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Rumsfeld Responds to Questions During Town Hall Meeting

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 2001 – The audience was told that anything was fair game when they asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld questions during a 45-minute Pentagon town hall meeting on Aug. 9.

Rumsfeld responded to a variety of questions posed by service members and civilian employees in the Pentagon auditorium and also answered questions e-mailed and faxed to the Pentagon from around the world.

Before taking questions, Rumsfeld gave his view of what he has found since becoming secretary of defense. First is a years-old force-strategy mismatch.

"We've not had the forces for the strategy and the strategy didn't fit our forces," he said. As a result, he said, the forces and equipment have been overused. "The average age of aircraft has gone up about 10 years, ships are getting older and the maintenance cost is rising." Infrastructure, whether it's housing, hangars or buildings, hasn't been replaced or maintained at the rate it would be in the private sector, he said.

Consequently, Rumsfeld said DoD is faced with a number of tasks, such as balancing and modernizing the forces and transforming the force to meet new threats, such as cyber attacks and terrorists.

There doesn't seem to be a full understanding of the effects of the "procurement holiday" or the effects of overusing a shrinking force, Rumsfeld said.

"The magnitude of it is significant," he said.

During a review of defense policies, DoD is trying to find ways to balance various risks, including dealing with the need to modernize the force and get maintenance costs down, he noted.

"The risks are to the people," the secretary said. "We need to treat people right and see that we have the right set of incentives for them so we're able to attract and retain the people we need."

There's also the risk of transformation, he pointed out. "If we fail to meet the new threats in three to five years, and don't make the investments now, we put our country at risk," Rumsfeld said.

The first question Rumsfeld fielded came via e-mail from a Navy chief petty officer in Florida who asked whether plans were afoot so a person would have to serve more than 20 years to retire.

"No," the secretary responded. He pointed out that the retirement issue is still being discussed and would take a long time to resolve. However, he said, "We're looking at whether people could serve in a tour longer, which goes hand-in-hand with lengthening the total number of years people serve in the military."

Rumsfeld said he's asked several 46-, 47-year-old service members what they were thinking of doing next and they said the military's "up or out" policy meant they had to leave.

"There are private-sector companies that value people over 46, and it seems to me we ought to think about that," the secretary said. "Over time, we may be talking with folks about whether we ought to lengthen the number of years. It would not have anything to do with how long someone had to serve or didn't have to serve."

To a DoD civilian's faxed question on base closures, Rumsfeld estimated the department's excess base structure at 23 percent. "Money being spent on excess bases is money not being spent on needed weapons, forces and transformation. That's unwise, imprudent and unacceptable!" he exclaimed. His bottom line: Some excess bases must be closed.

An e-mailed question from Fort Stewart, Ga., asked for the time frame for improving housing on Stewart and around the world." Rumsfeld said he looked at post housing earlier this year when he and President Bush visited Stewart.

"Some of it is just terrible as well as some of the facilities," he acknowledged. "I don't know how it got that way. The Defense Department doesn't do a great job of balancing different kinds of risks. But the risks of not properly taking care of our infrastructure are very serious and, for some reason, it has been 'tail end Charlie.'

"We've got to find a way to shove that up into the equation as we consider everything -- force structure, people circumstance, infrastructure, transformation -- and see that we get the proper balance," Rumsfeld said. "I think the only way to do it is to encourage the private sector to get involved and use their leverage, their money and make lease arrangements."

An airman in Korea asked if the U.S. military mission in Asia would change as warmer relations develop with North Korea and China."

Rumsfeld said the U.S. goal is to have a peaceful relationship with those countries, "but it's yet to be written how circumstances will change." Peace and stability underpin prosperity, he said.

"We have to have peace and a stable world if the bulk of the people in the world are going to have the opportunities to go about their lives and take care of their families," he said. "We can find a more peaceful world in Northeast Asia, and it still may be desirable to have troops forward- deployed in Asia, because they contribute to a more peaceful and stable world. We're playing an important role in Asia, and I suspect we will be for some time to come."

A military family support group, challenging today's "ridiculous" operations tempo, asked when deployment rates would return to "normal" levels.

"I'm trying. I've already been trying. I will continue to try," Rumsfeld said. However, he emphasized, DoD will always have to deploy troops to many places around the world.

"It's not bad that we're doing it. Some of it's very good in terms of engagement with other countries. The training is valuable; relationships that are developed are valuable," he said. "But it has to be done at a level that's rational, that doesn't wear people out and doesn't drive people away from this institution, because we need the best people."

Responses to questions Rumsfeld was unable to answer during the town hall meeting will be posted on the DoD Web site at www.defenselink.mil. A transcription of the entire meeting is at www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2001/t08092001_t809town.html.

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