AUDIENCE: Hoo-ah! (Applause, cheers.)
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you very much. It is -- thanks for that warm welcome.
General Chiarelli, General Zilmer.
This is a mixture I'm told. We've got some soldiers here, right?
SEC. RUMSFELD: And a few Marines.
SEC. RUMSFELD: And some sailors.
SEC. RUMSFELD: And some airmen.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah!
SEC. RUMSFELD: And some civilians.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Haa-ah! (Laughter.)
And some contractors -- not a one. (Laughter.)
Well, I must say that this one last time I wanted to come and personally have a chance to look you in the eye and thank you. And tell you how deeply I appreciate and respect what you're doing for our country -- and then to take a few minutes and respond to some questions as well.
For the past six years I have had the opportunity, and indeed I would say the privilege, to serve with the greatest military on the face of the Earth. (Cheers.)
SEC. RUMSFELD: And indeed the greatest armed force in history.
And as a I complete my second tour -- and the good Lord willing my last -- I leave an understanding that the true strength of the United States military is not in Washington, it's not in the Pentagon, it's not in 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.
There's not been a day since our country has been in this long struggle since September 11th that I have not thought about those of you deployed around the world in foreign posts and battlefields, far from home -- far from your friends and loved ones.
I wish it were possible for every American to see firsthand -- even a glimpse of all that you do every day -- the lives you touch and the lives you save.
I never cease to be amazed at the courage and resiliency not only of the troops, but of your families as well.
You have undergone hardships and endured sacrifices, yet I always come away from my meetings with the troops -- and indeed, my meetings with your families -- with my spirits lifted, inspired by your hope, your determination and your unfailing good humor.
I see it in the field, I see it in the theater, I see it in the hospitals here, and I see it in the hospitals at home.
I think back to a young man I met at Naval Hospital in Bethesda, just within the last week or two, who was recovering from some wounds he received very recently. And he looked up at me with a tube in his nose, and he said basically: 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. We feel a great sense of urgency to protect the American people from another 9/11 -- or another 9/11 times two or three. And at the same time we need to have the patience -- the patience to see this task through to success.
Let there be no doubt; the consequences of failure are unacceptable.
A soldier not long ago said to me, "I can't believe that we're allowed to do something so important." And I feel the same.
We all know that every one of you are volunteers. Every person in the military is a volunteer.
What's interesting, as I travel around, it's clear that most people don't just volunteer; they enlist, and then they reenlist, and then they reenlist again, and then they volunteer for some of the most dangerous possible military assignments.
Not enough of the American people seem to understand this as yet, but the fact is that the highest retention rates we have are those folks -- soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines -- who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is where the highest retention rates are.
It says so much about the character and the commitment of those of you here. And it tells some other things as well:
· That the men and women in uniform believe in what they're doing,
· They know its importance,
· They know it's worth the cost and, in some cases, the tears.
· And they're convinced that they can succeed and that our country can prevail, but only if we don't lose our will.
You're part of the military in a nation that's the greatest force for good the world has known, and don't let anyone tell you different. America's not what's wrong with the world. The violent extremists, those who kill innocent men, women and children -- that is what's wrong with the world.
And history will record that the campaign against extremists has been one of the most complicated and one of the most difficult conflicts:
· A struggle that is unlike any our military or our country have faced;
· A struggle that's new -- that's unfamiliar, and that even today is not fully understood.
Our country and free people everywhere are up against an enemy that does not fea armies, navies or air forces. They understand that. It lurks in the shadows. It targets civilians. It employs any tool, from box cutters to garage door openers, as weapons of murder and destruction. It's a vicious enemy, knowing full well that they cannot match any of you on the battlefield anywhere.
Nonetheless, they skillfully use propaganda and tools of communication -- the Internet, satellite television, digital cameras -- to manipulate perceptions in their efforts to demoralize the folks back home.
We find ourselves in a “long struggle” with a strong sense of urgency to do everything humanly possible to protect the American people. It's a struggle that will require patience.
This conflict will prove to be much more like the Cold War than World War II -- World War II, with its major land and air and sea battles, whereas this “long struggle” is more like the Cold War, which lacked those major land, air and sea battles.
And because this conflict is new and unfamiliar and complex, it's understandable that there are going to be differences about the direction that our country should take.
These public debates may be heated. Even on occasion nasty, but that's not new. As one who has read a good deal of history and over some 74 years now has lived a good bit of history as well, I can say that it's always been so, and particularly so during wartime.
But we ought not to confuse the political debates that take place at home with a wavering of support or appreciation for your service or your achievements. Nor can there be any doubt whatsoever about the critical importance of our succeeding in this struggle -- this conflict. Even as tactics and approaches are reviewed from time to time and adjusted, as they must be, to meet the evolving challenges of a thinking enemy, let there be no doubt; the enemy must be defeated.
As General Abizaid said recently -- the ugly truth is that we can certainly walk away from this enemy, but they will not walk away from us. Their goals are grandiose and they strike at the very heart of what we as free people are, what we believe, and what we live every single day.
You know, the American people have a good center of gravity. Elections and polls may tilt one way or another, but over time, free people, given sufficient information, find their way to right decisions. We've seen that. Were that not true, our nation would have failed long ago.
On the flight over last night, I reflected on the fact that most of the folks I would be with today here in Iraq had not been born when I was Secretary of Defense the first time around, some 30 years back.
That, too, was a difficult time for our military and for our country. But who would have thought then, when I left the post as Secretary of Defense on a cold January morning in 1977, that within 12 years the Berlin Wall would come down, and shortly thereafter, the Soviet Union would be in the ash can of history. Few, if any.
It will be interesting to see what true historians say 20 or 30 years from today. Not the daily news reports in the local press, but as the historians reflect on this period. The history will record that after our nation was attacked on September 11th, hundreds of thousands of young men and women stepped forward to wear their nation's uniform. Talented young people who could have done something else, something easier, something safer, but instead, volunteered to defend our country, knowing full well the risks and the sacrifices involved. You are those men and women. You're 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 back home. For your service, your sacrifice, and for the professionalism and the dedication that you demonstrate every day, you have my profound appreciation and my deep and everlasting respect. It's been the honor of my life to serve with you, and I will never forget it. I will treasure it always.
Now I'd be delighted to answer a few questions. I will answer those I know the answers to, and I will respond gracefully to those I don't. (Laughter.)
And if you throw some really tough ones up here, by golly, I've got General Chiarelli behind me and he can handle almost anything….
I'm getting the hook. I want to thank you very much. You -- I thank you. I thank your families for your service and for their service. And I want you to know that you will be in my thoughts and my prayers always. God bless you all. (Applause.)