Rumsfeld Thanks Special Operators During Bragg Visit
By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
FORT BRAGG, N.C., Nov. 21, 2001 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was a hit among service members and their families, here. The secretary wisecracked his way into their hearts mostly at the expense of the media contingent present -- during a pre-Thanksgiving visit.
Rumsfeld visited troops here and received operations and capabilities briefings and demonstrations. Troops who briefed the secretary had apparently been instructed to begin by thoroughly identifying themselves. Each soldier who spoke to Rumsfeld gave his name, job, age and hometown.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speaks with an Army Ranger during a visit to Fort Bragg, N.C. Nov. 21. Photo by Spc. Jon Creese, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The secretary returned the favor when he finally took to the podium in the afternoon to speak to an assembled crowd. "I think I'd better do the same thing," he told the group. "I'm Don Rumsfeld; I'm 69 years old; I've been married 47 years, if you can believe that." To which he received a thunderous applause.
He called the Fort Bragg troops "some of the most outstanding young men and women in the armed forces of the United States of America."
Rumsfeld told the troops their welfare is always on his mind. "I don't suppose there's a day goes by that I don't keep track of what you folks are doing in the North of Afghanistan (and) are doing in the south of Afghanistan," he said, "It gives me immense pride to be able to say to each of you how much respect I have for you and what you do."
Several hundred special operations service members are with opposition groups in Afghanistan. Still others are working to track down Osama bin Laden is Al Qaeda supporters and their Taliban supporters. Rumsfeld said that while the air strikes against the terror targets in Afghanistan were effective, they are "very difficult to do unless you've got troops on the ground."
He told the troops they have "well earned" their outstanding reputation. "The world knows why when the president dials 911 it rings right here in Fayetteville," Rumsfeld said.
He had a special Thanksgiving thank you for the service members. "Tomorrow, families across America will sit down to Thanksgiving dinner (and will) give thanks for the blessings and benefits of freedom," Rumsfeld told them. "As sure as we are standing here today you can be certain that as they reflect they will be thanking God for all you do. You willingly put your lives at risk to defend our country and our freedom in far off places all across the globe."
He then opened the floor to questions "from anybody, except maybe the press," he said. But the troops lived up to their "silent killers" reputation and when none of the soldiers had a question, Rumsfeld joked about that, too. "How long have you been sitting here?" he quipped. "That is amazing. This is the most unusual group I've ever met. I guess I will take questions from the press."
When a reporter asked for an update on actions in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said: "If you're asking if I can talk about what's going on on the ground, the answer is 'I could,'" and left it at that. And when Rumsfeld was ready to take the last question, he told the chagrined television reporter he was going to let the crowd judge how good of a question it was. The crowd roared.
The secretary took every opportunity to tell the troops how much they're appreciated. "It is absolutely thrilling to be here to see these folks and to be able to look them in the eye and say thank you," he said.
Earlier in the day, Rumsfeld watched demonstrations and displays by special operations forces. The 3rd Special Forces Group, Army Rangers, Air Force combat controllers and Navy SEALS, among others, displayed their equipment, answered questions and displayed their prowess.