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Success of Philippine Policy Stems From U.S. Military Men and Women

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 5, 2002 – The success of U.S. policy in the Philippines rests squarely on the shoulders of the "extraordinary capabilities of our young men and women" serving there, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said today at the Hoover Institute Symposium here.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Tech Sgt. Bob Burdick explains to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz how to handle the refueling boom controls aboard a KC-10 Extender aircraft. Wolfowitz used a portion of the 17-hour flight back from Manila June 4, 2002, to speak with Burdick, a native of Plattsburgh, N.Y. Photo by Jim Garamone.

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

"In this case, (it is) not just their military skills, but their human skills, their sensitivity to local concerns and local issues," Wolfowitz said. The deputy secretary returned June 4 from a trip to Singapore and the Philippines.

The deputy said many Philippine government officials did not want U.S. troops on Basilan Island, the stronghold of Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network. Philippine President Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo overrode the objections and invited U.S. Special Forces soldiers and support elements into the country.

"There's a certain quite understandable sensitivity in a country that was an American colony about the dangers or the fears that the United States might be there to take over," Wolfowitz said.

But the way U.S. service members approached their jobs has swayed opinion in the government. Secretary of National Defense Angelo Reyes said he saw no problem in allowing U.S. forces to continue their train-and-assist mission past July 31, the date it is scheduled to end.

Wolfowitz also praised the way American service members researched and planned the mission.

"It's a level of sophistication that you might expect in a graduate course on sociology," he said. "These are people who carry guns and risk their lives and build roads and dig wells, but they're able to do (the planning) piece of the job also. It's just a very, very high quality of professionalism and dedication, and I think it has an infectious influence on the people that we work with as well."

Even on the trip over to East Asia and back, the deputy secretary got a chance to see American service members in action. Wolfowitz, his party and a traveling party of press flew 22 hours to Singapore aboard an Air Force KC-10 aerial refueler. Wolfowitz sat in the cockpit and watched as the plane refueled in the air. "(It was the) first time I've actually seen two planes come that close together and for a steady, long period of time, and the cool, calm confidence of those pilots," he said. "It's not something that I would ever think one would ever take for granted, but obviously, they've been doing it day after day throughout this conflict and in many others, and in much more difficult conditions than the ones we were under, including more than one instance in which they were shot at."

"And then I had the experience later on of going back into the tail section of the plane and having the boom operator, who has seven years of experience in doing this very difficult and at times very dangerous job, explain in loving detail how it all worked.

"It's that command of his job that I've seen over and over again among our young men and women -- pride in their work, knowledge about what they do," he continued. "It is terrific. It's the greatest strength of this great American military, and something we all should be grateful for as Americans."

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