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Kevlar-Clad Crowd Congratulated by Chief

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 30, 2003 – The crowd wore Kevlar as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld thanked the soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors of the coalition land forces during a town hall meeting at the international airport here today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld attended a town hall meeting with U.S. and coalition troops at Baghdad International Airport on April 30, 2003. Rumsfeld thanked the troops and told them they had rescued a nation and freed a people. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Igor Paustovski)
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"I want to thank each and every one of you for your courage, your dedication to duty and for volunteering stepping up to serve your country," he said.

In a hangar at what was once the showcase airport for Saddam Hussein, Rumsfeld told the service members that they had rescued a nation and freed a people.

The airport, now the headquarters of the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Ga., is now a bustling coalition home port. Transport aircraft and helicopters operate from the field even as engineers fill in the bomb craters in the runways.

Division commander Maj. Gen. Buford Blount told reporters that there are still security challenges in Baghdad. He said division soldiers are seeking out the remnants of death squads.

Blunt observed that foreign fighters who came into Iraq to fight against the Americans have been taught a lesson. He does not think many foreign fighters are left in the country, but U.S. service members will remain vigilant.

Earlier in the day, Rumsfeld called on the Iraqi people to help the coalition find what's left of the former regime's leadership. He also called on Iraqis to help coalition forces by identifying foreign fighters "who are working only for their own interests."

Coalition forces are working to make Iraq a safe place. "You have braved death squads and sandstorms," he told the troops. "You raced across hundreds of miles to reach Baghdad in less than a month some people call that a quagmire. It was probably the fastest march on an enemy capital in modern military history."

The coalition came not to conquer Iraq, not to occupy the country, but to liberate it, he said, and the Iraqi people realize it. "When you arrived in Baghdad, many of the Iraqi people came into the street to welcome you, tearing down statues of Saddam Hussein and celebrating their new found freedom freedom that you helped them realize.

"You have unleashed events that will unquestionably shape the course of this country and the fate of its people and very likely the future of this entire region."

Rumsfeld told the service members they should take great pride in their accomplishment. "You've done it well, while your adversary did everything in his power to put civilian lives at risk," he said. "You took such great care to protect the lives of innocent civilians. In a real sense, many of the Iraqi people were hostages to that regime.

"We want the Iraqi people to live in freedom so they can build a future where Iraqi leaders answer to the Iraqi people, instead of killing them. And because of you, they will have a chance to do that."

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