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Town Hall Meeting
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Camp Pendleton, California, Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Thank you very much.  Well, this is quite a sight.  And I must say that General Hagee and General Bowdon, General Mattis, Mr. Congressman -- Congressman Issa, nice to see you here.  Tthank you for your support of this base and the men and women that serve here.

It's a great opportunity for me to have a chance to be here, to have a -- look you in the eye and tell you how grateful we are to each of you for your service to our country.  It's an amazing thing, when you think about it, that our country does not have a draft.  We don't have a conscript military.

Each of you is here because you stepped forward and decided that you wanted to serve your country.  Not just you, but your families, your spouses and your parents and your children all also sacrifice and serve.  I know that, the President knows that, and indeed your country knows that.  So I thank each of you for all you do.

There's no question but when the situation calls for action, for honor, courage and incredible commitment, there's a reason why the call goes out to send in the Marines.  It undoubtedly has a good deal to do with the training that I saw today out there on the crucible course, the pride that each of you properly has for what you do, what you have done, and what you're currently doing.

You're America's force in readiness.  You've been that way for 200 years.  Whenever our country's interests are threatened, whenever freedom is at risk;

  • From Guadalcanal to Okinawa,
  • To Inchon, to Vietnam,
  • To the Persian Gulf,
  • To Afghanistan, you've been there.

I don't know whether to believe it, but I'm told you folks are called the Hollywood Marines.  And I suppose that's because the movies are the only other place where things get done so fast by so few and so well.

But we know that today's Global War on terrorism is not a Hollywood picture.  It's real, it's dangerous, and many of you have been there and seen that and served.  There's no question but that it's different than anything our country has faced previously.  There's also no question but that success, victory will take time, will take patience and, as you already know, it will take courage.

But we can be certain of this much:

  • In this war, when all is said and done, we will have won.
  • We'll win because we must;
  • We'll win because our freedom and our way of life depend on winning.

We face adversaries that are determined -- let there be no doubt -- terrorist movements and terrorist states that do not directly challenge armies or navies or air forces.  Instead, they hit and run.

They attack innocent men, women, and children.  They hide in caves.  And they launch terrorist attacks in ways that are admittedly difficult to defend against.

Terrorists have a wonderful advantage: They can attack at any time, at any place, using any technique.  And as you know from your roles in force protection; it is difficult to defend at every place, at every time, against every conceivable technique.  They think and fight differently than other adversaries that we've faced.

And to defeat them, to prevail, we have to fight differently, as well.  In Operation Enduring Freedom, Marine Expeditionary Units used to taking beachheads instead deployed hundreds of miles from the sea into a landlocked country thousands of miles from the United States.  And there, working with the Army, with Airborne and Special Operations forces, you and your colleagues help to drive the Taliban from power and to put al Qaeda on the run and, in fact, have liberated the Afghan people.

In 10 short months, Afghanistan has been transformed from a nation ruled by terrorists to one that is on its way -- it's not there yet, but it's on its way to being a free and self-sustaining nation where people are able to live without fear.

I'm asked, "How long do you think we'll be in Afghanistan?”  And of course, it's not possible to answer that question.  We went there to stop the terrorists from using it as a terrorist training camp and from launching attacks across the globe and from sending terrorist cells into 40, 50, 60 countries around the globe.

And we'll stay there as long as it takes to see that the Afghan government, the transitional authority, has the ability to provide for their own security and to develop an Afghan national army and a police force and border guards so that they can assure that they will not again become a terrorist training camp.

You folks have every right to be proud of your accomplishments.  In the early months of the war, the Fighting 13th helped to kick off Operation Anaconda.  In the Sha-i-Kot Valley, they assaulted enemy positions and helped flush out al Qaeda and Taliban.  The 15th MEU seized a forward operating base and established a secure airstrip for the hundreds of follow-on forces that came in.  They secured Kandahar Airport and destroyed Taliban convoys, providing aerial reconnaissance and combat air support.  The President and I and the American people appreciate the courage and your able, dedicated service to our country.  And we, as I said, appreciate the sacrifice of families, as well.  I know they miss you when you're gone.  I know they worry.  And sometimes they endure long periods of separation.  So they do also serve.  And you have our gratitude for all you do for us, as well.

While the conflict in Afghanistan may be the first battle of the 21st century, it certainly won't be the last.

The war on terrorism will not end soon.  The terrorists who attacked us on September 11th, for them it was the opening salvo.  They do intend to strike again, we know that.  And as President Bush has said, "The advance of human freedom depends on us, our nation.  Your generation, will lift the dark threat of violence from our people and our future."

The advance of human freedom does depend on each of you.  All over the world, people long for what you defend -- liberty, democracy, tolerance, a future without fear.  And that's why we'll prevail.  Your spirit, and the spirit of the men and women standing watch for liberty at this moment all across the globe are our guarantee that in the 21st century, the American people will continue to live in freedom.

So thank you, each of you, for all you do for our country and for the world.  Thank you very much.

Now, I see folks standing up front with microphones, so I'd be delighted to respond to some questions from the troops.

Right here.  That will do it.  No, that didn't do it.

Here's a question.

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

http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2002/t08282002_t0827thm.html