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Life not Predictable, Rumsfeld Tells New Army Officers

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WEST POINT, N.Y., May 29, 2004 – "Life is not predictable," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told the newest second lieutenants in the U.S. Army today.

Rumsfeld was the graduation speaker at the U.S. Military Academy. He told the 935 graduating members of the West Point Class of 2004 that when they arrived at the academy in July 2000, they probably thought the most challenging part of being an Army officer "would involve activities like enforcing the peace in the Balkans."

But terrorists turning commercial airliners into guided missiles on Sept. 11, 2001, changed that outlook, the secretary said.

Immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the leadership reacted. "As radicals and extremists attempted to hijack a religion and send us their worst, America sent its best," Rumsfeld said.

The secretary listed the successes in the global war on terror since Sept. 11. In less than three years, an 80-nation coalition has overthrown two vicious regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, liberated 50 million people, disrupted terrorist cells across the globe and thwarted many terrorist attacks. "Yet despite these successes, the truth is we are closer to the beginning of this struggle this global insurgency than to its end," Rumsfeld said.

Today, he said, the civilized world faces adversaries unlike any in the past. "They seek no armistice, have no territory to defend, they have no public to answer to," he said. "They threaten us with shadowy networks not easily weeded out."

Rumsfeld said terrorists have a powerful advantage. "A terrorist needs to succeed only occasionally, but as defenders, we need to be successful always," the secretary said.

It is impossible to build a perfect defense, he said. "The only way to prevail in this struggle is to root out the terrorists before they develop still more powerful means to inflict damage on still greater numbers of innocent people," Rumsfeld said.

The Army these new lieutenants join is adapting to deal with these new asymmetrical threats. The Army is working on counterterrorism, peacemaking, peacekeeping, post-war reconstruction and stability operations and new special operation assignments, Rumsfeld said. The Army's mindset is changing from garrison-centered to expeditionary. And the service is re-emphasizing its warrior ethos: "the mission first, never accepting defeat and never leaving a fallen comrade."

The secretary told the newly commissioned officers that what they learned at West Point will serve them in good stead in the challenging times ahead. Rumsfeld used the example of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to make his point. Grant was an undistinguished West Point graduate who did not seem marked for greatness. "Somehow, history put Grant in a place at a critical time and in a critical moment," Rumsfeld said. "I have no doubt that West Point instilled in him those special qualities of leadership necessary to one day help preserve our Union.

"In the years ahead, history may well call upon you at a critical time, at a critical moment," he told the Class of 2004. And you will be ready."

Rumsfeld spoke about U.S. military strategy and the changing face of the military. He told the new officers about the concepts Defense Department leaders have developed to guide America's responsibility in this new world.

The first priority, he said, is "the strengthening of our partners, our existing allies and working with new ones."

The military also must develop greater flexibility to deal with the unexpected, Rumsfeld added. All branches of the military must focus on "more rapid deploying capabilities rather than simply presence or mass."

The military must work within and across regions. Rumsfeld said the United States will keep its existing commitments "in this still dangerous and untidy world, but we will better arrange our forces for an era of the unexpected."

The secretary said the United States faces a test of wills in Iraq as elements of the former regime and foreign fighters seek to derail the Iraqi people's progress to democracy and self-rule. He said the rise of a free, self-governing Iraq "at peace with its neighbors, respectful of all religions and committed to representative government" would deal terrorists a decisive blow.

The cause in Iraq is international, he said. Success depends on encouraging friends and allies, "on whom we are so interdependent to not be terrorized by threats or isolated by fears."

Rumsfeld also spoke about the new officers' responsibilities as they begin their Army careers.

"Let me add a word about the young men and women you will have the privilege to lead the American soldier," he said. "They are the sons and daughters of America and some of the finest people you will ever meet. Take good care of them. Lead them and respect them. Your love for soldiers must be as unconditional as it is for your own families. Use the skills you've learned here to bring out the very best in them, including respect for others. Always fall back on the moral clarity of the Honor Code you have learned here."

Contact Author

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld

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