraq and you worked in these stress clinics. You know, what were you dealing with? What type of men and women would come see you?

LT. CMDR. HEIDI KRAFT, U.S. NAVY (RET.): For the most part, we were there to handle a variety of mental health concerns.

I think we sort of figured that it sort of came down to about a third of people came to see us because of acute combat-related grief, loss, different sort of injuries that occurred due to really in-the- moment combat situations.

Maybe another third were dealing with transition of things that were going on at home that were different -- difficult to deal with there in relation to the combat situation.

And then maybe another third had previous psychological issues, maybe a history of depression or anxiety, something that required some management of our team.

PHILLIPS: Now, I know there were people that would go in there on a voluntary basis, but can you tell me, are there situations where maybe a commanding officer says to him or her, you know, Marine, Navy, soldier, look, I'm sending you to the clinic today, I'm a little concerned about this? And then how does that process go? Are you alerted before they arrive?

You know, kind of tell me how it unfolds.

KRAFT: It all depends on the severity of what we're talking about. If we have somebody who is exhibiting symptoms of what we would consider to be a psychiatric emergency, a person who is either talking about suicide or homicidal thoughts, then that person is typically escorted by someone in the command to the clinic and it's handled as an emergency.

Otherwise, command referrals were just that. They came from a variety of levels, whether it was sort of the chain of command, someone that the soldier or Marine spoke to that was just a little concerned. The person may have been acting differently or not looking like him or herself. That referral may have gone to the battalion or squadron doctor and then brought to us from there. So it was handled in a lot of different ways.

PHILLIPS: Now, you bring up a very interesting point. Homicidal or suicidal thought, they are escorted. Are they escorted with their weapons at that point?

KRAFT: You know, it didn't happen very often to us. But theoretically, in a theoretical situation, as soon as the person is considered emergent and having those thoughts, then the weapon should probably be removed so that he or she is not a danger to himself or others.

PHILLIPS: But if they are not tagged, right, as being possibly suicidal, homicidal, then they don't have to check their weapons there at the stress clinic, correct?

KRAFT: Absolutely. And, in fact, that was a big part of what we were trying to provide out there, being forward.

We wanted very much for our Marines and sailors to know that this was a clinic in which they, normal people in extraordinary circumstances, dealing with difficult things, could receive help for what we called injuries. Not mental illness, not psychiatric disease, but injuries. That we were there to help them with a really normal experience in an extraordinary situation.

Taking their weapons away as soon as they walked in the door would have completely gone against that. It would have added stigma to a situation that already has too much stigma. People would never have come.

Their weapons are part of what they do out there, and sailors and Marines and soldiers and airmen, they all keep their weapons with them in combat. So if we were to take them away, we would be insinuating that something was wrong with them. So that was a big part of actually our whole philosophy, was to try to normalize any attempt to take care of them in that way. We wanted them to feel comfortable, and feel able to come and not look like diseased patients.

PHILLIPS: Well, now, home from the war and outside of the Navy, you're dedicating your life and career now to helping those with combat stress, post-traumatic stress.

Dr. Heidi Kraft, thanks so much for your time today.

KRAFT: My pleasure.

PHILLIPS: Well, they're the kinds of images that scare the daylights out of you, but you can't turn away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shut your door. Shut your door. Shut your door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Go! Back up!

We're OK. We're OK. We're OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Well, hang on to something. You'll want to see how this turns out as we take you on the road with the storm chasers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: We're getting reaction now from the White House to the deadly shooting of five American troops in Baghdad today. The alleged shooter, an American soldier, now in custody.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs relayed President Obama's comments to reporters just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's obviously saddened to hear the news this morning from Camp Victory. The president's heart goes out to the families and friends of all the service members involved in this horrible tragedy.

He was shocked by the news of this incident and will press to ensure that we fully understand what happened at the clinic, and that we are doing everything we can to ensure that our men and women in uniform are protected.

He plans on seeing Secretary Gates this afternoon and will raise this matter then.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Joining us now from the Pentagon, CNN's Chris Lawrence.

Chris, what are officials saying now about the incident?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, during the briefing that's still going on, Secretary Gates really wasted no time in addressing this issue. There is always sadness when U.S. troops are killed in combat, but this particular incident goes way beyond that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GATES: I would like to express my horror and deep regret over today's shooting incident at Camp Liberty in Iraq. I offer my sympathy and condolences to the families of those who were killed.

We're still in the process of gathering information on exactly what happened, but if the preliminary reports are confirmed, such a tragic loss of life at the hands of our own forces is a cause for great and urgent concern. And I can assure you that it will get this department's highest priority attention.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE: And as we just heard from the White House press secretary, it's also something that Secretary Gates will be discussing with President Obama this afternoon.

I think the key to all of this is that when you heard Secretary Gates say "one of our own," that it is an American soldier who is in custody and is under suspicion for having shot some of his own fellow service members. You know, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said during the briefing -- he said it does speak to a need for us, meaning the Pentagon, to address and increase our efforts to try to, you know, reduce stress, to try to recognize it and diagnose it.

He also said, we need to take a closer look at multiple deployments and dwell time. And what that means is, how long the troops get at home versus how long they're deployed overseas; something the Pentagon has been working to try to reduce.

And when I was in Afghanistan just last week, Secretary Gates said it may be possible to try to get that dwell time increased in order -- in other words, to give soldiers more time at home as early as later this year.

So that is something a lot of people will be keeping a close eye on. You don't want to jump to conclusions by saying, you know, well, somebody had a couple more months at home, this incident would not have happened. But as an overall policy, it's something the Pentagon is laser focused on right now.

PHILLIPS: Got it.

Chris Lawrence, thanks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one, and liftoff of Space Shuttle Atlantis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Seven months late, but making good time. Space Shuttle Atlantis zooming toward a rendezvous with the Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble's in dire need of an overhaul, but if all goes well, during five space walks over the next week and a half, it'll be in better shape than ever to peel back the secrets of the universe.

The guy at the helm of Atlantis knows a lot about high-stakes airmanship, but this time there's no take two. His name is Scott Altman, and you've probably seen him fly, whether you realized it or not. And, you probably were eating popcorn at the time.

Pushing forward on the back story, here's CNN's John Zarrella.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Retired Navy pilot Scott Altman, commander of the Atlantis mission, knows a little something about flying space shuttles.

SCOTT ALTMAN, COMMANDER, ATLANTIS MISSION: That flight deck is starting to look neat, but crowded.

ZARRELLA: He also knows a little something about flying airplanes, in a movie.

ALTMAN: Flying a space shuttle is a little more challenging than what we did in the movie. I have to admit that, although the flying was a lot of fun.

ZARRELLA: The film was the 1986 hit "Top Gun," starring Tom Cruise. Altman had just gotten back from a 7 1/2-months on board an aircraft carrier when he got the call.

ALTMAN: The skipper of our squadron picked four guys and he thought he could trust to have this kind of thing to break the rules a little bit.

ZARRELLA: And they sure broke the rules. Altman, now making his fourth trip into space, says in ways that would guarantee you lose your wings if you did them for anything but a movie. Like, buzzing the control tower.

He's in one of the film's most memorable scenes. While flying upside-down, inverted, Altman gives the pilot of the enemy plane the finger.

ALTMAN: But they said, go ahead and gesture at the other airplane. So, when you're looking at the scene where he's communicating with the Russian or the bad guy pilots in the movie, that would be my finger.

ZARRELLA: On one occasion, Altman says Cruise, who played the young naval aviator, flew with him in the backseat of the F-14 Tom Cat. Other actors did too. Altman got $23.00 a day for his work. The plane, $7,600 an hour. But Altman says some of the footage with the actors in the jets didn't work out so well for the director.

ALTMAN: After a week of spending that much money on the airplanes, he decided that he couldn't use the footage, he didn't think it was worth the money because the actors all looked a little green, he said.

ZARRELLA: Altman may be one of the unheralded stars in the movie, but he didn't get to see it right away. He was on another seven-month carrier tour of duty when it was released.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: John, somebody ought to make a movie about Altman.

ZARRELLA: Yes, they really should. You know, Kyra, it's pretty funny, he's a pretty interesting guy.

Here's an interesting sidebar about him. He doesn't like to let the crew -- last mission, he wouldn't let his crew take fish up as one of the packed meals because it stinks, he said. And when they open the shuttles up when they come back to Earth, all they ever hear from the ground people is how bad it smells.

But he said he relented a little bit on this one and they're allowed to take a few pouches of salmon with them on this flight.

When you're the commander, you're in charge of what flies on the vehicle in a lot of cases.

But Atlantis is up. It's in orbit, everything is fine. The seven-member crew on their way, chasing down the Hubble Space Telescope.

They will rendezvous in the next day or two with Hubble. And then on flight day four, they will begin a series of five space walks, seven-hour space walks, five days in a row, to upgrade, to fix the Hubble Space Telescope.

This is the last servicing mission and it is perhaps the most difficult of any that they have ever undertaken with the incredible amount of work they have to do, a real tight timeline.

So it's going to be one interesting 11-day mission in all - Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right and we'll be tracking it, of course.

Hey, Scottie (ph), we still got a little bit of that little of that "Top Gun" tune?

ZARRELLA: A little bit, I'm sure they'll play it for you

PHILLIPS: There we go. There it is, right there.

That's a little shout-out for the retired Tomcat and all the drivers of that great aircraft, including Altman.

ZARRELLA: There you go.

PHILLIPS: John Zarrella, thanks.

Well done, graduates. You're now ready for the work force, but the work force might not be ready for you. It's hard out there for a grad.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Well, it was no ordinary four years for a crop of college grads in New Orleans. They were barely into their freshman year when Hurricane Katrina got in the way. But the storm that trashed their campuses and chased them out of New Orleans couldn't stop them from getting their degrees.

Maya Rodriguez from affiliate WWL reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAYA RODRIGUEZ, WWL-TV REPORTER (voice-over): The pomp and circumstance may seem typical of any graduation, yet these graduates are anything but.

ALCINA WALTERS, 2009 TOP GRADUATE, DILLARD UNIVERSITY: That we came back and we did what we had to do.

KRISTEN GONZALES, 2009 GRADUATE, XAVIER UNIVERSITY: It was definitely trying times.

RODRIGUEZ: The times were the days surrounding Hurricane Katrina. This marks some of the first graduation ceremonies of the so-called "Katrina Class," the students who started college in New Orleans just days before Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Now I certainly would be remiss if I didn't note that this is a class of students who are nothing if not determined.

RODRIGUEZ: Determined because the storm temporarily shut down all of their campuses, and severely damaged others.

At Dillard University, flood waters swamped their Gentilly campus.

WALTERS: Two weeks we had here at Dillard before Hurricane Katrina.

RODRIGUEZ: Alcina Walters evacuated to Shreveport, then Austin, Texas, and eventually San Antonio. She temporarily enrolled at the University of Texas in San Antonio before returning to Dillard months later. During the storm, her dorm room flooded and then burned down in a fire. She lost everything.

Despite that, she emerged as the top graduate of Dillard's class of 2009. But, she says, she shares her success with her fellow graduate.

WALTERS: We all did an amazing job together.

RODRIGUEZ: It's a story repeated across town at Xavier University, where students reflected on how the storm damaged their campus and disrupted their education.

GONZALES: It's definitely hard to live in a hotel room for quite a long time. So, it's definitely not the most ideal living situation, for sure.

KAYLAN DENNIS, 2009 GRADUATE, XAVIER UNIVERSITY: It affected us very much. Out of school for six months, didn't know where some of our family members were, either. So that was very hard, but we got through it. RODRIGUEZ: And now they share a connection across campuses here, bound together by a natural disaster at the start and ending with a new beginning.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: All right, and they did it in four years. You could have forgiven them if they had been on the five-year plan or longer. The Katrina Classes at Tulane and the University of New Orleans get their degrees this weekend.

Well, got a pet to transport and a few hundred bucks? This might be just the ticket. A new airline lets your furball fly, first class. The founder tells us why and why now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Mom and dad, get my room ready. Bet, there's more than one family hearing that after graduation. This is a tough economy for experienced workers and if the chancellor's signature on your diploma is barely dry, it can be even tougher.

Susan Lisovicz joins us now from the New York Stock Exchange.

Susan, recent grads facing tough choices, you know? Move home, stay in school, move into a holding-pattern job until they can pay the bills.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And I mean, it's tough for everyone around, including parents who think that after all that sacrifice, that their children are going to get some good jobs. Well, guess again. I mean, the market, the job market stinks in general, really tough for recent college graduates.

Careerbuilder says only 43 percent, Kyra, of employers plan to hire college grads this year. That was nearly double that just two years ago.

And what you are seeing with companies that are hiring, oftentimes they're part-time jobs and more often than not, you are seeing lower salaries, no question about it, across the board. Not only for college grads.

That really hurts for new hires. Why is that? Because you build upon that base and it's a slower climb up. It can really amount to tens of thousands of dollars, ultimately. Timing is everything. This year, a tough year, if you're going into the work force for the first time, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: So, what's the solution? I mean, should graduates just stay in school until the economy gets better? I mean, that's going to wrack up a big bill.

LISOVICZ: It is, but it's clearly something that millions of people - and not only new college graduates - are doing. That's one reason why we see education month after month as being one of the places that is creating jobs. You're seeing lots of people going back for advanced degrees, for trade. We've talked about a lot on your show - trades, associate degrees.

And you know, the bottom line is this, Kyra, you know, the higher your education, the lower the jobless rate is. It's as simple as that. Four point four percent for the bachelor's degree or more. Compare that to 8.9 percent, the overall unemployment rate.

So, yes, it's going to bite into the student aid, parents are going to moan about it, but ultimately, it may well be worth it, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, Susan, thanks.

LISOVICZ: You're welcome.

PHILLIPS: Well, those college grads pouring into the job markets are going to join millions of people already looking for work. So this week, we're trying to help recent graduates find employers in our "30-Second Pitch, College Edition."

We sent our crews to Emory University's graduation this morning. And sociology major Travis Levius has a pitch for you. Go ahead and get the clock ready.

And here we go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRAVIS LEVIUS, JOB SEEKER: I'm Travis Levius, I'm an Emory graduate, a sociology major. I'm looking to get into the music and entertainment industry, hopefully in the business side, with management and A&R development. I'm very resourceful, very passionate about the things that I like to do. And as far as music and pushing other people's careers, I'm very dedicated to helping other people feel good and to get their careers where they need to be.

So I hope that you will hire me. And, yes, thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: And yes, e-mail him. If you have a job for Travis, you can e-mail him at travislevius@gmail.com.

And if you or your kids or grandkids are looking for your first real job, join us tomorrow when the author of "Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview?" joins us for tips on how to land that job.

All right. The airline industry's profits have literally gone to the dogs, but a start-up carrier is Alysa Binder.

All right, Alysa, tell me why you decided to start this airline.

ALYSA BINDER, COFOUNDER, PET AIRWAYS (via telephone): There is a great need for pets to be able to travel in a safe, comfortable and caring environment. And we said, it's about time. So we developed Pet Airways, which is the first pet-only airline where pets fly in the main cabin, not cargo. And we call them our pawssengers and they're always with a pet attendant who will monitor them at all times.

PHILLIPS: Now, what type of clients are sending their animals with you?

BINDER: Well, it's really the pet community, the pet parents. Whether it's for relocation purposes, going on vacation, visiting grandma, for pet adoption or rescue. That's pretty huge.

PHILLIPS: Now, some people might say, Alysa, you know, in such a tough economy, you've got airlines charging all these fees, going under, going bankrupt. You know, you got to be kidding me, a pet airway?

BINDER: There's really a need. There's truly a need for this service. Pets need a safe way to be transported and we just can't wait. There needs to be a better alternative for pets to be transported and Pet Airways offers that alternative.

PHILLIPS: So do they get first class food service, too, Alysa?

BINDER: They get first class service.

PHILLIPS: Alysa Biinder, cofounder of Pet Airways, interesting concept this time. Thanks, Alysa.

BINDER: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: All right, we're going to take a quick break. Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Hey, great news. Iran wants to cut down on its unnecessary executions.

Unnecessary executions? Since when - well, not sure when an execution has become unnecessary. But Iran has executed at least 140 people this year, according to Amnesty International.

But listen to this from Human Rights Watch, Iran leads all countries worldwide in executing juveniles. Parents, next time your kids get in trouble, you may want to remind them how lucky they are to be living in the great USA.

Well, from executing kids to slapping your wife, here's another talker for you. If you're a Saudi wife who loves to shop, better duck when you get home. A Saudi judge says if you spend lavishly, your husband has every right to slap you.

Oh, and by the way, Judge Hamad Al-Razine said this during a seminar on domestic violence.

Well, I know "Team Sanchez" is working more on this story in the next hour of NEWSROOM. And there's a lot going on with regard to that developing story out of Ohio as well, Rick. Where do you want to start? RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Well, let's go with Demjanjuk. As a matter of fact, let me see if I can get those pictures up. This Let's see if we can get those pictures up. This saga just seems to go on. While you were just doing the story about two minutes ago, Kyra, we watched as this ambulance came up in the Ohio home of John Demjanjuk, the accused Nazi.

And we're trying to figure out - there's two things that are at play here. He's I mean, he's now ready to be deported, but the family has called for an ambulance, making one think this may be outside the deportation process.

In other words, the family's trying to make sure, if they can maybe slow things up somewhat. If they can perhaps ill. Get him some medical carethinking if they can slow things up somewhat, if they can perhaps, if he's ill enough, get him some medical care which might slow the deportation because the Supreme Court has already decided he has to be deported to Germany.

We're going to be all over this. We're will going to be obviously asking a lot of questions as we show you the situation as it develops there in Cleveland.

The story you mentioned a little while ago, we're all over that. The idea that a judge would sanction a man being able to slap his wife and then say essentially in his ruling that a man has a right to slap his wife if he thinks she's spent too much money. It really raises a lot of questions about Saudi Arabia as one of our allies and we're going to have the woman who wrote the book on how Saudi women are treated.

PHILLIPS: How about the fact that it - the comic was made at a domestic violence seminar. That's what just floors me, Rick.

SANCHEZ: Well, and you know...

PHILLIPS: I mean, how do they define domestic violence?

SANCHEZ: Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive. Not allowed to drive. I mean, and this is the country that we have gone in and defended against other Arab countries like, you know, in the case of Saddam Hussein. So Americans have a right to be curious and ask questions about our relations with a country where things like this happen, I believe. We will ask.

PHILLIPS: Sounds good. Thanks, Rick.

Earlier, I asked all of you "Zero Heroes," how'd you do it? How did you get your big credit card balances down to zero? Well, we're about to share your secrets.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: All right. If opening your credit card bill every month is a tear jerker, you need to hear how some of our viewers got their big balances down to zero. We've been going through them on our Web site. And listen to this one, Joe actually wrote, we have four to five credit cards. And that one that does have a balance that is pretty small.

But Joe actually wrote, "We have four to five different credit cards, all but one has a zero balance. That one that does have a balance is pretty small. We picked the card with the smallest balance, make a payment of about $100 a month on that one until it's paid off. Once it's paid off, well, we we take the same hundred dollars and add it to the payment and you make that the next smallest balance and so on and so on. Did you get that? I was a little confused.

All right, and then Brad, wrote this. Freeze your credit cards. Really. Stick it in a container filled with water, put it in the freezer. If you really need the card, you have it for emergencies but you can't be tempted to use it for frivolous spending. Thanks to all of you for e-mailing us.

All right. That does it for us. See you back here tomorrow. Rick Sanchez takes it from here.