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Secretary Rumsfeld Townhall Meeting in Kyrgyzstan

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
April 14, 2005
Secretary Rumsfeld Townhall Meeting in Kyrgyzstan

            RUMSFELD:  Thank you, sir.  Mr. Ambassador.  Folks from the Spanish contingent.  Greetings.

 

            I didn't get a good sense of the breakdown of the Air Force, the Army, the Marines and the Navy.  Is there anyone from the Navy in here?

 

            There's one!  [Laughter].  All right. 

 

            What about the Marines?  That's pretty good.

 

            The Army?  Very good.

 

            The Air Force?  I think I get it.  [Laughter].

 

            I am delighted to be here.  I have had quite a week.  I'm trying to think when we left the United States.  I think it was Monday.  We spent some time in Iraq, had a chance to talk to troops there and meet with the government that's going out and the government that's going to be coming in, to move around the country a bit and to get a sense as to the progress.

 

            It's a worrisome thing.  You go in there and you see improvements every time you go.  I guess I've been in there eight or nine times now.  The progress is real.  The successful election was impressive.  The government is rational and constructive.  If you think about it, the Sunnis stayed out of the election, which they made a big mistake in doing it, they understand they made a big mistake in staying out of the election.  The Shia that had been the lowest on the totem pole in that country for decades while the minority Sunnis ran it prevailed and yet their approach is one that's constructive.  They're reaching out to the Sunni community.  They recognize the importance of seeing that they have one country and that it's respectful of all of the various groups in the country.  The Kurds have of course had difficulties with the Saddam Hussein regime over the decades.  Chemical weapons were used against them and they'd been living in a good deal of fear.  They are constructive and leaning in as is everyone in the country.

 

            It isn't an easy thing to go from a despotism to a democracy.  Thomas Jefferson once said you [ought] not to expect to move from despotism to democracy on a featherbed.  That's for sure.  It's a tough business.  And they're engaged in the politics of a democratic process which is new to them.  It's unfamiliar, but they're making good headway and the folks that are serving there, I'm trying to think if it's 29 or 30 or 31 or 32 countries, are doing a superb job, they really are.  We're so fortunate they -- They have a task of not only dealing with the insurgency and the risks and the casualties that are occurring almost weekly, but they also are simultaneously engaged in various types of construction and assistance to the Iraq people and a great deal of the focus is now shifting to assisting the Iraqi security forces in developing a proper chain of command and mentoring those people in a way that they're going to be able to take over an increasing amount of the security responsibilities for the country.

 

            The problem I've got is when I go in there I see the progress, I hear the reports, and it's very different from what one reads in the newspaper or the television, because obviously the bad things tend to get reported more than the constructive things and the good things.

 

            So I talked to General Casey.  He showed me a list of all the things that could go wrong down there and could be a problem.  And obviously there are things that can still go wrong because it's not a smooth road.  It's a few steps forward and one back, and a few steps forward and one back.  But they're making good solid progress and we're darn fortunate to have them doing it.

 

            I spent some time in Afghanistan.  I had not been there since -- I was there for the inauguration of President Karzai.  Here's a country that you all, some of you have been in and are en-route out, others are en-route in, and all of you are involved in one way or another with the fact that 25 million people in Afghanistan have been liberated.  They have had the first popularly elected President in 5,000 years.

 

            Again, it's a country quite different from Iraq.  They do not have the oil wealth, they do not have the water wealth, and they've suffered greatly under Soviet occupation.  They suffered in civil war, they suffered with drought, and the people of Afghanistan, nonetheless, went out and voted and took a great risk.  The women voted, which is unheard of in that country, and participated.  They're on a path towards a democratic system.  They're going to have parliamentary elections we think in September, which is an important step.  And the progress there, every time I go in I'm just amazed at the energy on the streets and the activity and the fact that some two million refugees have come back into the country.  They're voting with their feet.  They're saying wherever they were, they want to be where they used to be.  And they're willing to go back into that country and help to build it into a more prosperous and democratic country.

 

            So what's happening in the world is impressive, it's important.  And the role that you folks are playing is significant.

 

            Every one of you I know is a volunteer. You weren't forced to do anything.  You were asked if you would and you held up your hand and said yes.  And that is the strength of what's going on here.

 

            So, I know that you folks are a long ways from your families and that they also sacrifice even though they're not in a war zone or in a difficult situation - they're not living in tents.  I saw the tents when I came by.  I can't imagine what they look like with 10 or 12 inches of snow.  Has anyone been here for that?

 

            Did any of the tents cave in?

 

            Did the heat go out?  [Laughter].  Well, life's like that.

 

            I saw the new buildings going up which is of course a good thing.  I don't know how long before they're going to be occupied, but it looks like progress.  You'll be long gone.  [Laughter].

 

            I had quite an experience last week.  There was a non-commissioned officer in the Army in Iraq who his unit was overtaken by a large group of Saddam Hussein's folks not too far from the Baghdad airport as the war was just moving into Baghdad. 

Instead of leaving, he stayed and they speculate that he killed, I think it was by actual count some 50 of Saddam Hussein's folks who were overrunning the area where his people were.  Saved the lives of probably up to 100 of his unit and people that were behind the unit in I believe it was an emergency hospital where they were taking care of people.  He [his family] was in the White House for the ceremony where President Bush gave him the Medal of Honor.  It was the first Medal of Honor given in the global war on terror.

 

            The next day his widow came over to the Pentagon and in the Pentagon they have a Hall of Heroes where all the names of the people who have received the Medal of Honor are listed.  Audie Murphy from World War II; Theodore Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt; Jimmy Doolittle is there from his raid over Tokyo.  In fact I've been around so long I knew Jimmy Doolittle.  [Laughter].  Not Theodore Roosevelt, [Laughter] that was a little past my time.

 

            But she spoke.  She was German.  He'd married her when she served in Germany and she spoke and reminded everybody of what the American military did in World War II, in effect freeing that continent of Europe and opening up those concentration camps and letting people out.  It was impressive.  She said that what you folks are doing in this generation, have in fact liberated 25 million Afghans, 25 million Iraqis, and that their lives are going to be so notably different because of what is being done.

 

            If you look beyond that and see what's happening in the world, in the Palestinian election that was held; what took place recently in Ukraine; the changes that are taking place in Lebanon where the Syrians are now pulling out of Lebanon.  There is clearly a set of very vivid examples in the great sweep of history is for freedom. And that's the side you're on.  And that's the side to be on. [Applause].

 

            I was in South Korea last year and a reporter came up to me, a woman, stuck a mike in front of my face and she said, they were just having a debate, whether anyone from the Korean military should go serve in Iraq.  She stuck it in my face and she said, "Why in the world should any Korean go halfway around the world to fight a war and get wounded and possibly die in Iraq?"

 

            It was a fair question.  She was young.  She hadn't lived during the Korean War.   Her whole life experience was in a free political system and a free economic system in South Korea. 

 

I have on my desk the Korean Peninsula, a satellite photo at night. It shows the demilitarized zone: North Korea/South Korea. Same people, same resources, same population.  The difference is in the North they have a vicious dictatorship; they have a command economy.  In the South they have a free political system and a free economic system.  And the electricity that is seen from that satellite photo at night in the South, and the totally black country -- nothing except one pin-prick of light in the capital city of Pyongyang.  It just tells everything.

 

            I said to her, look out the window and what do you see?  And I said think of what the folks up north of the DMZ see.  That's why people should do it, and that's why young people from the United States went over to Korea and fought in that war.  That woman and those people in South Korea would not be free today had they not done so.

 

            So my guess is that you're going to look back on this and people are going to, I don't know, five years, ten years, fifteen years, twenty years.  The good Lord willing those two countries and other countries that see that will be on a path of freedom, a path where the people have the right and privilege of helping to guide and direct their country; and the economic opportunities that come from free economic systems.  You'll be able to look back and know in your hearts you were a part of that.  [Applause].

 

            Now I'd like to hear a few questions.  It's late in my clock.  [Cross talk] We've been traveling, so if you have any tough questions -- [Laughter].  If you have any questions that require diplomacy, the Ambassador's right here.  And if you have any nice, easy ones, I'm happy to respond.

 

            I think there are some mikes around.  Why don't folks stick up your hand and – There’s a hand, good. Yes, sir?

 

            QUESTION:  Good afternoon, sir.  I'm Lieutenant Colonel Nick Ojormo from the [inaudible].  I'm a flight surgeon here, stationed at Edwards Air Force Base.

 

            I hope this is not too tough a question, but there's a recent e-mail regarding the resumption of the anthrax vaccination program.  One of my concerns is that [inaudible] program.  Can you give us some insight as to how [inaudible] regarding the resumption of the program and [inaudible]?  Thank you.

 

            RUMSFELD:  I'm going to try and if someone here finds me wandering away from fact, stop me.

 

            The program was mandatory.  It was decided that it should go to the people who were the most likely to be vulnerable and they were the people that were going to be in this area of responsibility prior to the Iraq war.

 

            The courts intervened and decided that for whatever reason there was something about the process in the Food & Drug Administration that had not been properly completed in a manner that was satisfactory and it was stopped completely.  So some people were stopped after having the full - what is it, six shots? And others after five and four and three and two and one or zero.  And we were not allowed to give them.  At some subsequent point a court indicated that it was okay to give it again but on a voluntary basis.  And I think that is, Larry, is -

 

            VOICE:  [Inaudible].

 

            RUMSFELD:  So the FDA gave them interim certification and the rest of the process is still continuing, and apparently it cannot go back to a mandatory arrangement for the people most vulnerable until a higher court changes their mind.  So I guess the short answer to your question as to how it all happened, the answer is: imperfectly.  But there it is.

 

            Question?

 

            QUESTION:  [inaudible] Air Force Base.

 

            My question to you is [inaudible] U.S. forces [inaudible]?

 

            RUMSFELD:  I don't.  It's not certain what will happen.  We've been going through a very extensive global posture review. Our forces in the United States several years ago, four years ago now when I arrived.  We looked at them and they pretty much were still in a Cold War, post-Cold War defensive posture at reduced numbers and they were pretty much where they were and had not been moved much.  But the world had changed. 

 

The Cold War ended 15 years ago and circumstances have changed.  So we have been going over that circumstance in the world and looking at it and deciding that a great many changes needed to be made.  So we're pulling some forces from Korea.  Korea now - South Korea is a healthy economy.  They've got the ability to assume more of the responsibility for the defense of the Republic of Korea.  We're moving forces out of Europe and I think the total is going to be something like 70,000 worldwide and 100,000 dependents and contractors that will be at bases in the United States or Guam or Hawaii or places that, where we have a great deal of flexibility as to how we use the forces.

 

            Second, we are moving forces within areas so that they're positioned in ways that they are usable and flexible.  We're not looking for a Soviet Union tank attack across the north German plain today so we don't need large, heavy divisions, for example, in Germany.

 

            We're getting ourselves arranged for the world as we see it and the kinds of challenges and threats that will be likely to exist prospectively.

 

            It's a complicated task and we have choices, and this base has been terrific to support what's going on in Afghanistan.  That's the basis that we've worked out with the government of Kyrgyzstan.  They've been terrific to allow us to do that.  It's made a big difference in terms of the efficiency and effectiveness of the coalition work in Afghanistan and we're very grateful to the country and to the people of Kyrgyzstan for that.

 

            What we do is at some point if we see a process continuing long enough, we then have to improve facilities somewhat.  And so the work has been going on to try and improve the facilities.  When we leave a facility, we tend to turn it over, back to the country that has been kind enough and generous enough to enable us to use it.

 

            The principles we've had were number one, we didn't want U.S. forces to be places they weren't wanted.  We wanted U.S. forces to be places where they were wanted, where it was hospitable.

 

            Second, we wanted to have maximum flexibility for their use. So we've gone to countries and worked out arrangements whereby we can have forces that can meet any challenge that might occur. The taxpayers of the United States clearly are not going to have one Army to defend South Korea, another Army to defend Germany, another Army to defend some other country.  We have to have "a" military -- Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines -- that are available to be used for the needs of the American people and our friends and allies around the world, and so flexibility makes a big difference.

 

            But we've not made any decisions about that.  We were here for the purpose of working in Afghanistan.  We have an excellent military to military relationship with the government of Kyrgyzstan.  We've not broached that subject with them in any formal way of adjusting this base in some way prospectively.

 

            Question? Yes Sir.

 

            QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, I'm Colonel [inaudible]. My question is in relation to equipping.  We are equipping for our division [inaudible] Afghanistan and Iraq on our stay-behind equipment.  That is [inaudible] an issue that -- The taxpayers spend a lot of money on getting equipment into the country and I was wondering if there was a program to leave aviation equipment, ground equipment, tanks, et cetera, in these host countries to save taxpayers' money. [Inaudible].

 

            RUMSFELD:  Thank you for the question.  It's an important question.  I've received it just the opposite side where the equipment stays in the country and the people who brought it in don't have it when they're back doing their Guard or Reserve duty and wonder how that's going to get fixed.

 

            The short answer is it varies depending on the equipment, depending on the units, but increasingly people are doing what you said, namely recognizing that there's an enormous cost in manpower and dollars to move all that equipment in country.  So we're now having in many instances, particularly the Army, falling in on equipment that's already there to the extent that it's still useable and doesn't require being refurbished or anything.

 

            The difficulty we're having is when those units then go back they don't have the training equipment and we're having to find ways that they can share equipment for training purposes so that they maintain their readiness.  Thank you.

 

            QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, I'm [inaudible] officer, [inaudible] Air Force Base, [inaudible]. Sir, with the [inaudible] military has always been [inaudible] law enforcement, firefighting.  With the civilianization of these jobs and the high ops tempo the [inaudible] is there a trend that indicates this adversely affecting [inaudible].

 

            RUMSFELD:  To what?

 

            QUESTION:  Adversely affect --

 

            RUMSFELD:  I'm sorry.  [Inaudible].

 

            QUESTION:  Sir, with the civilianization of these jobs and the high ops tempo, TDYs, is there a trend that indicates that the recruiting and retention abilities of the armed services, hurts our ability to retain [inaudible] and recruit civilian personnel and to [inaudible]?

 

            RUMSFELD:  I don't think so.  It's probably too early to know and I don't know that we've got enough precise visibility into the motives that people have as to why they decide to reenlist or they decide to join the Guard or Reserve or they decide to be recruited in the first instance.

 

            You're quite right, skill sets make a lot of difference and they are an important attraction to people to come into the armed forces.  I've not heard anything from anyone that would suggest that what you suggested might be the case, is the case.  It doesn't mean it isn't the case because we tend to learn these things after the fact, after the evidence, the information, the data accumulates in sufficient quantity that you can make a judgment like that.

 

            At the present time the Navy and the Air Force have no problems in retention or recruiting.  The ground forces, the Marines and the Army, for the most part have no problem in retention. In fact retention has been, interestingly, even higher with people who served in the Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom.  And their retention is higher than normal.  That of course is the pool that you'd normally draw from for the Guard and Reserve recruiting and because they're staying in, that pool is lower and that's one of the reasons why there are some shortfalls -- one, two, three, four, five, in some places six percent I think -- in some aspects of the recruiting for the Army and even in the Marines I think for the first time a small downtick in recruiting.  But again, not in retention.

 

            But I've not heard anything that suggests that's the case.

 

            I think we've got a stress on the force.  You might not have noticed it but -- [Laughter].  But we do, and we understand that. We knew it was occurring a year ago, year and a half ago.  A lot more recruiters have been put into place. But more importantly, some 35 or 40 things are being done to reduce stress on the force. 

 

           We're increasing the size of the Army, increasing the number of brigades from 33 to 43, and possibly to 48.  We have a process in place that will reduce the number of permanent changes of station that career people will have which will be less stress on families, less difficulties with spouses' employment, and less difficulty with kids getting moved out of school too frequently. The other side of the coin is that it's also and advantage because people stay in their jobs a little bit longer and get a little bit better at it, and from the standpoint of capability of the force, my impression is that it will be a big advantage.

 

            We're also rebalancing within the Reserves and Guard skill sets, so that we have the right skill sets in the right quantities.  We're doing the same thing on the active force and we're doing the same thing between the active and reserve components.  At the present time we've only activated and deployed something like 41 or 42 or 43 percent of the Guard and Reserve.

 

            Now logically someone would say why is that a stress on the force then if you've still got 60 percent you can draw on.  Pete Schoomaker, the Chief of Staff of the Army, shows it graphically. If you have a beer keg or a water barrel -- [Laughter]. 

 

            VOICE:  [inaudible].

 

            RUMSFELD:  Is that right?  I used to be a congressman from Illinois where it was the home of the Womens Christian Temperance Union, so let's pretend it's a water barrel.  [Laughter].

 

            The goal is to use the water in the water barrel.  If the spigot's a third of the way up, down from the top, and you turn the spigot on you can only draw on the top third, that's what's been happening.  We have to reach for the skill sets we need and they're in short supply.  The reason they are is because the military had not been rebalanced at the end of the Cold War to fit the circumstances we're in today.  So we're doing it now, we're doing it as fast as we can, and I think the stress on the force is going to be relived and eased and that we'll get through this period.  But we'll take a look at what you suggested.

 

            There still are an awful lot of very attractive disciplines in the military that are needed in the civilian side that ought to continue to draw people in, I would think.

 

            QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, I'm Chris [inaudible], 376th Security Force Squadron [inaudible].

 

            My question is regarding North Korea.  With the recent [inaudible] there, what are the additional security factors that [inaudible]?

 

            RUMSFELD:  You're quite right, the North Koreans have had a series of announcements recently about what they say they have.  I've found in the past that they're not perfectly accurate in their public pronouncements.  How was that, Mr. Ambassador, for being diplomatic?  [Laughter].

 

            Assuming everything they say is accurate would be a strategic mistake I think.

 

            The best judgment is that they do have a small number of nuclear weapons.  We know they counterfeit money.  We know they trade in illegal drugs.  We know they've been on the terrorist list.  We know the have a large military, something in excess of a million.  We know they have a large number of special forces, maybe 100,000, some number like that.

 

            We also know they had to lower the height that they'd take people in the military to 4'10" because of starvation and too few calories.  They take people into the military under 100 pounds.  We know they have concentration camps.  We know they have a vicious, repressive dictatorship.  That kind of a system is harmful to people and to the circumstance of the people in that country.  It's not a healthy economy, it's not a healthy environment for the people there.

 

            The South Koreans have a strong military, they're well equipped, and they have, with our coalition with them and our capabilities there's no doubt in my mind but that the people in the North understand that there's a very strong deterrent, a very healthy deterrent, and that they would be dissuaded.

 

            The only thing I could say directly with respect to nuclear weapons is that we also have capabilities, and other countries do, that are allied with South Korea, that ought to dissuade North Korea from behaving in what would have to be an irrational way if they decided to use those kinds of capabilities, and I don't think they will.  I think they'd be wise not to.

 

            Question? Way in the back!

 

            QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, [inaudible] from Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, [inaudible]. My question to you, sir is do you feel there's a mass exodus of Guard and Reserve?  And if so, how will that affect the [inaudible] personnel and deployments?

 

            RUMSFELD:  No.  The data shows there is not a mass exodus of Guard and Reserve.  The only shortfalls we're seeing in recruiting and retention are in the recruiting, for bringing new people in.  In terms of retention, it's very strong.  And that's good because we've got the need for people and the people that have been in, have been trained, and know what they're about are enormously important to the success of our country and to the success of the total force concept.

 

            I am always concerned when I see some data point that suggests one ought to be concerned.  As a result we've taken, as I say, a whole series of steps, and I do not believe that the concern we see now will grow into a serious problem.  I think we will be able to attract and retain -- Some people are running around saying we ought to go back to the draft or something like that.  I'll tell you, that is one of the worst ideas I can imagine.  We don't need to draft people.  We've got plenty of people.  If we manage our force right and if we offer the right kinds of incentives and compensation to the people in this country, our country, we are clearly going to be able to attract and retain the number of people we need.

 

            What do we have, 280 million people in the United States now?  Is that close enough?  About right?  285 or something?  Two hundred and eight-five million people.  We have 1.4 million men and women in the active force and we need another what, have what - if you take the Individual Ready Reserve and the Selected Reserve it goes up to maybe two million out of 285 million people?  All we have to do is be intelligent, manage the force well, treat people well, pay them properly, see that the compensation is there, try to manage, give them a reasonable degree of certainty in their lives, recognizing that they're in the service, willing to serve in the event there's an emergency or a crisis, but to the extent we can provide reasonable certainty to them and have reasonable stability in their lives and reasonable opportunities for them, I have no doubt we're going to be able to attract and retain the people we need and we sure as the dickens don't need a draft.

 

            QUESTION:  [inaudible]. My question to you is with the recent development in UAVs and [inaudible], do you think in the future the amount of [inaudible] pilot training is going to diminish?

 

            RUMSFELD:  It's an interesting question.  I don't know if it will.  I don't doubt for a minute that we will continue to use an increasing number of UAVs.  Indeed, pilotless vehicles of a variety of types.  In some cases land vehicles, in some cases sea vehicles, and in other cases unmanned aircraft.  It may or may not have an effect on the number of manned aircraft.  The uses that we can make of those unmanned aircraft are in many cases distinctive and so it may be additive as opposed to supplanting that equal number.  I'm reasonably confident that it would not even begin to be one-for-one if it has any effect at all on the number of manned vehicles we need.  I think we're still going to need them.

 

            Well there you are.  What do you say we call it a day?

 

            Thank you very much.  [Applause].

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