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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with American Forces Radio and Television

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
June 01, 2001

Tuesday, May 29, 2001

Q: -- when you got out of college was fly a plane for the Navy. How did your naval aviation experience influence the careers that you went on to have in both business and government?

Rumsfeld: My father was on an aircraft carrier in World War II, and I grew up in the early '40s crawling over airplanes at Coronado, California and living in a blimp base in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and waiting for an aircraft carrier to be finished up in Bremerton, Washington. It became very much a part of my life. It was not even a close question as to whether I'd go in the service. It was predetermined almost from that experience in World War II. And I wanted to fly, so I did. It was a great experience. An enormously important experience in my life. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

I stayed in the Reserves for a good many years after I left the Navy and came to Washington and started to work on Capitol Hill. It is important work. It is something that is so critically important to our nation that it gave me and gave my father before me great pride in being able to serve our country.

Q: How did it prepare you for your later careers?

Rumsfeld: Oh, goodness. I don't know really, except that you get an awful lot of responsibility at a young age in the military which tends not to be the case out in the private sector as much. It certainly gives you a sense of an individual citizen's responsibility to our country to serve in the military. I was a supporter of the all volunteer military when I was a member of Congress, but one of the downsides to it is that an awful lot of people in our country really don't have the opportunity to serve that they used to be required to serve, and that's too bad in a sense.

On the other hand, the young men and women who come into our armed forces every year are self-selected because they want to be there and they bring that enthusiasm and that dedication and patriotism and eagerness to serve which is so important in making our armed forces what they are today.

Q: You've had three major periods of contact with the U.S. military: in the '50s as a naval aviator, in the '70s as the secretary of defense, again in 2001 as the secretary of defense. Do you sense a change in the way the people of the United States support their military over that almost 50-year period?

Rumsfeld: Well it's a more than 50 year period because I also had a very close contact when my father was in the Navy, so it's really been four periods. And of course during World War II the feeling of the country behind the military was near complete. We needed to win that victory and we did as a country.

So we went from a high level of support on the part of the society, and of course there were problems during the Vietnam War. I was here in Washington during that period in Congress, and in the White House, and then as Ambassador to NATO, and there was a decline.

I just talked to our Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz this morning and he said that he just was up in New York for the events there over the weekend. And that he was just thrilled to feel the sense of support from average citizens in the street, at the events, and I sense that as well.

I think where we may have started here when I was a young child in World War II and it dipped down during the Vietnam War period, I think it's coming back and I think there's a great respect and an increased understanding for the importance of the work that the men and women in the armed services do.

Q: One of the initiatives outlined in your quality of life review was a need to reengage the American people with their military. Do you believe that's necessary? How do you want to go about it?

Rumsfeld: Well, I do think it's necessary. If you think of our society, we are enjoying a wonderfully prosperous world economy and it has its ups and downs but it is basically as strong and healthy and vital and dynamic as it could be.

That is underpinned by the men and women of the armed forces. It is -- You can't have that kind of economic strength in our world without a relatively peaceful and relatively stable world. And the men and women in the United States armed forces are the underpinning of that economic prosperity. They are critical to its continuing well into this century. That alone, it seems to me, merits our respect and merits our understanding and merits our support.

Q: There was a time during the draft and earlier when most adult American men in this country had been in the military.

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Q: It was true of most of Congress, most of the captains of industry, most men served in the military before they began a career in something else. Is the nation the poorer that that's not the case anymore?

Rumsfeld: Well, as in most things you gain something and you lose something. We've gained something important by having an all-volunteer military. We have people there who want to be there. They're self-selected. They're interested and eager and dedicated and care. And we have a greater stability than we did when we brought into the intake every single young, in those days young man, of a certain age and they served for a short period and then we put them back out on the street.

That was wasteful, in a sense, because it's churning. Any company that ran like that, of course, would go broke. So we've gained something. And you're right, we've lost something as well.

I feel it's unfortunate, less for the country and more for the individuals who don't have the opportunity to serve.

I think it is true that a much smaller fraction of the men and women of the United States serve in the military, have served in the military today than during earlier periods when we had the draft.

On the other hand, it is, when I weigh it, I think we're better off the way we are than we were the way we were before.

Q: You clearly value your experience.

Rumsfeld: Oh, my goodness. And my father valued his. And I wouldn't trade it for anything. I think that it's too bad that so many young men and women don't have the opportunity to serve, or don't seize the opportunity to serve because I think it's such a special experience.

Q: Let's talk about quality of life.

Rumsfeld: Yes, sir.

Q: Any time an organization gets a new man at the top, whether it's a four or five person office or the Defense Department, there's a great buzz. What's the new guy going to do? Part of my questions are what's the new guy going to do?

You're reported to be considering some major changes to military personnel policies. Can you tell us what some of those are, and what you plan to recommend?

Rumsfeld: I certainly would if I knew. What I have -- We've just this last, within a day or two, have had Dr. David Chu confirmed by the United States Senate. He will be sworn in shortly as the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness. He will be the individual that will be looking at a great deal of the issues, a great man of the issues that are important in this area. And the three service secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force were just confirmed last week as well, so they will be coming in. And of course they have a great interest in this subject.

The president of the United States has a personal interest. During his campaign and since he's been in office he has on a number of occasions pointed out his interest in seeing that the compensation for the men and women of the armed services is competitive with the civilian manpower market. He's indicated through his visits, for example to places like Fort Stewart, that he believes that the housing should be appropriate for the men and women in the armed services and feels that a great deal of it is not appropriate, and that the country, the government of the United States, has not been a good steward. That we haven't put ourselves on a path where we can be comfortable that we're treating the men and women in the armed services in a way that reflects the importance of their service to our country.

There are some things that I'm thinking about, apart from those kinds of things, and clearly morale is a lot more than housing and it's also a matter of the facilities you work in. It is also how you feel about what you're doing. Do you feel that your service is recognized and valued and that your relationships among your peers and with your superiors is what it ought to be. That you have opportunities for promotion and opportunities to make a contribution. And that there is an understanding of that.

There are a few things that I've looked at that I don't quite -- I haven't been able to develop a comfort level that I know what the answer is.

But for example, I look at the optempo, so to speak, the pace at which we are using our armed forces, and I agree with the president. I think it's something we've got to address. We have to manage it in a way that we do not over-use the people, that we don't over-use our equipment, for example, and over-use the human beings who are so critically important to our success. And I think we have been.

I think during a period when we drew down our forces substantially we then increased the tempo of their use by several multiples. And at some point that has to stop. We intend, we are currently looking across the globe at all the things we're doing, and we will be making some suggestions as to how we think we ought to better manage the pace and tempo of our activities.

There are several other things I'm looking at. And again, I assure you I don't know the answers. But Dr. Chu and the Chiefs and the new Service Secretaries and I will be talking about these after they're confirmed. Thus far, they're just impressions.

It's not clear to me that people should serve in their positions in the armed forces an average of only 12, 14, 15, 18 months, and that's the case with a very high number of people -- both officers and enlisted. I'm looking at that. It seems to me that having somewhat longer tours would be better.

For one thing, there would be fewer permanent changes of station. For another thing, people would get to know their jobs better. For still another reason, it seems to me that it's helpful for people to see some mistakes that they make as they go through life. And if you skip along the tops of the waves and you're gone before you ever have a chance to see the mistake you made and learn from it -- And we don't expect people not to make mistakes. Of course people make mistakes. But the important thing is to not keep making the same ones.

If you're in a position only a few months and then you're gone, I think that's not probably a great thing.

The other thing is I'm a little, I'm musing over the fact that I keep talking to our most talented people -- officer and enlisted -- and when they get in their 40s they start thinking about doing something else. Should they retire, should they step aside, is the system kind of expecting you to leave at a certain point? And it's not clear to me that we ought to bring people in, train them, benefit from their fine service, and then when they have so many years of wonderful service potential left, to suggest that it's time for them to move out.

I recognize the problems of compression and various other things. People are living longer. And I was talking to a very senior enlisted man the other day who's at the top of his game and he's 46 years old and he's about ready to leave. I asked myself, my goodness, if this were a corporation, would we want the very best to be leaving right then? It's not clear to me we would.

Q: Two things that you've said...

Rumsfeld: I'm just thinking about those things. I'm not making any announcements.

(Laughter)

Rumsfeld: I may still need to get educated a lot more than I have thus far.

Q: The two things that you've said that would affect in particular the overseas audience, which we largely represent, does that mean longer overseas tours, for example?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know. Again, I am very sincere when I said I've been here four months. I'm still trying to get a good sense of the implications of all of this. I'm anxious to have the people who are experts and knowledgeable about these areas engage them. But I see an awful lot of deployment orders for 179 days, and it's not clear to me that makes an awful lot of sense either. That's just under the threshold.

Q: You mentioned optempo. Frequent deployments have become a major item in the last few years -- Bosnia, Kosovo, one of them. Many years ago Secretary of Defense William Perry told us that we would know the end of our deployment there when we saw it. Have you seen it?

Rumsfeld: Where? In Bosnia?

Q: Yes.

Rumsfeld: No, I haven't. We went in with our NATO and coalition partners, and we have, since the forces have been there they have contributed to a more stable situation. The original concept was that they would be there, Secretary Perry said a year initially. And it's been what, four or five. But the original concept, as I've been briefed, is that the military task at some point would end and the way that stability could continue would be for non-military -- police, civil order capabilities -- would be substituted for the military forces. And the problem I see is that that hasn't been done yet. That process has lagged behind.

And of course as long as you've got armed forces there it doesn't need to happen. It only needs to happen if in fact the intent as originally indicated is that the armed forces would eventually be able to leave and leave a stable situation in the hands of people who have provided that stability of a civil order and police forces and court systems and that type of thing.

I think we need more effort on that side, and until we have it obviously we and our NATO allies intend to stay there and to contribute to the stable situation that exists.

Q: One of the major initiatives of the Bush Administration has been education. Mrs. Bush in particular has been supporting the Troops to Teachers program. How is that going to be reflected in the Defense Department in terms of training and education for service members and for their children in the DODDS schools?

Rumsfeld: That is something that David Chu as he comes in as under secretary, will be addressing. And we'll be working on. But I'm really not at a point where I could add any light to that.

Q: The Washington Times reports this morning that $8 billion is going for health care next year and $12 billion for housing and facilities. Are they close to getting that right?

Rumsfeld: Oh, my goodness, I haven't seen the article nor do I have any idea where those numbers came from.

Q: Okay.

Recent improvements in military medical care have focused mostly on retirees just recently. Are you working on any improvements for military members and their families? Active duty members and their families?

Rumsfeld: There again that falls in the area of Dr. Chu and the under secretary for personnel who has not had one day in this building yet as the new under secretary.

The president of the United States has asked the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense to look at ways they might work together to the benefit of both veterans and active duty military. There are places, for example, where there is a VA hospital or a military hospital but not both. The question he has raised, which he indicated he's forming a task force to take a look at it just last week, involves cooperation in various areas.

Another area that I've talked to Secretary Principi about is the issue of what kind of buying power might we have, for example, with respect to pharmaceuticals if there was a greater degree of cooperation, and mightn't we be able to do a better job for the men and women in the armed forces in that regard.

Q: If you had just one message for people in the military on quality of life, what would it be to them at this time?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know that it would be quality of life. It would be -- a single message is that they are appreciated. That in fact we care greatly about them and what they're doing, and we recognize that the work they do is important work, it's noble work. They voluntarily put their lives at risk which very few people in our society do. They do it willingly, and they do it with a great deal of patriotism and dedication and for that we're grateful.

Q: Early on, right after you were sworn in, you told Jim Lehrer that you thought it might be a good idea to take a look at things before you opened the public wallet, if I've quoted you more or less correctly.

Rumsfeld: I did. I think I said the president felt we ought to engage our brains before we engage our pocketbooks.

Q: Do you have an idea of when we're going to be ready to engage the pocketbook?

Rumsfeld: They certainly are going to have to get a 2001 budget supplemental up to the Hill very fast. There's no question but that the services are running low on funds. It is not a good practice to be dependent on a supplemental budget from Congress. In fact it is a poor practice. And it's been the rhythm for the last four or five years. And it is not the way to run a railroad, in my humble opinion. The president hopes we won't have to do supplementals in future years and I agree with him.

But we're in this situation and we simply have to have a supplemental and we have to get the Congress to act on it promptly, and we have to see that the services have the kinds of funds they're going to need to finish out this fiscal year.

Q: Thank you very much, sir. We'll let you get back to running the railroad.

Rumsfeld: Okay, thank you.

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