Rumsfeld 'Wrapping Brain' Around Defense
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 31, 2001 "We've got to wrap our brains around it" is an expression Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld often uses.
The expression means taking more than just a cursory look at a problem. It means looking at an idea or concept from all angles and checking out the consequences of action or change. It's the key behind the strategic review he is conducting for President Bush, he said.
"Change is hard for people," he said during an interview with American Forces Information Service. "The only thing harder than change is the apprehension that changes may come.
"We've gone through a period where people are anticipating change and there's a great deal of speculation about what it might be." He said the review, which will feed into the Quadrennial Defense Review, is looking at complicated issues that are "not the kinds of things that one changes lightly."
During the campaign and in his first months in office, President Bush has told military personnel that he will work to improve their pay, housing and benefits.
"He has indicated during his visits … that he believes the housing should be appropriate for the men and women and feels that a great deal of it is not appropriate and that the government of the United States has not been a good steward," Rumsfeld said. "(President Bush feels) we haven't put ourselves on a path where we can be comfortable that we're treating the men and women of the armed services in a way that reflects the importance of their service to our country."
Rumsfeld said while the review will look to the future, it is important to "fix" the current force. "We've allowed the (military) infrastructure to deteriorate. We've allowed compensation to become uncompetitive with the private sector," he said. "We've allowed our fleet of aircraft to age. We've allowed our ships to age. We've allowed our shipbuilding program to be insufficient to maintain our Navy at the current level."
He said Congress passed healthcare programs without funding them. "Whatever force we have, we ought to treat it right," he said. "We ought to see that it's properly housed and that it's properly dealt with in terms of facilities and infrastructure, and it's properly compensated."
But while this is going on, Rumsfeld is also looking to the future. "We've got to look at the issue of transforming our force so that we're capable of dealing with the problems of proliferation," he said. "More and more countries are going to have nuclear weapons, more and more countries are developing and weaponizing chemical and biological weapons. There's increasing threats to our homeland from terrorism, to say nothing of nuclear weapons."
He said the United States is heavily dependent upon computer technology. The United States needs to be able to defend itself against cyberattacks and attacks on space- based systems that support the technological grid.
"So, the first task is to get well. The second task is to begin the process of transformation. Both of those involve change. And what we have to do is take a hitch in our belt and get at it."
Rumsfeld said he has not made up his mind about many quality of life issues important to service members. Part of this is because the confirmation process has been slow. David Chu, for example, was just recently confirmed as undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. The service secretaries, who are responsible for manning, training and equipping the force, were confirmed just before Memorial Day.
Still, the secretary is "thinking outside the box" about many issues and, though he has made no decisions yet, is asking questions and getting answers.
He said he is studying the problems posed by high operations tempo. He said DoD must find a way to manage optempo so that it doesn't "overuse" service members and their equipment.
"I think we have been (overusing our people)," he said. "I think that during a time that we reduced our forces so substantially, we then increased the tempo of their use by several multiples. At some point, this has to stop." He said DoD is looking at all missions and will be making some suggestions about how to better manage the pace and tempo of those activities.
Another aspect Rumsfeld is looking at is tour length. "It's not clear to me that people should serve in their positions (only) 12, 14, 18 months. That's the case with a very high number of people, both officers and enlisted," he said.
He said longer tours might help people learn their jobs better, and they would cut down on moves. There's another reason he's eyeing longer tours. Today's short tours mean people make decisions and leave before they see the results.
It would be helpful, he said, if people stuck around long enough to see and learn from any mistakes they might make. And, of course, people will make mistakes. "But the important thing is to not keep making the same ones," Rumsfeld said.
Another personnel aspect he is examining is the current system of "up or out." "I keep talking to our most talented people, officer and enlisted, and when they get into their 40s, they start thinking about doing something else -- should they retire, should they step aside?" he said. He muses whether it makes sense to recruit and train people, benefit from their service and then suggest they leave when they still have many years of service potential.
He said he recognizes the problems of grade compression and the need to keep career paths open. "I was talking to a very senior enlisted man the other day who is at the top of his game. He's 46 years old and he's about ready to leave. I asked myself, 'If this were a corporation, would we want the very best to be leaving right then?' It's not clear to me we would."
Rumsfeld said he has not addressed force size or structure yet. Rather, he is trying to define the problems the United States will face in the world over the next 15 years and what kind of capabilities it will need to deal effectively with "those threats, those issues, those problems that undoubtedly will be coming at us."
He said the fact that United States has a vibrant and prosperous economy "is underpinned by the men and women of the armed forces. They are critical to (peace) continuing well into this century. That alone merits our respect and merits our understanding and merits our support."