Rumsfeld Reflects on Military Service
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 20, 2002 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the United States is a lucky nation to have such a high caliber of men and women willing to serve in its military.
"We don't use the draft and compulsion to force people to serve," Rumsfeld said during an American Forces Information Service interview. "We ask these people to serve and they step forward and say, 'You bet; I'm ready.'"
The American military is a cross section of the country. Rumsfeld said service men and women come from all walks of life and all types of circumstances, but they all have one thing in common. "They make a personal decision that they are going to voluntarily join the armed services," he said.
Inherent in military service is a willingness to put their lives at risk. Service members know their duty often calls them to take assignments far from home and separated from family.
"When I travel around the country and the world visiting with (U.S. service members), there isn't anything that I do that gives me greater pleasure than to be able to look them in the eye and say, 'Thank you," he said.
Rumsfeld said he feels responsibility for the lives of American service members and said he will not commit them to just any operation. He said he has a checklist that he goes through before committing American personnel to a mission. "I go down it and ask is this really affecting a significant interest of our country," he said. "And if we're going to put people's lives at risk, you better have a darn good reason. If we're going to do it, we have to feel the commitment as a country and as a people and be willing to back it up."
The mere presence of American service members announces to all countries that the United States is engaged and that America is ready to contribute to peace and stability.
He said, though, that even with such a checklist, there is no magic formula. "A president still has to make a set of judgments, then he has to listen to his advisors, and then say this is something we need to do," he said. "That's why we elect presidents."
Rumsfeld said he is continually checking to ensure U.S. personnel are still needed in the areas they are deployed to. "There are places we've been for an awfully long time and we don't need to be," he said.
The United States and its allies, for example, are continually drawing down the troop strength in Bosnia. The United States has also had troops in the Sinai Desert between Israel and Egypt for 20 years. It was a good thing to do at the beginning, Rumsfeld said, but now may be the time to pull them out.
Wherever they are, before U.S. service members may leave, officials must look at the situation and fill in behind the troops. He said civil authorities must be ready to pick up the duties the American force provided. "We need to have the wisdom to see that the civil side is built up, so that when we do pull out we don't inject instability," he said.
Rumsfeld said Americans are very appreciative of the men and women in military service. "They say they pray for (service members). They appreciate what (the military is) doing, and we really are united as a country in support of the men and women in uniform," he said.
He also said congressional support for the military is very strong and bi-partisan.
Rumsfeld, who served as a Naval aviator before entering politics, said the military provided him with a wealth of training and experience. "My father was in World War II in the Navy, and it never crossed my mind that I wouldn't join the Navy," he said. "I did and I loved it. One of the things that happens when you go in the military as a young man or woman is you get a lot of responsibility early.
"You get training, you get discipline, and you develop some of the things that you don't really in civilian life and you do it a much earlier stage," Rumsfeld said. "I've always felt that I benefited enormously by having been able to serve in the United States Navy."