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Rumsfeld Salutes Sailors, Allies Aboard Aircraft Carrier

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD THE USS JOHN F. KENNEDY, Oct. 9, 2004 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was flown out today from Bahrain to this aircraft carrier patrolling the Persian Gulf to meet with sailors and to get a briefing on the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld brought along defense ministers from 18 countries assisting the United States in the war against terrorism. Army Gen. George Casey, the commander of multinational forces in Iraq, gave the shipboard briefing via video teleconference from his headquarters in Baghdad.

Countries represented by the ministers included Albania, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Iraq, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mongolia, Poland, Qatar, Romania, and Ukraine.

"We are deeply grateful to them, and we're deeply grateful to the men and women from their countries that are serving and putting their lives at risk," Rumsfeld said, noting such involvement demonstrates personal and political courage.

Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski remarked through an interpreter that he enjoyed Casey's briefing and noted "there is no doubt" that Polish troops would stay in Iraq for the next year or so.

During his four and a half hours aboard, the secretary made a tour of the ship, attended the briefing, and participated in a reenlistment ceremony for 80 Kennedy sailors.

The Kennedy and its 5,000 crewmembers have been deployed in the Persian Gulf for about three and a half months. The ship's aviators have been flying into Iraq to conduct bombing and other combat missions in support of U.S., coalition and Iraqi operations against insurgents.

In a hanger bay below the boom and crash of aircraft landings and take-offs, Kristopher W. Robitzsch, a 20-year-old aviation structural mechanic, and his partner, Seaman Neil D. Brown, 19, were peering into an F-14 Tomcat's innards to check out its fuel lines.

Robitzsch, a Mesquite, Texas, native who takes pride in his work, remarked that he'd never imagined a few short years ago that he'd be in the middle of the Persian Gulf. Now, he's in the Navy and "fighting for my country."

"It's good stuff," the Texan said.

Brown, too, likes to do a good job, and characterized his work in the Navy as "something not everybody does."

The Kennedy's skipper, Capt. Dennis E. Fitzpatrick, had been aboard the ship a week or two before assuming command four days ago. The quality and leadership displayed by his sailors, Fitzpatrick said, cheers him as he watches them perform their daily duties.

"This crew is doing great," the captain said, noting he is "very, very impressed with the morale throughout the ship."

The ship's aviators are now flying about 60 sorties a day, Fitzpatrick reported, noting missions over Iraq involve "hitting targets wherever the opportunity presents itself."

At the reenlistment ceremony, Rumsfeld praised the "magnificent" Kennedy and thanked the ship's crew for their hospitality and hard work in support of the war.

Rumsfeld noted he was a Naval aviator in the 1950s, and marveled that the first time he'd walked the decks of a Navy ship was in 1943 when he visited his father who was serving aboard a carrier during World War II.

"No one here was born in 1943," the secretary observed, noting he considered his visit to the Kennedy "a particular treat."

The secretary lauded the sailors' patriotism, dedication, skills, talents and experience, noting such attributes "add great value to the armed forces of the United States of America."

Petty Officer Andrew D. Washington, 21, signed up for four more years at the reenlistment ceremony. "It was a big deal" for Rumsfeld to attend, he said.

"He's the secretary of defense," the Chicago native pointed out.

Rumfeld also noted at the reenlistment ceremony that Afghan national elections are being held today. He said more than 10 million Afghans had registered to vote - bypassing estimates that had pegged registrants at 6 million -- with women comprising 41 percent of those who'd registered.

The Afghan people, Rumsfeld said, now "have a chance at having a democratic system, a moderate government, a government that is at peace with its neighbors and a government that is respectful to all the religious and diverse elements in that nation."

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