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Rumsfeld Thanks Troops for Service, Calls for U.S. Patience

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

AL ASAD, Iraq, Dec. 9, 2006 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld paid a surprise visit to Iraq today to thank servicemembers for their dedication, sacrifices and patriotism.

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Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld thanks troops from the 2/135th General Support Aviation Battalion Evacuation unit at Balad Air Base for their service to the country during a surprise visit to Iraq Dec. 9, 2006. Photo by Cherie Thurlby
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

He spoke to more than 1,200 soldiers and Marines at this sprawling air base in Anbar province. Rumsfeld will leave his office Dec. 18, when Defense Secretary designee Robert Gates takes his place.

“For the past six years, I have had the opportunity and, I would say the privilege, to serve with the greatest military on the face of the Earth,” Rumsfeld said. “I leave understanding that the true strength of the United States military is not in Washington, it’s not in the Pentagon, it’s not in the weapons. It’s in the hearts of the men and women who serve. It’s your patriotism, it’s your professionalism and indeed your determination.”

He spoke about a young man he met at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington. The young man, who was recovering from wounds suffered in Iraq, told the secretary, “If the American people will only give us the time, we can do it. We’re getting the job done.”

“I believe him. I know he’s right,” Rumsfeld said. “We feel great urgency to protect the American people from another 9/11 or a 9/11 times two or three. At the same time, we need to have the patience to see this task through to success. The consequences of failure are unacceptable.”

The enemy threatens all Americans hold dear and does not want people to have freedom to worship, speak, read or even think, Rumsfeld said. “The enemy must be defeated,” he said. “Gen. (John) Abizaid (U.S. Central Command chief) said, ‘We can certainly walk away from this enemy, but they will not walk away from us.’”

Taking on the enemy in Iraq Afghanistan, and other areas of the world where he looks for succor, is the right plan, Rumsfeld said.

American servicemembers are doing just that and making a difference to millions of people around the world, he said. “There’s not been a day since our country has been involved in this long struggle that I have not thought of those of you deployed around the world in foreign posts and battlefields, far from home, far from your friends and your loved ones,” he said. “I wish it were possible for every American to see first hand – even a glimpse – of all you do everyday. The lives you touch and the lives you save.

“I never cease to be amazed at the courage and resiliency of not only the troops, but of your families as well. You have undergone hardships and endured sacrifices, yet I always leave my meetings with the troops and your families with my feelings lifted – inspired by your hope, your determination and your unfailing good humor.”

The secretary pointed out that the highest reenlistment rates in all the services are found among those soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are serving in combat. He said this speaks volumes about servicemembers’ character and commitment. “It tells us other things as well – that the men and women in uniform believe in what they are doing, they know it’s important, they know it’s worth the cost and in some cases the tears,” he said. “And they are convinced they can succeed and that our country can prevail. But only if we don’t lose our will.”

Rumsfeld told the servicemembers they serve a nation that is the greatest force for good the world has ever known. “America is not what’s wrong with the world,” he said. “Violent extremists – those who kill innocent men, women and children – they are what is wrong with this world.”

He said the campaign against terrorism is the most complex and difficult on record and the struggle is unlike any other campaign the United States has fought in. The war on terror will be more like the Cold War – a 50-year sustained effort against an ideology – than World War II – a conflict that pitted armies and navies and air forces against one another, he said.

“Because this conflict is new and unfamiliar and complex, it is understandable that there will be differences about the direction our country should take,” he said. “These public debates may be heated or even nasty. But that’s not new … I can say that it has always been so, and particularly so during wartime.

“But we ought not confuse the political debate that takes place at home with a wavering of support or appreciation for your service or your achievements,” he continued.

The American people have a good center of gravity, the secretary said. Elections and polls may tilt one way or another, but over time free people given sufficient information find their way to right decisions, he said.

The secretary told the servicemembers that history will show that after America was attacked, hundreds of thousands of young men and women stepped forward to wear their nation’s uniform. “(These were) talented young people who could have done something else – something easier, something safer,” he said. “But instead they volunteered to defend our country.

“You are those men and women,” he continued. “You are the ones who took up the fight against the extremists far from home to prevent them from attacking our families, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens. For your service, your sacrifice and for the professionalism and the dedication you demonstrate every day, you have my profound admiration and my deep and everlasting respect.

“It has been the honor of my life to serve with you, and I will never forget it; I will treasure it always.”

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Biographies:
Donald H. Rumsfeld

Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld meets with troops assigned to Al Asad Air Base during a surprise visit to Iraq Dec. 9, 2006. Photo by Cherie Thurlby  
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