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Secretary Rumsfeld TownHall Meeting At Aviano Air Base

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
February 07, 2003
(TownHall Meeting at Aviano Air Base in Italy)

Rumsfeld: (Cheers, applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause continuing.) Thank you. It's great to be here.

Colonel Ryder, thank you so much. Colonel Scarpolini, where are you? There you are. Thank you for your hospitality. Distinguished Italian officials of government and posts here, we deeply appreciate your hospitality and your support for this wonderful base and for the men and women in uniform. General Moorhead, it's good to see you, and men and women of the armed forces.

I thank you for that welcome. Without any question, the best part of my job as secretary of Defense of the United States is to occasionally have the opportunity to get out of the Pentagon and come and look people in the eye and say thank you. Thank you. You are representative of folks that are folks that are stationed all across the globe standing watch on the frontiers of freedom. We are grateful. I am grateful. The president is grateful and the American people are grateful, and you must know that. (Applause.)

On the other hand, as I look around this base and at the skyline and those mountains and the snow, you're pretty lucky to be here. (Cheers, applause.) It's a good spot. I can see why the folks that are here like it so much. It's a beautiful place.

I understand it also has a proud history as cradle of the Italian air force and as the cradle of military transformation. I'm told it was here in 1911, just eight years after Wilbur and Orville Wright had their successful flight, that the Italian military established its first flying school here. Five years later, Italy, I'm told, launched its first, although possibly unauthorized, air raid when two Italian air force pilots bombed some Austrian targets at Pula. They returned as heroes, and ever since Aviano has been a home to heroes, Italians and Americans alike, brave men and women who put their lives on the line to defend freedom and the values we all hold dear.

This is true today. Each of you is here to help defend our country from the very dangerous threats that we face. You weren't drafted. You weren't conscripted. You stepped forward. You volunteered. You did so because of your love of country, and your country is truly grateful.

The attacks on September 11th were devastating. But if one thinks about it, those attacks on September 11th were, in a very real sense, conventional. They took airplanes loaded with jet fuel, flew them into buildings, used them as missiles, and killed some 3,000 innocent men, women and children, young and old alike, from dozens of countries, from every religion.

But what we're facing today is something that's really quite different. We're facing terrorist networks and terrorist states that are developing or have weapons of mass destruction, capabilities that could enable them to kill 3,000, to be sure, but potentially 30,000 or 300,000 innocent men, women and children.

Our objective, your mission, in the global war on terrorism, is to see that attacks of that magnitude, of that lethality, do not happen. Your task, our task, is to disrupt terrorists and terrorist networks and states that harbor terrorists, and do everything humanly possible to see that they do not get their hands on those powerful weapons. You're what stands between freedom and fear, between the safety of our people and an evil that cannot be appeased, it cannot be ignored, and it must not be allowed to win.

The hopes of mankind depend on your success. You're doing a magnificent job, and it is appreciated by all of us.

It's never easy to be far from home, no matter what the mission. It's tough on you, and it can be tough on your families as well. I see families here, and that's wonderful.

Others endure separation from their families, and those families, of course, cope with all the problems of daily life without your presence, without your support. They too serve our country, those families, and we say to them this afternoon, to those that are here and indeed to those that are home, that we're grateful to you for those sacrifices, and we thank you as well.

We also thank our Italian allies, the brave men and women of the Italian armed forces who make such an important contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom. They're doing a fine job in Afghanistan, as they have in supporting the efforts here and elsewhere. Italy is an ally in the truest sense of the word, and we thank those from Italy for your friendship and for your steadfastness as well as your hospitality. (Applause.)

Shortly after September 11th, President Bush made a promise to the nation and, indeed, to the world. He said, "We will not waver. We will not tire. We will not falter. And we will not fail." You are the ones delivering on that promise, and seeing you here today, I know that that promise will be kept. I thank you for all your doing for peace and freedom. May God bless you all. Thank you very much. (Cheers, applause.)

Now, I'd be happy to respond to some questions. But make them easy -- I flew all night to get over here! (Laughter.)

Are there microphones around somewhere? (Pause.) There's one! Here's a microphone. Does anyone have a question?

Yes? Greeting. Uh-oh. She has a newspaper.

Q: I have the Stars and Stripes newspaper from today, and the headlines are about Turkey. I lived there for 22 years, so I'm very concerned about this headline and I'd like to know a little bit more about it. Thank you.

Rumsfeld: The question involves Turkey, and Turkey's situation is a difficult one, as you know. They have recently had an election. They have recently put in place a new prime minister and a relatively new head of the Turkish General Staff. They are waiting to pass a law so that the head of the victorious party can replace the current prime minister in the parliament and in the government, which takes a perfecting statute to enable that to happen. They have difficult economic circumstances. They are a friend, they are an ally. We've worked with them for many decades now.

Regrettably, because of those uncertainties, it's been a slow process working with them to see that we could flow the forces that we needed to flow to support the diplomacy that is taking place by the president of the United States and the U.N. Security Council. We have had some success, and we are still waiting answers with respect to some of our other requests. There's no question but that the delays that result from the uncertainties that exist within their government are unfortunate, on the other hand, I suspect that when all is said and done, Turkey will be helpful and will be with us.

Questions?

Yes, sir? Good for you!

Are there any people with hands up behind me? (Laughter.) Okay, you let me know if there's anyone up there with their hand up.

Yes, sir?

Q: Mr. Secretary, my name is Airman Sherman with the 603rd Air Control Squadron. I lived in Israel during Desert Storm while it was attacked by Iraqi Scuds.

Rumsfeld: I'm sorry, could you speak a little slower and a little louder?

Q: Yes, sir. My name is Airman Sherman with the 603rd Air Control Squadron. I lived in Israel during Desert Storm while it was attacked by Iraqi Scuds. Sir, can you offer any insight into how the United States would respond politically in the event this occurs again, keeping in mind the need to have a strong coalition in the region while still ensuring Israel's security.

Rumsfeld: Yes, indeed. That's a good question. And we have been receiving excellent support from the countries that neighbor -- some of the countries that neighbor Iraq.

You're right, they did in fact -- they have fired Scud missiles in the past into, I believe, at least three of their neighboring countries, or near neighbors. They claim they have no Scuds. (Laughter.) They claim a lot of things. We are reasonably persuaded that they do have several handfuls, two or three handfuls of Scuds. There's also no question but that they'd feel free to use them. And there's also no question but that the plan that General Franks, the head of Central Command, has fashioned takes into account that possibility and that along with our other nations that would be participating if force has to be used, we would be able, we believe, to deal with that problem, and have made arrangements to do so.

Thank you.

Question. Yes, sir -- yes, ma'am?

Q: (Off mike.)

Rumsfeld: No. There comes a mike! Just take a second.

Maybe if people who have questions stick their hand up now, someone will get a mike to you and then the mike will be right there with you. There's one in the back, good.

Go ahead.

Q: Thank you, sir. First, it's a pleasure to hear you and to be this close to you and see you in person. We've seen you on TV a lot, and it's a neat experience for us.

I'm part of an AEF rotation here, a part of a group that is deployed for AEF 7 and 8, and this is a great place to be deployed, no doubt. But many of us are asking, how long will we be frozen? But my question is, on the behalf of some of our Guard and Reserve men who are here, we know that some units have been mobilized, partially mobilized. Their question is, do you -- are we going to go to a full mobilization of Guard and Reserve? And if we are, when will that decision be made?

Rumsfeld: Well -- (laughter) -- let me say this about that. (Laughter.) It is highly unlikely that we would go to a full mobilization. We -- I have been signing a great many deployment orders and mobilization orders and alerting orders. The forces have been flowing now for a good number of weeks, and that has had its intended effect. There is no question but that the world's focus is on the fact that the Iraqi regime, now for some 12 years, continues to ignore and disagree with the now 17 resolutions of the United Nations. The world understands that; they are looking for cooperation and hoping that the force flow will bring about cooperation, but thus far, it has not.

We don't talk about deployments in the specific, but we have brought a good many Guard and Reserve on active duty. Fortunately, a great many of them were volunteers. We have been able to have relatively few stop losses. There are some currently, particularly in the Army, but relatively few in the Navy and the Air Force. And it is not knowable if force will be used, but if it is to be used, it is not knowable how long that conflict would last. It could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.

After that, we have a responsibility as a country that if force were to be used and if the United States did have to go in with its coalition partners -- and there are a growing number of nations that would be participating in a coalition of the willing -- we feel an obligation to see that what is left after that regime is gone becomes a state that does not have weapons of mass destruction, and that would be part of our responsibility; that it would be a state that would not threaten its neighbors and launch Scuds into it, or use chemical weapons on their own people or their neighbors, as they have in the past; that it would be a single country and not broken into pieces; and that it would be a country that would be setting itself on a path to assure representation and respect for the various ethnic minorities in that country.

The number of people that that would take is reasonably predictable, and the only question would be what portion of that total number would be U.S. forces.

So I would see this buildup going up, lasting for a period, and the last choice is war, but if that is necessary, a period where that takes place and then a drawdown. And you would find people moving back out and some residual number staying there, with the -- undoubtedly the forces of many other nations.

We have every week a growing number of countries who have volunteered to participate in a coalition of the willing, if it proves to be necessary; a number of countries that have indicated that they're not able to participate in a coalition of the willing unless there's a second resolution in the U.N., and that number is a reasonable number; and then a third group that says they would like to participate in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq reconstruction effort. And that too is important. It will require people who are willing to come in and assist with civil affairs and with humanitarian assistance, and all of that planning is taking place.

So that is, I think, the way to think of it, but to try to put numbers on it is really not possible.

I will say this. The way we were organized in this department was really industrial age, not information age. And the way we were prepared to deploy and activate forces was -- for a mental or a visual picture -- we really had no deployment, and then we'd take a great big switch and swing it over and have full deployment. Now, that's not very skillful. We can do a lot better than that.

And I've been taking these proposed deployment orders and disaggregating them so we can look at them and show respect for the Guard and Reserve and not pull them away from their jobs and their families prematurely to do jobs that aren't really needed; instead, to try to leave them in their circumstance until we do need them. Because I've found that the people who have been activated, not volunteers, their morale is high. But the ones that have been activated are proud to be serving; they're pleased to do it, they're anxious to do it, but they want to be doing something real, they want to be doing something worthwhile. They don't want to just simply be called up and then used in something that they know in their heart really doesn't need to be done.

So we are in the process of taking lessons learned from this deployment exercise we've been through, and by golly, we're going to refashion it in a way that we can do it an awful lot better. And I suspect that we'll have that in place sometime in the next six months.

Question? Yes, sir?

Q: Good afternoon, sir.

Rumsfeld: Whoever's talking into a mike, stick your hand up. (Laughter.) There you are!

Q: What I'd like to know is, do you eventually see all military personnel receiving the smallpox vaccination?

Rumsfeld: I don't know. I've had mine. (Laughs; laughter.) What we really are doing is starting a process where the people who are in areas where the potential vulnerability is the greatest are first in the queue. And my guess is that over a period of time, we will in fact have them available for the entire force.

It is not something that you do unless you believe there is some reason to do it. And after a great deal of thought, attention, we concluded that particularly with first responders, particularly with medical people, particularly with people that would have to deal with an outbreak of such a thing, and particularly with individuals who are the most likely to be in a zone where that conceivably could happen. So that's kind of the priority list, and it's underway. And it doesn't hurt.

Questions? Yes?

Q: Secretary Rumsfeld.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Senior Master Sergeant George Goff, 31st LRS, POL. My question concerns modernization. As you look to your left right there, you have a fine Air Force F-16 fighter. That fighter is almost 15 years old.

Rumsfeld: How old?

Q: Fifteen.

Rumsfeld: Fifteen? That's young! (Laughter.)

Q: For fighters, no.

Rumsfeld: I'm 70. (Laughter.) In fact, when I was -- (cheers, applause). But you're right. When I was secretary of Defense the last time, in 1975, I was at the rollout for the first F- 16 in Fort Worth, Texas. So that model started back then, and I'm still going strong and it looks like it is. (Laughter, applause.)

Q: (Off mike.) Back to the question. (Laughter.) Sir, we have a new fighter, the F-22, and the Joint Strike Fighter coming on line. Are you going to support those? And if so, or not, why?

Rumsfeld: They're both in the president's budget that we just presented to Congress this month. So the short answer is, we are. And the reason we are is because our air fleet is aging, as you suggested, and we need to see that we continue to modernize and improve it. And the F/A-22 will be one piece of that. If the V-22 gets through its recent difficulties and passes through the checks that it has to pass through, it very likely would also go forward. And the Joint Strike Fighter, of course, would then come in and follow.

Q: Thank you, sir.

Rumsfeld: Yes, sir. Right there.

Q: Mr. Secretary, my name is Staff Sergeant Jay Statton. My question is, have you seen a major shift in regional support in the Middle East following Secretary Powell's recent U.N. presentation? And if you had, can you please describe some of those specific changes? And are you satisfied with the current level of support that we have to continue our buildup and possibly go ahead and start our operations?

Rumsfeld: The answer is to the latter portion, yes, indeed, we are very satisfied with the support and cooperation we're getting from countries in the Middle East. It has been excellent. And it is certainly sufficient for us to have a highly successful effort in the event the president makes a judgment that that is necessary.

The -- Secretary Powell's remarks at the United Nations were, in my view, excellent, persuasive and compelling. It is too soon to have seen any particular -- in my view, it's probably to soon to have seen any major shift in opinion. I suspect that the shift in opinion will not be in the Middle East. Those people know Saddam Hussein. There isn't any doubt in their mind that he is one of the most repressive dictators on the face of the earth. They know that their region would be vastly better off without him.

The effect of Secretary Powell's remarks, I think, will be seen more in Europe and in other parts of the world where people have less a sense of the nature of that regime. If you think about it, Saddam Hussein and his regime have, as we've said, they have used chemical weapons on their neighbors and on their own people; they've fired Scud missiles into their neighbors; they have invaded Kuwait; they have tried to undermine and destabilize several of their neighboring countries. So, those folks there, it seems to me, have a pretty good sense of the situation.

Question? There's one.

Q: Sir, my name's Amber Nichols from the 31st Wing Air Squadron. My question is, what is the chance that the draft will be reinstituted?

Rumsfeld: Zero. (Cheers, applause.) I suppose it's useful to know the bias of the person who's talking. In 1967, as a member of the United States Congress, I introduced legislation and testified in favor of moving away from the draft towards an all-volunteer system. We now -- when it was put in place in 1969 or '70 -- we now have some 30 years of experience with it. It works -- it works. And there's nothing wrong with -- for the Department of Defense, the American people, the U.S. government, to have to go out into the civilian manpower market and attract people and retain people that this country needs to perform these enormously important tasks. And we have been able to do it.

Under the draft system, compulsion was used to bring people into the service, whether they wanted to come or not, to pay them about 50 or 60, 70 percent of what the civilian manpower market was paying, and then to train them, and then, because so many of them had not intended to come in, of that training, they then went out. And so that value that we achieved -- we received from them was short. It was valuable, enormously valuable, and helpful, but it was for a short period of time, because so many had come in because of compulsion, as opposed to coming in the way they wished to.

And so I have no reason to believe that we as a country aren't going to be able to continue to attract and retain the wonderful force we have today on a voluntary basis. Every indication is that the recruiting goals are being met, the retention goals are being met.

And the other thing is, to do that, it forces us to keep seeing that we've got the right kinds of incentives to attract and retain people. And that's why you've seen the pay raises you've seen, and that's why we're working hard to get the substandard housing gone and disappeared, and it's why we're doing the kinds of things we're doing to see that we have the kinds of people we need, people like each of you, so that this country can be defended.

So I don't think there's any need for a draft, and therefore I just can't imagine any movement to reestablish it.

Question? Yes?

Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, Lieutenant Whaley from the Operation Support Squadron. My question is regarding what happens after Iraq. You've already pointed out a pretty good end state, what we want to see happen in Iraq. What's the next step? What do you see the Department of Defense doing to combat terrorism?

Rumsfeld: The -- Iraq or no Iraq, the global war on terrorism will go on, and it will go on because our country and in fact our friends and allies really were never arranged to deal with this. We were organized, trained and equipped to fight armies, navies and air forces, and instead we're facing shadowy enemies that don't have armies, navies or air forces. And they're getting increasingly more powerful weapons and they -- terrorist networks have relationship with terrorist states. Now that's an enormous danger we face.

And what the department's going to have to do is to work with the other elements of national power -- the Treasury Department, where they're drying up bank accounts; the law enforcement, where they're arresting people -- and keep putting pressure on terrorists, so that it's more difficult for them to recruit, more difficult for them to retain people, more difficult for them to move money, more difficult for them to move between countries, and over time create enough disincentives for terrorists that they end up doing something else.

We're going to have to find ways to see that the money that's flowing into these schools that are training young people to be terrorists -- that that money is dried up. We're going to have to find ways to see that those schools teach people mathematics and things that they can use in their lives.

This department is going to have a big responsibility. Iraq is a problem, but so too are other countries, countries that have these terrible weapons. And right now in the news is North Korea. And when people read about what's taking place there, one can't worry -- help but worry but that they could then sell those nuclear materials to some other country, a terrorist state, for example, and then that danger is one we have to face.

It's interesting, with the end of the Cold War, people kind of relaxed, took a deep breath and said, "Well, that took care of that." Fifty years we were steady, the Western Europeans were steady, we defeated that danger that existed on the face of the Earth, and it was an enormous accomplishment. And with a deep breath, everyone said, "Well, that takes care of that." And here we are, a decade later- plus, and we recognize that we still live in a dangerous world, we live in an untidy world, we live in a new security environment. And we can live in that world, we can. We can do it. We can't do it without paying attention, we can't do it without a terrific armed force that we have here, we can't do it without working closely with our allies because we do live in a world that's increasingly interdependent, but we can do it, and by golly, we will. Thank you very much. (Applause, cheers.)

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