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Town Hall Meeting
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Thank you so much.  Please, be seated, to the extent you have seats.  (Laughter.)

Look at this crowd.  My goodness.  This is a breathtaking sight.

I came here to say thank you, and I think I'll start out that way.  I want to thank all of you, each of you, all the men and women in uniform gathered here and all across the globe, for your superb service to our country.  We are deeply grateful.  It's noble work.  It's important work.  And the people of the United States of America are very much in your debt.

General Turner, thank you so very much for your hospitality and your kind words.

Senator Jim Bunning, it's great to see you.  And Congressman Ed Whitfield from the -- I guess the 1st District of Kentucky -- there you are, Ed.  And Representative Marsha Blackburn, 7th District of Tennessee, so nice to see you.

We thank each of you for your support to the men and women in uniform.  I know that they are as appreciative as I am of the support you folks give to the Department of Defense and to our troops at home and overseas.

I also want to say hello to Lieutenant Governor Steve Pence of Kentucky.  Steve, nice to see you.

And Mayor Liebe of Hopkinsville, Kentucky -- Mr. Mayor, so nice to see you.

And Mayor Ochs from Oak Grove, nice to see you.

Mayor Doug Weiland, I guess is here, from Montgomery County, I'm told.  Good to see you, sir.

And I must say, to all of the people here from Hopkinsville and Clarksville and the surrounding communities:  I know that you have been strong supporters of this base, of the troops, of the families, and I must say, we are so appreciative for that hospitality.  It's important that our troops be in places where they're wanted, and there's no question but that the communities in this area have let everybody know over a good many years that they indeed are wanted.  (Applause.)

Gracie, it was a delight to hear you sing the "Star-Spangled Banner."  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)

And I was in the lunch hall visiting with some folks, so I missed most of the country music singing that you all had the privilege to hear.  But I must say, knowing how close you are to Nashville, that I suspect you get a lot of fine entertainment in this part of the country.  (Applause.)

It's great to be here with the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne.  (Shouts of Hoo-ah.)

Your story -- the division has had for a long period "a rendezvous with destiny" -- from Bastogne to the heat of Baghdad.  In the dash across the deserts of Iraq last year, you helped bring down the regime of a brutal dictator and then put your compassion and your creativity to work in Mosul, training new Iraqi security forces, completing literally thousands of reconstruction projects of various types and helping the Iraqis build a new democracy and a civil society.

The 101st is transforming, I'm told, into a four-maneuver brigade division, each brigade with its own reconnaissance battalion.  Transforming while fighting a war is not easy, but General Pete Schoomaker is determined to move from 33 brigades to 43 or even 48 brigades, over the coming period of years, and I am in full support of what he's doing.  (Applause.)

I'm kind of embarrassed to say that the last time I was here at this base was 1976.

(Hoo-ah)

That is a long time ago.  (Laughter.)  I'm not going to ask everyone to raise their hand who was even in born in 1976.

But I remember coming out on the parade ground and shaking hands with a colonel named Colin Powell, who was stationed here.  Now, of course, he's the Secretary of State, and it's always nice to see a young fellow get ahead like that.  (Laughter.)

And I'm back in the same old job.  I feel like a gerbil.  I get up every morning, run like the dickens, and I stay right where I am.  (Laughter.)

I -- it would be interesting to see, if I come back for a third term as secretary of Defense, which one of you will be secretary of State.  (Laughter.)  But I suspect one of you will be.

And of course the 5th Special Forces Group, as the Green Berets, who were so active in the CENTCOM AOR, you must be among the most overworked heroes in the Army.  Your motto, "to liberate the oppressed," is right on the mark.  And you have been central in helping to liberate some 50 million oppressed people in Afghanistan and Iraq.  (Applause.)

And I know that the Night Stalkers of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment are also here.  You folks are amazing.  You manage to make it look easy, and you're doing things that never even were dreamed of some years back.  You have all of our respect and appreciation.

Everyone in uniform is a volunteer today, and it's a wonderful thing -- active, Guard and Reserve.  You raised your hands, many of you more than once, first to come in the Army and then air assault, Special Operations, aviation or Special Forces.  And your efforts and the work of our coalition have helped to create two free nations, which now have governments that are fighting terrorists instead of harboring terrorists.

All of this has required efforts by more than just our armed forces.  And I know there are many employers here today, and people who understand the terrific support that employers have given to members of the Guard and Reserve.  We could not do without their help and their support.  We thank them all for that support.  We are deeply appreciative.  (Applause.)

You know, the world has recently marked the third anniversary of the attacks on September 11th.  That day showed all too clearly that the extremists seek to terrorize innocent men, women and children.  We saw this yet again two weeks ago in Russia, when terrorists killed and wounded literally hundreds of children on their first day of school.  It says a lot about the extremists and the terrorists, a lot about who they are and how they think and what they are and what their intent is.  People who kill hundreds of children, who chop off heads, let there be no doubt it is far better to be fighting them in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere on this globe than here in the United States of America.  (Cheers, applause.)

Three years ago, during that September 11th period, Saddam Hussein was paying $25,000 rewards to the families of suicide bombers, and shooting at U.S. and British air crews that were enforcing U.N. resolutions in the southern and northern no-fly zones of Iraq.  So we must not make the mistake of thinking that the absence of traditional war today means that we are at peace.  We are not at peace.  Ours is not a world at peace.

Some ask whether the global war on terror is worth the loss of American lives, and there isn't anybody who -- as I know, the senator and the congressmen have visited the hospitals in Washington at Bethesda or Walter Reed, and -- visit with those that are wounded, and talk to the parents of those who've lost their young ones -- each life not lived is precious, and we grieve with those families.  And it's an understandable question as to whether it's worth the loss of lives, and it's a question that's been asked throughout our country's history, and the answer should be clear to all who have studied our country's history.

Our country lost hundreds of thousands of lives in World War II.  But despite the losses and despite the repeated military setbacks in World War II -- month after month after month -- Allied troops and Allied leaders forged ahead purposefully, first to achieve victory over Japan and Germany and Italy, and then later to help Germany and Italy and Japan transform from what they were -- fascist countries -- into democratic nations; indeed, nations that in the following 40 years, during the Cold War, were integral to the success of the Free World against the Soviet Union, those same countries that people said weren't ready for democracy.

And I believe that those who live another 30, 40 years will look back, as historians will look back, and they will see a country that was wise to not wait for the terrorists to come back and hit our country, that understood the importance of the work that was being done in the global war on terror, that took the fight to the terrorists, to the extremists.

And those of you sitting out there who serve in the armed forces will be looked at with gratitude and appreciation of the American people, as you should be, for your courage, for your professionalism and for the fact that you have been steadfast in good times and in bad.

I'll close, before responding to questions, by saying what I said when I opened.  I came here today to tell each of you thank you.  Thank you on behalf of the United States government.  Thank you on behalf of the Commander-in-Chief.  Thank you on behalf of the American people.  We are deeply grateful to you and in your debt.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.

 

For a complete transcript, including questions and answers, please visit:

http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2004/tr20040914-secdef1304.html