Ray Sisk [VFW Commander-in-Chief]: The Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld became the 21st Secretary of Defense in January 2001. Under the direction of the President, he has deployed American combat troops into Afghanistan and Iraq and American peacekeeping troops into Liberia. As Secretary he has directed the military global war on terrorism. At the same time, back in the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld has taken the initiative to streamline and better integrate the National Guard and the Reserves with our active duty forces, is reviewing all active duty missions that could be better accomplished by the private sector and has asked Congress for sweeping authority to change the way Department of Defense may use its Federal Civil Service workforce.
Mr. Rumsfeld brings an unusually high degree of energy, intelligence, and experience to the job. Some highlights include the fact that he was President Ford’s Secretary of Defense, the U.S. Ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the military arm of United Nations and he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 8 years.
Mr. Rumsfeld completed a successful military career in the Navy first as an active duty aviator and later in the Navy Reserves where he retired as a Captain. Mr. Rumfeld has been the Chairman of the worldwide pharmaceutical corporation G.D. Searle and Company, the Chief Executive Officer of General Instruments Corporation and Chairman of Gilead Science Incorporated.
The one thing Mr. Rumsfeld has not done in his 46 years of public service is to address the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Therefore, it is my unique privilege and pleasure to introduce to you the Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense.
Rumsfeld: Thank you Sir.
Thank you very much. Thank you.
Thank you very much. Commander-in-Chief Ray Sisk thank you so much for that kind introduction and for your able leadership of this important organization. I appreciate your invitation to join you today a great deal and I thank you for that very warm welcome.
Admiral Dymock, I too want to join in expressing our appreciation to the people of your country and to the brave men and women serving in Iraq and in Operation Enduring Freedom as our Coalition partners. They’re doing a superb job, thank you Sir.
Veterans of Foreign Wars: it’s an honor to stand before 6,000 American heroes. When America was threatened, when freedom’s adversaries were on the march, you answered your country’s call. You stepped forward risking your lives in far away mountains and arid deserts, in perilous skies and on the high seas to defend freedom and to liberate those trapped by tyranny and oppression. Because of your courage and because of your willingness to serve Americans still live as free people, your country is grateful to you. And I can assure you of this, your legacy of courage, of honor and dedication to duty is alive and well in the men and women of today’s Armed Forces.
At this moment, brave soldiers, sailor, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen are following in your footsteps and risking their lives in the global war on terror. They are remarkable. I know that you share America’s pride and their truly outstanding service, and in this time of conflict I suspect you also feel a special personal bond with each of them. You are showing your solidarity in many ways. More than 500 VFW Posts have adopted military units deployed in the global war on terror. Through Operation Uplink members of the VFW and Ladies Auxiliary have distributed I’m told over 3.5 million pre-paid calling cards to our deployed forces. Those efforts mean a great deal to the troops and to their families back home and I want to salute Bud Haney, the Director of VFW’s Military Assistance program and Betty Morris, President of the Ladies Auxiliary and the countless others who have worked so hard in recent months to support the troops. Thank you both so very much.
And to the men and women gathered here I say thank you for standing up for our country and thank you most of all for standing behind our troops. They are without question the best in the world.
What those courageous young people have accomplished in Iraq, Afghanistan and across the globe is inspiring. Think about it, just five months ago the Iraqi people lived lives of desperation. Death squads roamed the streets and thousands of men, women and children were murdered in cold blood – their remains to be piled into mass graves. And today the era of torture and mass graves is over. That regime is gone, the Iraqis are embracing newfound freedom and slowly reclaiming their country.
Scores of our troops have chosen to re-enlist while still serving in Iraq, not withstanding the hardships and there are hardships to be sure -- heat, exhaustion, death squads, dust storms, friends lost in combat. They know they are part of something truly important and they are part of something truly important, let there be no doubt. It’s important for our nation, it’s important for the countries where they’re deployed and it is important to the region and we know it’s important to this world. They liberated Iraq, removing the regime in less than a month while sparing innocent civilians and preserving Iraq’s infrastructure. It was a breathtaking accomplishment.
Today they continue to search for U.S. and allied POWs from the 1991 Persian Gulf War including Captain Scott Speicher. We will leave no one behind in Iraq or in any of those missing from World War II, Vietnam, Korea, the Cold War or other past conflicts.
Those who fight the global war on terror may be using weapons that are more lethal and more precise than any that were available to you but their success is made possible by the same thing that made your success possible, the courage in their hearts and the conviction in their souls. There is another thing that’s not changed: we still face determined adversaries, as we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, the dead-enders are still with us, those remnants of the defeated regimes who’ll go on fighting long after their cause is lost. There are some today who are surprised that there are still pockets of resistance in Iraq, and they suggest that this represents some sort of failure on the part of the Coalition. But this is not the case. Indeed I suspect that some of you in this hall today, especially those who served in Germany during World War II or in the period immediately after the war were not surprised that some Ba’athists have kept on fighting. You will recall that some dead-enders fought on during and after the defeat of the Nazi regime in Germany.
Here’s how war correspondent Martha Gellhorn described conditions in Germany after the arrival of allied forces. She said, “At night the Germans take pot shots at Americans or string wires across the roads or they burn the houses of Germans who accept posts in the military government or they booby trap ammunition dumps or motorcycles or anything that is likely to be touched.”
One group of those dead-enders was known as “werewolves.” They and other Nazi regime remnants targeted allied soldiers and they targeted Germans who cooperated with the allied forces. Mayors were assassinated including the American appointed Mayor of Achen, the first major German city to be liberated. Children as young as ten were used as snipers, radio broadcast and leaflets warned Germans not to collaborate with the Allies. They plotted sabotage of factories, power plants, rail lines. They blew up police stations and government building, and they destroyed stocks of art and antiques that were stored by the Berlin museum. Does this sound familiar?
Like the death squads in Iraq they failed to stop the liberation of Germany and they failed in rousing the population of Germany to widespread revolt. Indeed as one historian put it, “Werewolf intimidation only increased public hatred of the Nazi regime…German civilians sometimes led allied troops straight to where werewolf supply caches.” The vast majority of the German people like the vast majority of the Iraqi people were glad to be rid of the tyrannical dictatorship.
Today the Nazi dead-enders are largely forgotten, cast to the sidelines of history because they comprised a failed resistance and managed to kill our Allied forces in a war that saw millions fight and die. But in Operation Iraqi Freedom millions did not fight and die.
That country was liberated with fewer casualties and less destruction than probably any war in modern history. And so, in light of that success, the resistance our Coalition faces today may appear more significant than otherwise might have been the case. There are differences to be sure.
The challenges in Iraq today are in some respects more difficult. Unlike the Nazi regime, the Iraqi regime never surrendered, the surviving remnants disappeared into the population. In Iraq moreover we’re dealing not just with regime remnants but also with tens of thousands of criminals that were released from the jails by the regime before it fell, as well as terrorists and foreign fighters who have entered the country over the borders to try to oppose the Coalition. They pose a challenge to be sure but they also pose an opportunity because Coalition forces can deal with the terrorists now in Iraq instead of having to deal with those terrorists elsewhere, including the United States.
So the threats our forces face today in Iraq are somewhat different but the result will be the same. The dead-enders in Germany failed just as the Ba’athists, the terrorists and foreign fighters in Iraq today will fail. Coalition forces are going after them, rooting them out, capturing or killing them. They will be defeated but it will take patience.
Another big difference is that with 24-hour news each setback in Iraq is repeated and repeated and repeated as if it were 10 or 20 setbacks. And the progress that’s being made, and let there be no doubt, solid progress is being made is often not deemed sufficiently newsworthy to report. But I believe the American people have a good center of gravity. They know that were engaged in a difficult and dangerous war, that there will be set backs as well as successes in Iraq and elsewhere across the globe and that victory will require as it always does patience, persistence, and sacrifice. Fortunately these are virtues that Americans have in abundance. Each of you here today is living proof of that truth. And with that arsenal of courage and conviction at our disposal the outcome of this war is not in doubt, we will prevail.
And as we do so, we will make certain that our troops have everything they need to fight and win the war on terror.
Today some are calling for an increase in end strength, the number of military forces we have under arms. And before I close just let me comment briefly about this because as veterans you understand certainly better than any that our nation’s most important resource is our people, the people who wear the nation’s uniform.
The United States can afford whatever military force level is necessary and appropriate for our national security. I’m advised that current analysis by the Joint Chiefs of Staff indicates that at the present time we have sufficient active and reserve forces to conduct and execute successfully the missions that have been assigned. And I know that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Dick Myers will be joining you for this meeting later today. If at any time that were not the case, neither General Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs or I would hesitate for a minute to recommend appropriate increases to the President of the United States. But absent such analysis it seems to me that it would be a mistake to rush to such a conclusion.
And I can assure you of one other thing. The number of troops currently in Iraq is the number of troops that the Combatant Commander, John Abizaid has asked for. He has been told directly by the President and by the Secretary of Defense that if he believes that additional troops are needed, he will have additional troops. Let there be no doubt.
In recent years we’ve been fortunate to achieve increases in defense spending but in every budget as you all know, the reality is that we have to make difficult choices. And an increase in end strength would require cuts in other portions of the budget. At the moment the Department is working on a number of initiatives both to develop new capabilities, to ease the stress on the force and among other things we’re working to improve the “jointness” of our forces.
General Tommy Franks did a superb job in the Iraq war and [Applause]. And he deserves the thanks and appreciation of the American people. One of the interesting things he did do and our forces did, they fought a truly joint war. It was not a matter of the Army and Navy and Air Force doing their thing and trying to de-conflict from each other, on the contrary they were eminently connected at every level and the result was a leverage and a synergy that added force and lethality to what it was he was doing and he deserves a great deal of credit for that. So we’re working to improve the “jointness” of our forces and to fix the deployment in re-deployment system so that it’s faster, more nuanced and more respectful of our troops and their families.
To invest in new information age technologies, precision weapons, unmanned air and sea vehicles and other less manpower intensive platforms and technologies. To increase our intelligence capabilities, pare down our foreign commitments that have been there in some cases too long, and to review and adjust our global footprint so that it fits the 21st Century. We’re doing these things and we’re also working with Congress on legislation that will allow us to move uniformed personnel out of non-military jobs. It could free up just a small – if we could free up just a small fraction of the very large number of military people who are currently performing tasks that are not military tasks, we could increase end strength, active end strength, military uniformed end strength by as many as 20 to 25,000 troops.
Congress is currently considering legislation also that would permit us to do this, the Defense Transformation Act. We need their help to provide us the flexibility necessary to get our uniformed forces out of non-military tasks so they can fight the global war on terror. But you can be sure of this also, we know that – well it’s vital that we have more troops, more tanks, more planes than are necessary as opposed to having one too few tank, plane, or troop.
Veterans, you are the greatest champions of the men and women in uniform. I salute your devotion to duty, your love of flag and love of country. Our nation is free today, our people are free today because brave veterans like you risked your lives on Omaha Beach, at Inchon, at Pork Chop Hill, Danang and indeed more recently at Mazar-e-Sharif and Shah-I kot and in Basra and in Baghdad. So I thank you, I thank each of you and I thank your families.
May God bless you and may God bless our wonderful country. Thank you.
Thank you very much.