Deputy Secretary Visits McChord
By Staff Sgt. Scott McNabb, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
McCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash., Jul. 24, 2004 A joint audience of more than 800 airmen and soldiers heard firsthand from one of the nation's top military leaders here July 23.
Air Force Col. Wayne Schatz, 62nd Airlift Wing commander, and
Army Lt. Gen. Edward Soriano, commander I Corps and Fort Lewis, Washington,
look on while Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz speaks to service members
at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., on July 23. After his speech, Wolfowitz
answered questions from the crowd and posed for photographs. Photo by Kristin
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz held a town hall meeting with airmen from McChord, soldiers from neighboring Fort Lewis, and their families. He visited, he said, for a simple reason: to say thanks.
"I don't know how to thank you enough, but that's what I came here to do," Wolfowitz said.
Before making remarks and taking questions from the audience, the deputy secretary presented Bronze Stars to two special operations noncommissioned officers assigned to the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron at McChord.
"They probably should have received these awards a long time ago, but I'm glad the bureaucracy took as long as it did, because it was a tremendous privilege to present these medals to these real heroes," he said.
In his remarks, Wolfowitz spoke about the importance of the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade airdrop by Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transports into northern Iraq during the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. It was a mission flown by McChord's 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings, along with the 437th Airlift Wing at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C.
"I know that you were the ones who dropped the 173rd into northern Iraq," he said. "We were back in Washington (D.C.) watching. A critical part of Iraq was now under control."
Opening the northern front was important to liberating Iraq, the deputy secretary said, and now the key to success there is to put Iraqis on the front lines.
Iraqi soldiers and police forces are 30 percent to 50 percent ready to assume full control, Wolfowitz said. He expects a huge increase in the Iraqis' ability to perform that task by this fall, and another significant jump in capability a year from now.
Even though news reports highlighted the Iraqi forces that fled in Fallujah during operations earlier this year, they forgot to mention the ones who held their ground in other parts of Iraq, Wolfowitz pointed out.
"Some of the Iraqi forces performed heroically in Mosul, right next to their friends from Fort Lewis," he said.
During the question-and-answer session, one airman asked Wolfowitz if the military would turn to a draft in the near future. "Absolutely not," he replied. "We have an incredible force that works spectacularly because it is a voluntary force."
Wolfowitz also discussed how the nation's airlift capabilities give it enormous reach and allow the United States to deploy wherever and whenever the need arises.
"We gave two medals out today to two people who were able to have tremendous striking power, but I can also see the day when C-17s might land a whole Stryker brigade at some rudimentary airfield out in the middle of nowhere," he said. "If you go back to World War II, there was the famous Battle of Arnhem where the airborne was dropped in, they say, a bridge too far.
"I think thanks to the kind of reach that we have with airlift and air power. We can go six or seven bridges farther and still be able to be an effective force."
The deputy DoD leader also touched on the long activations and deployments of reservists and the effect on their civilian jobs back home.
"The toughest cases are the ones involving small businesses, sometimes owned by reservists, and we keep looking at ways that we can try to improve (support to them)," he said. "I think employers have really stepped up in a very patriotic way, and we appreciate it a lot."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Scott McNabb is assigned to the 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs, McChord Air Force Base, Wash.)