Rumsfeld Meets Combat Controllers, Paratroopers
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C., Dec. 19, 2003 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld welcomed a new crop of Air Force combat controllers, watched an Army infantry training exercise and consoled family members Dec. 18 during a visit to Pope Air Force Base and Fort Bragg here.
Arriving at Pope at around 1 p.m., Rumsfeld made his way to the base's community club to observe the graduation ceremony of 18 new combat controllers. A 13-week course trains and prepares airmen for parachuting into war zones to set up cargo drop areas and provide battlefield air traffic control. The controllers also are trained to coordinate air strikes.
The Combat Control School at Pope, Rumsfeld noted during his graduation remarks, "produces some of the finest warriors in the Air Force and the armed services."
With an A-10 Thunderbold aircraft in the background, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld meets the press Dec. 18 inside a hangar at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
In fact, the secretary noted, "some 85 percent of the air strikes in Operation Enduring Freedom were called in by Air Force combat controllers." This, Rumsfeld said, is a testament to the quality of training and of the personal courage and skills of the graduates.
It takes "an exceptional brand" of bravery and patriotism to accomplish difficult and dangerous combat controller missions, Rumsfeld said, as well as "a willingness to risk all for our country."
The global war against terrorism "is a fight that we are winning," the secretary asserted to the graduates, pointing to the recent capture of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Rumsfeld thanked the airmen for their service and saluted the "determination and persistence" of all service members deployed around the globe in the fight against terrorism, telling the airmen they "should never doubt" the support and appreciation of the American people.
"They take great pride in your courage," the secretary told the graduates.
Pride was evident as Donna Sheriff watched her son, Airman 1st Class Andrew Sheriff, graduate from the combat controllers course.
"He has worked very hard and he has studied very hard I'm very proud," the airman's mother said, adding she was impressed that Rumsfeld attended the ceremony and let the graduates "know how much he appreciates them."
The secretary left the combat controller graduation ceremony for a date with the Army at nearby Fort Bragg. Ferried by UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, Rumsfeld and his party were taken to Training Area 13 to observe 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment soldiers conducting field training.
Rumsfeld was met at the landing zone by Lt. Gen. John Vines, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps, and Col. Pat Donohue, the commander of the 504th's 1st Brigade, an element of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Humvees transported Rumsfeld and his group along Bragg's bumpy, winding roads to a live-fire exercise site.
The secretary, clad in an Army battle dress jacket, came across a squad of soldiers practicing urban warfare as the air came alive with the rat-a-tat of machine-gun fire and yellowish clouds of smoke threatened to engulf the group.
One of the green-face-camouflaged infantrymen, Sgt. Oliver Silva, briefed Rumsfeld on his short-barreled carbine -- ideal for close-quarters, urban-style fighting -- and his bullet-resistant vest. The 24-year-old Silva said the combat training is "high-speed," realistic and had served him well during his recent service in Afghanistan.
At the end of the exercise, Rumsfeld gathered the soldiers around him, observing after a hand-count that many of the 504th members had served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"I wanted to just have the chance to say 'thank you,'" Rumsfeld told the soldiers, adding that the American people are proud of their service. "God bless you all, thank you," the secretary concluded, to a chorus of cheers.
After another helicopter ride back to Fort Bragg's main post area, Rumsfeld motored to the Fisher House to meet with a group of widows and mothers of service members who'd fallen in action in Afghanistan and Iraq. Afterward, the secretary headed back to Pope for a news conference before his departure. Rumsfeld had a good trip, he told reporters, recounting his meetings with airmen, soldiers, and family members.
There are now about 122,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, Rumsfeld said, noting the force-rotation process is under way. The secretary said almost all of the affected combat units have been alerted for overseas deployments to occur between January and May.
The coming deployments, Rumsfeld said, "will unquestionably affect North Carolina," meaning Fort Bragg and Pope. However, the secretary demurred when a reporter asked him which military units might be called up. Such announcements, he pointed out, are best left up to military commanders.
"Commanders do the announcing (of unit deployments), rather than our trying to do it (from Washington), because it gets quite particularized," Rumsfeld explained.
The secretary went on to cite the "terrific piece of work" conducted by 4th Infantry Division soldiers and special operations troops in the capture of Saddam Hussein.
Rumsfeld saluted U.S. military intelligence analysts who had diligently interrogated a "series of people" and sifted through "scraps of information" as part of the mission that located Saddam. The analysts, Rumsfeld said, "came to a conclusion that they had some information that was usable, actionable," and that within two hours the capture took place.
The secretary added he'd recently met with two young U.S. intelligence analysts who'd participated in the hunt for the deposed dictator, noting, "It is, truly, an impressive piece of work."