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Horse, Other Gifts on Rumsfeld's Trip Symbolize Friendship, Cooperation

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 2005 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's "Montana" is home in Mongolia.

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Mongolian Defense Minister Tserenkhuu Sharavdorj presents Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld a brown horse during the secretary's Oct. 22 visit to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia's capital city. Photo by Donna Miles

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"Montana," a Mongolian gelding, was among the gifts Rumsfeld received during his eight day, around-the-world trip that included stops in Mongolia, China, Korea and Lithuania. The trip concluded Oct. 24.

Mongolian Defense Minister Tserenkhuu Sharavdorj presented Rumsfeld the brown horse with a black mane during the secretary's Oct. 22 visit to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia's capital city. The visit was the first by a U.S. defense secretary to this former communist country, home of the legendary 13th century warrior, Genghis Khan.

On being presented the horse, Rumsfeld quickly named it Montana, telling Sharavdorj that's what came to mind as his plane descended over Mongolia's vast brown plains and the mountains that reach skyward from them. Rumsfeld's wife, Joyce, was born in Montana, he said.

Rumsfeld wrapped a blue Mongolian "kata," a bright blue scarf, around Montana's mane, a traditional symbol of respect and good intentions at the start of a relationship. The secretary walked the horse a few steps in front of the Defense Ministry, then declared it "a proud animal" that he said he's proud to own.

Also following Mongolian tradition, the secretary asked the horse's herder to watch over Montana until his next visit, and in return, presented a useful gift, in this case, a black-and-yellow flashlight. Rumsfeld also presented Sharavdorj a Civil War pistol.

In Mongolia, where the horse is highly revered and legends of 13th-century Mongols galloping behind Genghis Khan onto the world stage still bolster national pride, the gift of a horse to Rumsfeld represented an ultimate symbol of friendship and cooperation.

Gift giving is a historic tradition within military diplomatic circles, and Rumsfeld's visit was full of gift exchanges.

A senior defense official told the American Forces Press Service the tradition represents a show of friendship between both parties. For the host, it's a sign of hospitality and welcoming, and for the visitor, of appreciation and respect. Careful consideration goes into the gift-giving effort, she said, and gifts are painstakingly selected to showcase the country's traditions and heritage and what it holds most dear.

For example, Gen. Cao Gangchuan, China's national defense minister, presented the secretary a model of the Shenzhou 6 spacecraft Oct. 19. The spacecraft had successfully returned to earth just two days earlier, completing China's second manned space flight and affirming its place in one of the world's most exclusive clubs. Rumsfeld also received a Tiffany globe that featured his image.

In the Republic of Korea on Oct. 21, Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-woong presented Rumsfeld an embroidered picture wishing him a long life and happiness. Later in the day, Ban Ki-moon, South Korea's minister of foreign affairs, presented the secretary an ornate Korean-made cloisonné box.

Rumsfeld typically presents gifts that showcase the culture, landscape and traditions of the United States, the official explained. Often he chooses items with a southwestern motif that reflect his beloved Taos, N.M., where he owns a ranch.

"We want to show our best and what we're most proud of," the official said.

Gifts must also respect beliefs and taboos in the recipient's country, she said. In some societies, for example, it would be considered a negative omen to present a knife -- a symbol of "cutting a friendship." In other countries, a knife would be a welcomed gift, but only if a coin was presented immediately afterward or if milk was poured over it, the official explained.

Still other countries attach specific meanings to other items or their colors, further complicating the ceremonial gift-giving process and its symbolism. "You really have to do your homework" to be sure that gifts are appropriate and convey the proper meaning, the official said.

In South Korea, Rumsfeld presented Yoon a Civil War Colt pistol. Later in the day, he offered Ban a signed porcelain bowl with the seal of the United States.

In Lithuania, where Rumsfeld arrived to attend the Oct. 24 Informal NATO-Ukraine High Level Consultations, gift exchanges were fewer, based on NATO's no-gift protocol. Only the host country's representative presents gifts at NATO meetings, the official explained.

The last time Rumsfeld hosted a NATO Summit, in October 2003 in Colorado Springs, Colo., he presented his guests handcrafted bookends with a buffalo motif, she said.

Contact Author

Donald H. Rumsfeld

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld walks his horse, which he promptly named Montana, at the Mongolian Defense Ministry, Oct. 22. Photo by Donna Miles  
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