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Town Hall Meeting
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld,, Aviano Air Base, Italy,, Friday, February 07, 2003

Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Thank you.  It's great to be here.

Colonel Ryder, thank you so much.   Colonel Scarpolini, where are you?  There you are.  Thank you for your hospitality.  Distinguished Italian officials of government and posts here, we deeply appreciate your hospitality and your support for this wonderful base and for the men and women in uniform.  General Moorhead, it's good to see you, and men and women of the armed forces.

I thank you for that welcome.  Without any question, the best part of my job as secretary of Defense of the United States is to occasionally have the opportunity to get out of the Pentagon and come and look people in the eye and say thank you.  Thank you.  You are representative of folks that are folks that are stationed all across the globe standing watch on the frontiers of freedom.  We are grateful.  I am grateful.   The president is grateful and the American people are grateful, and you must know that.

On the other hand, as I look around this base and at the skyline and those mountains and the snow, you're pretty lucky to be here.  It's a good spot.  I can see why the folks that are here like it so much.  It's a beautiful place.

I understand it also has a proud history as cradle of the Italian air force and as the cradle of military transformation.  I'm told it was here in 1911, just eight years after Wilbur and Orville Wright had their successful flight, that the Italian military established its first flying school here.  Five years later, Italy, I'm told, launched its first, although possibly unauthorized, air raid when two Italian air force pilots bombed some Austrian targets at Pula.  They returned as heroes, and ever since Aviano has been a home to heroes, Italians and Americans alike, brave men and women who put their lives on the line to defend freedom and the values we all hold dear.

This is true today.  Each of you is here to help defend our country from the very dangerous threats that we face.  You weren't drafted.  You weren't conscripted.  You stepped forward.  You volunteered.  You did so because of your love of country, and your country is truly grateful.

The attacks on September 11th were devastating.  But if one thinks about it, those attacks on September 11th were, in a very real sense, conventional.  They took airplanes loaded with jet fuel, flew them into buildings, used them as missiles, and killed some 3,000 innocent men, women and children, young and old alike, from dozens of countries, from every religion.

But what we're facing today is something that's really quite different.  We're facing terrorist networks and terrorist states that are developing or have weapons of mass destruction, capabilities that could enable them to kill 3,000, to be sure, but potentially 30,000 or 300,000 innocent men, women and children.

Our objective, your mission, in the global war on terrorism, is to see that attacks of that magnitude, of that lethality, do not happen.  Your task, our task, is to disrupt terrorists and terrorist networks and states that harbor terrorists, and do everything humanly possible to see that they do not get their hands on those powerful weapons.   You're what stands between freedom and fear, between the safety of our people and an evil that cannot be appeased, it cannot be ignored, and it must not be allowed to win.

The hopes of mankind depend on your success.  You're doing a magnificent job, and it is appreciated by all of us.

It's never easy to be far from home, no matter what the mission.  It's tough on you, and it can be tough on your families as well.  I see families here, and that's wonderful.

Others endure separation from their families, and those families, of course, cope with all the problems of daily life without your presence, without your support.  They too serve our country, those families, and we say to them this afternoon, to those that are here and indeed to those that are home, that we're grateful to you for those sacrifices, and we thank you as well.

We also thank our Italian allies, the brave men and women of the Italian armed forces who make such an important contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom.  They're doing a fine job in Afghanistan, as they have in supporting the efforts here and elsewhere.  Italy is an ally in the truest sense of the word, and we thank those from Italy for your friendship and for your steadfastness as well as your hospitality.

Shortly after September 11th, President Bush made a promise to the nation and, indeed, to the world.  He said, "We will not waver.  We will not tire.  We will not falter.  And we will not fail.”  You are the ones delivering on that promise, and seeing you here today, I know that that promise will be kept.  I thank you for all your doing for peace and freedom.  May God bless you all.  Thank you very much.

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