Rumsfeld Hits Home at Pentagon Town Hall
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 7, 2002 Donald H. Rumsfeld says what he thinks, and military people here like what he has to say.
That was evident here today when the defense secretary hosted a town hall meeting at the Pentagon. A couple of hundred service members, defense civilians, contractors, and even a high school student, accepted Rumsfeld's invitation to meet with him in the Pentagon auditorium.
The hour-long question-and-answer session was broadcast live throughout the Pentagon. The secretary talked briefly about the war on terrorism, the need to transform the military to meet future challenges and other defense issues. Then he opened the floor to questions and the group didn't hesitate to ask.
How long would the fighting last in Afghanistan? What about U.S. aid for Colombia? What about the situation in the Middle East? Rumsfeld replied to each query candidly and with his now characteristic aplomb and humor.
When a young woman identified herself as a student, Rumsfeld asked, "Of what?" Replying that she was a high school student, the secretary chuckled and asked, "How did you get in?" To which she cheerily replied, "Never mind," drawing loud laughter from the spit and polish military audience.
Explaining that one of her teachers claims the country is not 'at war,' the student asked Rumsfeld how he'd respond to that. "Are we at war and how is that measured?" the young woman asked.
Pausing briefly, Rumsfeld said, "Some people think we're not at war unless there's a declaration of war." Yet there have been a whole series of conflicts without any declarations of war by Congress. "An awful lot of people have been killed," the secretary said, "and that has to be one of the characteristics of war."
He went on to explain how the war against terrorism is indeed a "war." He said there are people who are not associated with a country, who do not have armies, navies or air forces, and who are determined to kill not soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines, but innocent people "to obtain some goal they believe is in their interest."
"I personally think the word 'war' is appropriate," Rumsfeld said. "It is something that engages the entire nation. It engages other nations of the world who are vulnerable." The only way to combat terrorists, he said, is to take the battle to them.
Then, leaning closer to the microphone, Rumsfeld concluded, "So I'd go back to your teachers and tell them THEY'RE WRONG." To this, the audience erupted with whistles, cheers and applause.
The secretary again drew applause when he said he wants to make sure America's troops aren't overtaxed by nonmilitary missions.
"My goal and my interest is to see that the men and women in uniform who are trained to do military tasks be used as little for nonmilitary tasks as we can manage to do," he said.
"So each time we've been asked to provide some folks for the airports or for the INS or for Customs Border Patrol," he said, "to the extent that the president decides that need is now and the only people around who are disciplined, organized, trained and capable are people in uniform, we go ahead and do it. But we do it with an understanding that they're not going to do it for very long."
Rumsfeld said defense officials draw up a memorandum of understanding that includes a specified amount of time the military will assist. The agreement is signed with officials at the organization responsible for the duty.
Defense officials also ensure that that organization has a plan for training, organizing, equipping and deploying the people who would replace the military members. In some cases, the temporary duty could last from 90 to 179 days.
Rumsfeld drew hearty applause when he said he thinks senior military leaders need to stay in their jobs longer than the year or two that is now customary. "If you're (only) in your job that long, you don't know your job," he said. "You haven't been there long enough to see your mistakes and have to clean them up."
As time ran out, the last person to pose a question summed up the crowd's reaction to the secretary. Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Kevin Andrews drew his own round of applause when he thanked Rumsfeld for his "straight- forward, no-nonsense, cut-through-the-red-tape style of leadership."
Then the 22-year veteran airman from Lansing, Mich., asked, "What are your top three priorities for the Department of Defense since Sept. 11?"
First, Rumsfeld replied, avoiding another terrorist attack on "our country, our deployed forces, and our friends and allies"; second, fixing the Defense Department's intelligence-gathering capabilities and finding better ways to see that the people who need the intelligence have it; and third, transforming the armed forces for the future.
That is not limited to "just transforming weapon systems, and the way systems work together," he said. "Transformation involves a changing a 'culture.'"
Whether it's developing and acquiring new weapons or obtaining money from Congress, he said, "We can't allow the bigness of this system and its bureaucracies to consume that much time and prevent us from functioning in a way that is deft and skillful and swift."
The department also needs innovative people, he stressed. "We have to have an institution that unusual people are willing to be in. Everyone need not fit exactly the same cookie mold. We have to find a way that people's creativity and their boldness can be used."
As the session concluded and the crowd filed out of the auditorium, Andrews remarked, "I really enjoy what he has to say and I like how he interacts with the media. I like his no-nonsense style of leadership. He looks at different processes to see how they work and, if it doesn't make sense, he's going to say 'Hey! It doesn't make sense.'"
Most other military people he's spoken to agree, Andrews said. "When we see him on TV and with the media, what we see is a real positive style of leadership -- someone that's looking at doing the right things for the military and looking at leading the country in the right direction."