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Marne Soldiers Cheer Rumsfeld in Surprise Baghdad Visit

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 12, 2005 – The U.S. military doesn't have an exit strategy out of Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said here today. Rather, he added, DoD has a "victory strategy."

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Army Spc. Anthony Dowden, 3rd Infantry Division, presents a piece of armor to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld during a town hall meeting in Baghdad, Iraq, on April 12. More than 100 troops re-enlisted and Rumsfeld presented several Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Cherie A. Thurlby, USAF

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

Rumsfeld's comment's came during his ninth visit to Iraq since U.S. Army and Marine troops routed Iraqi forces in March and April 2003. Many of those soldiers are back today for a second or often a third tour.

Speaking to a few hundred U.S. and other coalition troops in the 3rd Infantry Division's "Rock of the Marne Sports Oasis" dining facility, Rumsfeld told the soldiers he understands that "the overwhelming majority of the ... people represented in this room would prefer to be home."

"But you're here for a mission," he said, in the room decorated with flags, posters and banners from various professional and collegiate sports teams. "And the mission is to help set this country -- an important country, a country with intelligent people, educated people, a country with resources -- on the path of democracy and freedom and representative government."

Rumsfeld got a long and loud ovation when he invoked the name of Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony April 4.

"Sixty years ago, American soldiers liberated the German people from the tyranny of World War II. Today another generation of American soldiers have given the Iraqi and Afghan people a birth of freedom," Rumsfeld said, repeating comments Smith's wife, Birgit, made at a Pentagon ceremony April 5.

The secretary noted that many Europeans still fondly remember their American liberators. "One day I suspect that Iraqi children that you have met during your time here will grow up and they'll tell their own children about the American GIs who risked their lives to fight against those who (ruled in tyranny) over the civilized world," he told the soldiers.

During a question-and-answer session, Rumsfeld answered questions on the length of deployments to Iraq, G.I. Bill education benefits levels and future deployment of the Stryker combat vehicle.

Early in today's visit, Rumsfeld presented four soldiers with Bronze Star medals with valor devices and awarded Purple Heart medals to eight others. He also participated in a mass re-enlistment ceremony for 100 soldiers.

Division commander Maj. Gen. William G. Webster said the soldiers were re-enlisting for a total of about 600 years of "commitment to our nation because they feel like this Army of ours, this force of ours is accomplishing the mission we need to accomplish to help the great people of Iraq step forward and assume control of their own nation and internal security.

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

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