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Town Hall Meeting
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Thank you -- thank you very much.  Thank you.  (Inaudible.)

I thank you for those kind words even though it makes me sound like I can’t hold a job.   (Inaudible.)  Good to see you Sir and thank you for your hospitality and thank you to all the folks here.  I’m glad to be here -- being able to look you in the eye and thank you for your service to our country.

What you do is important -- we know that, we’re grateful to you for that.  I would also say that it’s impressive that each of you volunteered.  You stepped forward and said -- I want to serve and that makes it particularly notable.

We’re also grateful to your families back home.  They sacrifice just as you sacrifice and so -- in a very important sense they serve as well.

You know that you’re serving at an important time and an important moment in history.  We’ve moved into a new security environment in our world and we talk about the global war on terror -- and it is a war, let there be no doubt.  And it’s a war we’re going to win.  When you say it that way it sounds easy, as though it’s just another war, but it isn’t just another war -- it’s something that’s notably different.  And the fact that we’re in a new security environment means that we, as part of Department of Defense, have such an important role for our country -- and for the world in preserving freedom and contributing to stability.

We have to recognize -- that you need to see that this Department fits into a process of transformation, because it’s not a situation where you start untransformed -- and then suddenly you’re transformed.  It’s a continuum.  It’s an on-going effort and part of it’s the culture.  Part of it’s a way of approaching what we do.  But there’s no question -- the Department, and this is true of militaries all across the globe -- that organized, trained and equipped to fight other Armies, Navies and Air Forces; are now faced with a different set of threats.  To be sure that so-called asymmetric threats that come at us that are different and in ways we need to adapt to.

The events that are taking place in Afghanistan and in Iraq and here in this part of the world are all-important -- it is a truly global struggle.

In this region we know that there are terrorists, there are hostage takers, there are drug traffickers -- and they are mixed together --that sometimes it’s the same people doing all three things.  And it poses a very serious threat.

We know that we have some American citizens that are hostages in this hemisphere at the present time.  And they are always in our thoughts and in our efforts to see that we find ways to see that they are freed -- and that other hostages are not taken.  If you look at this hemisphere, it has similarities with other parts of the world.  There are big areas that are not being governed by sovereign nations.  It’s important that sovereign nations reassert their sovereignty over all of their nations -- so that they’re able to preserve it for the people of their country, they’re able to be accountable for what takes place in that sovereign territory.

The border areas are particularly difficult.  The problems we’re facing, for example, in Afghanistan with the border to Pakistan, the border to Iran is a difficult one.  The difficulties we see in Iraq with a border with Iran and a border with Syria is a difficult set of problems.  So to is the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen because terrorist and terrorist networks use those (Inaudible.) to their advantage -- and can move across freely.  Just as we know in our country there are plenty of things that move across our borders in the north and in the south that are not controllable or manageable in a perfect sense.

So that is something that is new and different.  And given the power of weapons today, the safe havens -- the few that exist -- pose a problem that is dramatically different from earlier periods.  So our job (Inaudible.) is that we don’t leave terrorist safe havens and sanctuaries for if they have sanctuaries let there be no doubt that they will use them to harm free people.

The leaders and people of Honduras clearly understand that this is a global struggle and they’re sending half-a-world away some of their soldiers and MPs -- and we’re deeply grateful for that.  They’re, I believe, currently in Spain and they’re going to be working with the Spanish elements -- and the Polish elements in Iraq helping to contribute to the freedom of the Iraqi people and a more stable region there.

So our militaries are working together to bring freedom and security to Iraq just, as we’ve worked together on other important projects.  I suspect that none of that would be possible without the hard work and cooperation and the relationships that the people in this room have contributed to.  I’m told that many of the Honduras soldiers volunteered for the service and that’s a good thing.  It’s also probably in part a credit to each of you because it says something about the example you’ve set -- that Honduras forces know you and are proud to serve with other American soldiers, Sailors, Marines in Iraq -- indicates the respect they have for the skill and dedication and training and integrity that you folks have.

So coming here today, I suppose, I feel a little bit like President Bush felt last week when he addressed troops and families in the States -- I think it was California he said:

“I’m honored to be in the presence of the men and women who wear our nations uniform. 
             I’m proud of you and I want to thank you for your service to our great country each of you
             served in a crucial time in our nations history an this nation is grateful for the sacrifice and
             service that you make.”

So I thank all of you for all you do and God bless you and your families.

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

http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2003/tr20030820-secdef0605.html