Freshmen Congressmen Visit Pentagon
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2002 Listening to a confidential briefing on Iraq and other national security threats was "eye-opening" and a "beneficial experience," according to Artur Davis of Alabama, one of the more than 25 representatives-elect who visited the Pentagon today.
"I think all of us found it a sobering briefing," Davis said. "There's an enormous sense of responsibility that comes with being in the United States Congress that was reinforced today."
"After receiving that sensitive information, I think we all agree that it's absolutely real, that the threat is severe, and that we have a short time here to work with to achieve peace," Representative-elect Rick Renzi (at the microphone) of Arizona told reporters at the Pentagon Nov. 19, 2002. Renzi was one of about 25 newly elected representatives who visited the Pentagon for a series of classified briefings on national security threats. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The representatives-elect spent about three hours in comprehensive briefings and discussions with senior defense officials, said Powell Moore, assistant defense secretary for legislative affairs. Deputy Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz hosted the meetings on behalf of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who was in Chile.
The visitors also met with Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman, and the undersecretaries of defense, Moore said.
Upon their departure from the military headquarters, some of the representatives-elect met with reporters. Asked if they now knew more than the public, several said they'd learned more than what they'd known before the briefings, but that the information was confidential.
"We all received a classified briefing that went into the threats against our nation," said Rick Renzi of Arizona. "After receiving that sensitive information, I think we all agree that it's absolutely real, that the threat is severe, and that we have a short time here to work with to achieve peace."
Renzi noted that the briefings had emphasized the support the United States has provided to the Muslim world.
"One of the interesting facts we learned," Renzi said, "is that in Kosovo, those individuals who asked for peace were Muslims, and we brought peace. In Bosnia, when the ethnic cleansing was going on, those individuals that we brought healing to, those were Muslims. In Somalia, those individuals who were starving were Muslims, and we brought food. In Kuwait, those individuals we brought freedom to were Muslims.
"So when you hear about the hatred toward America, I think you've got to look at the realities of the fact that no matter what the faith, America has stepped forward to bring peace, food and results to peoples of all nations and all faiths," he concluded.
Denise Majette of Georgia said the briefing provided lots of information that would help the freshmen understand some of the decisions that have been made. She said she was encouraged by the progress that is being made regarding Iraq.
"I hope that we will be able to avert a war," she said. "But in the event that we cannot, then I intend to support the decisions that are made by the president and work with the other members of Congress and the administration to do the best that we can for the American people and for the world that's watching."
Frank W. Balance Jr. of North Carolina also said he was confident the nation is on the right track. "We just need to follow through," he said. "I believe that's what the president has in mind and I support that."
Candace S. Miller of Michigan noted that even though the incoming freshmen had all campaigned on a number of issues, they all recognize that the "first and foremost" business of the federal government is to protect the homeland. She said the briefings they had received would "well-equip" the new members of Congress for their role in national defense.
Miller expressed confidence in the Department of Defense and "the strategic plan that they have as we are facing a new war, a new type of enemy, an enemy who lives in the shadows, an enemy who preys on the innocent."
"I certainly feel very confident that our nation is on the right track, standing shoulder to shoulder whether you're Democrat, Republican, independent -- or what have you -- with our president and with our men and women in the military," Miller concluded.
Steve Pearce of New Mexico said he had asked the defense leaders about the role the National Guard and Reserve now play and about the stress being placed on reserve component service members. He said many people in his state are affected by those temporary commitments.
"I feel like our leaders have understood that stress," Pearce said. "They've begun to address it. I felt reassured that our leaders are looking at those particular demands on the citizens who volunteer in Reserve and Guard (units). I was encouraged by that."
Phil Gingrey of Georgia noted that his district has several military bases. "I'm not a veteran, as probably 75 percent of the Congress is not," he said, "but what we saw here today is, this is all about bipartisanship at its very best defending this country.
"What we saw here today was extremely reassuring, and I feel very comfortable in what I heard," Gingrey said. "Obviously, some of the things we were told were classified, but we did talk about many important issues and I think it will help us perform our duties as congressmen and women, particularly in regard to the national defense."
Madeleine Bordallo of Guam said she had traveled over 10,000 miles to attend the briefing.
"Perhaps I felt a little closer to the entire situation than any others," she told reporters. "Guam has major military bases on its island and after 9-11 we felt very vulnerable on Guam. We're very much alone. We're a U.S. territory and very, very strategically important to the United States of America."
Bordallo thanked the military for the briefing. "I just want to say that being so close to the entire situation, I know the importance of feeling secure," she said. "The military are now increasing their activity on Guam, which makes us all feel very good.