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Rumsfeld: Volunteer U.S. Military Is 'Booming Success'

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17, 2003 – For three decades, the volunteer U.S. military "has been a booming success -- it works," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here today.

Addressing attendees on the second day of the Sept. 16-17 All-Volunteer Force conference held at the National Defense University at Fort McNair, the defense secretary declared that the men and women comprising today's all-volunteer force belong to "the finest military in the world."

As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in the mid-1960s, Rumsfeld was one of the architects who supported legislation establishing a volunteer military to supplant a troubled conscription system considered by many in and out of government to be unfair and inefficient.

Later, Rumsfeld recalled, with the backing of then-President Richard Nixon and Nixon's secretary of defense, Melvin Laird, the all-volunteer concept was approved by Congress and became a reality July 1, 1973.

Rumsfeld said he enjoys meeting service members during his travels because he gets to thank them for their volunteer service.

"They made that choice to serve their country -- put their lives at risk -- to preserve freedom in this country," he noted. "And that's a wonderful thing."

America's military has the most precise weaponry and lethal capabilities in the world, Rumsfeld remarked, "but clearly, the greatest resource we have is the character, courage and spirit of the men and women in uniform."

Members of the volunteer force, the defense secretary asserted, "have a remarkable sense of mission" and have over the years liberated "millions of people."

"They have won the Cold War liberated Grenada removed the Taliban from power in Afghanistan ousted the forces of Saddam Hussein in Iraq," Rumsfeld pointed out.

The defense secretary noted that U.S. troops are assisting law enforcement, intelligence and other authorities in global operations that are "putting terrorists on the run."

Fighting global terrorism is very different from military missions in the past, Rumsfeld acknowledged. But, he said, U.S. service members are readily adjusting to the task.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz called the all-volunteer force "an unqualified success" during Sept. 16 remarks made to conference attendees during dinner at a Washington riverfront restaurant.

Wolfowitz said he's "awestruck" by the dedication, professionalism, courage, and patriotism possessed by members of today's volunteer military.

Recalling his recent five-day visit with U.S. service members in Iraq, Wolfowitz noted, "These young men and women are nothing short of incredible."

Today's U.S. troops "are brave when they have to fight," the deputy defense secretary said, adding they also display compassion when engaged in humanitarian missions.

For example, Wolfowitz said, U.S. Marines in southern Iraq are providing cold water to thirsty Iraqis -- in a country where the daytime outdoor temperature can reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

The deputy defense secretary also noted that "leathernecks" in Iraq routinely wave to Iraqis, and come to port arms and salute passing local funeral processions, which helps to spread good will.

Likely the result of such efforts to reach out to the local populace, Wolfowitz said, he witnessed young Iraqis taking the hands of Marines in gratitude.

Army troops in the northern portion of the country, he continued, also are intreracting successfully with the Iraqi people.

One U.S. Army officer had created a local butchers' association in Mosul, Wolfowitz recalled, to prevent the dumping of animal carcasses in the streets.

"There's a lot of basic American civics being applied in Iraq," Wolfowitz pointed out, noting, "It's an enormous tribute to our country that we can attract such men and women to volunteer their services for our nation."

The volunteer force is meeting its recruiting and retention goals, Rumsfeld said during his remarks at Fort McNair. However, he acknowledged this has to be watched and managed closely as "there's a great deal of stress on the force at the present time."

Yet, members of America's volunteer military are successfully carrying out worldwide missions, the defense secretary said, while "transforming themselves" into a more agile, lethal force.

America "owes a great debt of gratitude" to its sailors, Marines, soldiers, airmen, and Coast Guard members, Rumsfeld emphasized.

And, after 30 years, it is amply evident that the decision establishing the volunteer force "was the right one," he concluded.

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