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Rumsfeld Thanks NATO AWACS Troops

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

GEILENKIRCHEN, Germany, June 7, 2002 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld stopped briefly at this NATO air base to thank international airmen that flew missions over the United States for several months after Sept. 11.

On Sept. 12, 2002, NATO invoked Article V for the first time. A month later, NATO E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System planes were guarding American skies against further terrorist attack. For more than seven months, roughly 800 NATO service members rotated through Operation Eagle Assist, with about 200 in America at any given time. In that period they flew 367 operational sorties and logged more that 4,300 flight hours.

Rumsfeld spoke to a crowd of more than a thousand troops here, answered questions and presented the unit with a U.S. Joint Meritorious Unit Award.

In introducing Rumsfeld, NATO E-3A Component Commander, U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Gary Winterberger said his unit didn't look at defending the United States as a job. "We looked at it as a personal obligation, a national obligation, and an international obligation," he said. "And I think we did it right."

Rumsfeld said one of the greatest privileges of his position is to thank American service members around the world. "Today that privilege is even greater by the opportunity to be able to say thank you to the folks from so many countries gathered here who helped to defend our country."

The NATO E-3A Component here is comprised of military members and civilians from 13 different countries.

In response to a question from a German air force officer, Rumsfeld said he believes there is an "investment gap" between the United States and the rest of NATO, not a technology gap, but that specialization would allow countries to maintain value to the military alliance.

"They will decide that rather than thinking that a full army, a full air force or a full navy, they will select out areas that will be of great value to NATO and to the entire alliance and focus on those specialties," Rumsfeld said.

Countries are deciding that "it makes no sense for them to try to have 360-degree militaries," Rumsfeld said. "What they need to do is work with their neighbors and several other countries. You're beginning to see battalions, for example, made up of three nations. I would suspect we will see that as a pattern (as NATO enlarges).

"I think that the idea that every country that originally felt its national security depended on their being able to defend their specific piece of real estate that that idea has gone," Rumsfeld said. "And in fact all of us are dependent on each other because we see the advantages of doing that."

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