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Town Hall Meeting, MacDill Air Force Base
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Tampa, Florida,, Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Thank you very much.

Thank you very much, Colonel.  I appreciate that.

Well there's Dale Dailey sitting over there, so I know we've got some folks from the Special Operations Command.  Who's here from that command?  Are there very many folks here?

There are some hands.  Good.

And I see John Abizaid over here, General Abizaid.  It's good to see you and Lance Smith.  We have folks from CENTCOM here too, huh?  Not many.  There are some, all right.  Up in the balcony.  Good.

Everyone else is from the wing?

Rodeo champions?

That's what the Colonel told me!

We also have someone here who is a broken down ex-Cabinet officer like I am, and he's now the United States Senator from the State of Florida, my friend and my former colleague in the Cabinet Mel Martinez.  Mel, would you stand up and say hello?

Well, I am very pleased to be here.  We've had some good briefings with General Brown and with General Abizaid.  I must say that the work that you folks do is so impressive and so appreciated, and I hope you know that.

The able teams of people here that are some here, some overseas with your wing, some overseas with CENTCOM and with the Special Operations Command are doing a superb job for our country and the American people recognize that.  I want you to know that you individually and collectively have my respect and my admiration for what you do.

I value very highly an opportunity to be able to look you in the eye and tell you that because it is heartfelt.

We meet here at a time when the world has seen some terrible natural disasters.  We've seen Katrina and Rita along our Gulf Coast.  The situation down in Central America and Guatemala is very serious and something that General Abizaid and our Southern Command representing the American people are working very hard to try to assist those folks who have suffered such a terrible tragedy.

We know what's happened in Pakistan and to some extent along the Indian border and the Afghan border.  Enormous numbers of people killed and homeless and suffering.  General Abizaid and his team have been working with all of us day in and day out in recent days to attempt to see that we can do everything humanly possible to assist those folks in what looks to be one of the worst natural disasters that I've ever heard of, and something that we do not still have really good visibility into in terms of situational awareness on the ground because of the bad weather and the fact that most of the roads and the passes and the bridges have been completely destroyed.  We've had very little ability to look at it from the air and make an assessment.  But the government of Pakistan is working those problems hard.

I talked to President Musharraf last evening and I was interested that he particularly mentioned the fact that Afghanistan is assisting, their neighbor Afghanistan, which is a good thing to see that cooperation.  And he made a particular point of mentioning also that along the line of control in Kashmir where there was damage as well, the Indian government and the Pakistan government are cooperating and working well together.

Certainly we're going to do whatever we can to come to the aid of our good friends and allies at this time of their suffering and we extend our sympathy and our prayers to those who have lost loved ones and are struggling to recover.

In the past year our country and other parts of the world have, as I mentioned, suffered a number of natural disasters that have affected millions of people and thousands of communities -- if you go back to the tsunami in South Asia and the damage that was done there so recently, to say nothing about the ones I've mentioned.  These disasters have caused a great deal of harm and a lot of death and dislocation but they've also shown the truly heartfelt compassion and professionalism of the men and women in the United States military.

General Abizaid joined us in Washington a couple of weeks ago to brief Congress and the American people on the progress that you folks in CENTCOM and Southern Command and the Wing have helped make possible.

If you consider what's been achieved in the Global War on Terror since September 11th, 2001:

  • Iraq and Afghan security forces are taking increasing responsibility for defending their homelands against terrorists;
  • Our global coalition is putting great pressure on the enemy -- all across the globe, staying on the attack and keeping the terrorists on the run;
  • Millions of Afghans and Iraqis defied terrorist bombings, intimidation and went ahead and cast their votes for new democratic governments in the case of Afghanistan, in probably the first popularly elected President in 5,000 years.  It's an amazing accomplishment, what's taken place there.

And let there be no doubt, the people who agree to run and serve in those posts are under constant threat of assassination, of punishment for them, their families, their friends, their neighbors, and they've shown enormous courage.  Anyone who denigrates that courage or suggests that the Iraqi security forces, for the sake of argument, or the Afghan security forces aren't doing a good job I think misunderstands the situation.

The Afghan security forces today are losing people killed in action twice the rate of our coalition.  They are out there doing their job.  They are out there defending their country.  And they are out there doing so at the risk not only of their lives but in some cases at the risk of the lives of their families.

Nonetheless, there seems to be growing confusion and some misunderstanding, at least in certain circles, about America, and about the nature of the Global War on Terror that our country's fighting.

Many of you have undoubtedly heard questions asked about why are our forces fighting this war in Afghanistan or in Iraq?

How might you answer them?

Well, you can tell those who ask such questions that you and your friends across the world are standing on the front lines to protect them and to safeguard their freedoms as well as your own.

And you can tell them something else -- that America is not what's wrong with this world.  What's wrong with this world are the terrorists, the beheaders, the hostage takers, the assassins -- the people our force are fighting every day in a number of locations -- they're what's wrong with the world.  And our country's finest men and women are out there meeting them every day.

To those that may ask you what's your mission, what is it that you're about?

You can tell them it's not to cower behind illusory defenses, that defenses don't work.  We need to defend, but the only way to put pressure on the attackers is to go after them where they are, let there be no doubt.  Nor is it to wait for danger to return to our shores as it did on September 11th.

Your mission is to be on the offense, it's to go on the attack.  That's what our forces are doing.  They're engaging the enemies where they live so that they do not attack us where we live.

Some may ask, well what's the goal of this Global War on Terror?  What's the goal of the effort in Iraq or Afghanistan?

Well, tell them it's victory.  Unconditional, unapologetic, and unyielding.  And you can tell them one more thing.  That we know and we appreciate the cost of war, and it is costly.  It's costly in time away from families; it's costly when one visits the wounded in the hospitals in Washington at Bethesda and Walter Reed and elsewhere around the country; it's costly in its pain and the tragedies that war involves; and every loss of life and every injury weighs on our hearts and on the hearts of America.

You confront a deadly enemy today far from America's shores and it's the only means to secure our freedom and peace.  You fight today so that our children and their children might not have to experience the heartbreak of something like September 11th.

And the men and women in uniform -- you and your associates all across the globe -- are displaying resolute courage, the kind of courage that's defined our country through the generations.

I am deeply grateful to you, to all of you, to each of you, to your families because they serve as well.  And I thank each of you for what you do.

Now I'd be happy to answer some questions.

For a complete transcript, including questions and answers, please visit:

http://www.dod.mil/transcripts/2005/tr20051013-secdef4063.html