(Servicemember interviews with Chris Core, WMAL Radio. Participating were Air Force Lt. Col. Randy Kee, Army Maj. Allen Hing, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Terry Scott and Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Michael Giannetti.)
Q: The last part of the program is going to be a, I would say roundtable except we're all sitting at a square table, so a square table discussion with members of four of the armed services and we're going to be talking about what we're facing and some of the other issues involving this undertaking that we may or may not do. I will continue to say if we go into Iraq since that's how we began the program with Secretary Rumsfeld earlier today, to say the word if.
Joining me here on WMAL representing the Army is Major Allen Hing. Major, tell me a little bit about yourself.
Hing: Sir, I'm the Executive Officer for the Command Information Division, that's public affairs, and we're pushing our products to tell the --
Q: I'm having a little trouble with that. Do we have the mike on?
Hing: Do the information for the internal audience. We do Soldiers Magazine and some other miscellaneous activities.
Q: Gunnery Sergeant Michael Gianetti representing the Marines. Tell me about yourself.
Giannetti: I'm the Media Chief for Headquarters, Marine Corps. Basically I handle incoming calls on a daily basis from reporters like yourself from all around the country. I come from Detroit, Michigan.
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Terry Scott. We appreciate having you on the program. Tell me about yourself.
Scott: I'm the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy and I've got the privilege and honor to represent 383,427 active duty sailors and about another 85,000 Naval Reservists.
Q: And from the Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel Randy Key. Tell me about yourself.
Key: I work in Air Force Plans and Programs which is actually the part of the Air Force that works the next year and the following four years budgeting for the Air Force. I'm a C-130 pilot by trade. I'm from Grants Pass, Oregon.
Q: Let's talk about, the last time we went into Iraq we heard about the highly touted Republican Guard, and the highly touted Republican Guard did not turn out to be such a big obstacles to us.
Are the Republican Guard any better now than they were before? And I know Major Hing, you were there last time. Why don't we begin with you?
Hing: When we fought in 1990 the Republican Guard were much better than the regular Iraqi forces. They were well equipped, they were well trained, and they had the desire to fight.
Stating that they would be a roll-over would not be an accurate portrayal because they fought hard. Where we're going to go with them now, our forces are much better trained. They're better equipped and they're better led, and we have the ability to integrate systems. So the Republican Guard, if we have to fight them, they're in for a much harder fight from us.
Q: Do you suspect them to be less prepared or more prepared this time? There's some theory that in fact they never fully recovered from what happened last time and they may not be even as good as they were last time.
It's like in a football game you don't want to diss your opponent before and I don't want to make light of it, but I'm just trying to get an assessment of whether we think they've gotten any better.
Hing: They've poured an awful lot of money into the equipment and training. As far as what they do with that money and training, I don't know.
Q: Anybody else want to weigh in?
Key: The one thing I would come up with is looking for another perspective is that the American forces that are over there right now are well equipped, well trained, a far more capable force than we had even assembled during Desert Storm timeframe, so if I was any opponent looking across the line at our own forces over there, I'd be wondering what kind of capability I have to respond to that. It would be good to be the American forces in this case, well prepared and ready for the game, and probably less so for the opposing force.
Q: Let me ask you, and again, this is an opinion for military men and I'll begin with you, Sergeant Gianetti. How important do you think it is for us to find Saddam if we go there?
Giannetti: I think that's our, I mean that's our objective. Not so much to find him, but --
Q: We haven't been able to find Osama bin Laden and there's some worry that he might go underground knowing that we're coming. For the morale of the troops if for no other reason, how important is it?
Giannetti: I really don't know. To my understanding we're supposed to go over there and provide them new leadership. Whether we catch him or not, I don't think it's going to be a blow if we don't.
Q: Chief Petty Officer Scott, what do you think?
Scott: I don't have any special intelligence. I can only tell you that what I've heard from the Administration's position as well as in the news that we would probably welcome Saddam packing up and leaving up. So if he wasn't there, if we didn't have an opportunity to catch him, I don't think that would be an issue.
Q: Anybody else? Nobody else wants to touch it. See, I've got the hot questions here, so the question is how well are you going to avoid them?
Voice: You've got me sweating now.
Q: I don't think you're in any trouble.
One of the things that I've heard my audience, again I asked them last night. I said tell me the questions you want me to ask. One of the worries that people in this area have and I'll just ask it and you guys can answer it any way you want to, is that are we in danger of depleting our resources in Iraq so that if they were needed in another part of the world it would be very difficult for us to respond in the way that we need to.
Key: I would say that first of all our military planners, across the services, across the unified commands are able, and you're referencing the joint forces out there, have anticipated this kind of effort and being able to resource multiple theaters of conflict if need be. So anticipating that kind of planning and putting some detailed plans on the shelf for folks, lots of good folks doing lots of good work for a number of years to try to be able to respond if you had multiple crises erupting in a simultaneous type manner.
Hing: We are engaged in the global war on terror and our resources, we've got the capability. We're still in Afghanistan, we're still fighting those guys.
Q: That's what people are saying. That's what they were calling to say, we're getting -- Well, and I'll ask the question. Are we getting spread out thin?
Hing: We've got the capability to transport, the interoperability of the joint services, they can move us. We will work together as a team to ensure that our unnegotiable contract with the American people is fulfilled. We will fight and win America's wars.
Giannetti: We have Marines and sailors right now off the coast of the Philippines. We're engaged over there. We're engaged in Afghanistan. Our leadership, I have complete faith that we can fight two battles at the same time.
Q: The Navy takes awhile to get into place, so are we being spread thin or not? (Laughter.)
Giannetti: Well, it takes awhile to move a ship.
Scott: Actually I would probably say that we're deployed around the world today anyway. So yes, it's going to take a little bit of time to move forces, but our forces on September 11th were just off the coast of Pakistan when we needed them. I feel confident that our forces are going to be able to respond to whatever the threat happens to be.
Q: Let me take a break and we'll continue with our discussion here on WMAL with our members of four of the armed forces joining us here on WMAL in Washington. I'm Chris Core live at the Pentagon. Our program continues after this.
Q: The last half hour of the most interesting program today, and we have four representatives of the armed forces in the studio with us, or in this particular studio with us, and they all have different stories to tell so we're going to hear some of those stories now. First of all from the Air Force, we met earlier, Lieutenant Colonel Randy Key. You wanted to answer a little bit, Colonel, about when I talked about our being spread out so thin. As I said, a listener had asked me to ask you all that. What danger do we have of having American forces all over the world spread out so that we wouldn't effectively be able to do the job in any of the places where we are?
Key: Sir, thank you for the chance to respond to that.
The one thing we'd like to bring to the table is that the solution is a total force solution. We have active duty, we have Guard and Reserve. The total force package, that comprise the total force. That total force package really provides additional forces if need be to respond to crises that may occur around the globe. Our ability to respond to that, again, is always going to be based on the total force picture. We have tremendously capable folks that have only gotten better in both the Reserve and the Guard over the last number of years.
I myself, for example, have flown a number of Bosnia airlift missions back in the mid '90 timeframe.
Q: This is humanitarian?
Key: Humanitarian type airlift and we were going to some of the, doing high altitude formation airdrops, going in to deliver humanitarian goods which are primarily blankets, foodstuffs, medicines and supplies to people in some of the cities in Eastern Bosnia that were under siege, if you will, from Serbians. We were providing humanitarian airlift to those folks in a total force package.
Q: Did they know who it was that was giving them the humanitarian aid?
Key: Yes, actually they did.
Q: They know it's the United States, and they know that you were risking your lives to help them, and they understood that.
Key: Absolutely. And in fact one of the high points of my career I would have to say is getting a chance to have a member from one of these, I think the two of Srebrenica in Eastern Bosnia, we had a formation pre-brief, we were getting ready to go out for a total force -- we had Guard and Reserve in the formation packet as well as active duty forces. He came and talked to us just as we were getting ready to launch for the mission saying you know, you folks have actually kept myself and my family alive. We used the blankets, the medicine, the food, even the plywood boxes that the materials were being dropped in with a parachute attached to it were being used for shelter and the canvasses going with it. So for me it was a high water mark, if you will, for a chance to feel like we were doing good things, representing American interests abroad in a very positive and goodwill sort of way.
Q: I'm glad you brought that up because if we go into Iraq I assume we'll be doing a lot of the same sort of thing where we'll be providing humanitarian aid, and I think what our listeners want to be assured of is that the people of Iraq will understand that it is from us, that it is without strings, that it is being provided to them frankly out of the goodness of our hearts, and that they can trust that we are there for their good. That's part of the campaign here to let them know, and I know this is easy for us to say, but we're actually the good guys here. And to the extent that we can let them know that it will make it so much easier for us on the ground, won't it?
Key: And from a standpoint, from a historical standpoint, you can cite back to the Berlin Airlift, Operation Provide Promise during the Bosnian Airlift, during Operation Enduring Freedom last year we were dropping bombs in Afghanistan at the same time we were dropping humanitarian rations to folks, letting folks know that America brings not only the standpoint --
Q: A message --
Key: -- a message get through to the folks. And I from firsthand experience, both in the Balkans and also in Africa, folks there are grateful for your effort, grateful for the nation's effort for putting that goodwill forward.
Q: Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Terry Scott with us here. You've been living in the Middle East for long periods of time. Where were you living?
Scott: I have lived, and came back to the United States last spring, I lived in the country of Bahrain which is in the center of the Arabian Gulf just off the coast of Saudi Arabia. It's where our 5th Fleet and Naval Forces Central Command is headquarters.
I lived there with my wife and two daughters. It was a great opportunity to not only learn a new culture, to understand a different culture, but it was really an opportunity to see my children learn to appreciate a different culture.
Q: How much were you able to mix with the culture there?
Scott: Quite a bit. We lived out in the community.
Q: Not on the base?
Scott: No. Our next door neighbors were not only Bahrainis but many other nationalities are represented in Bahrain.
Q: Are they pro-American?
Scott: That's a tough question. Obviously they're going to protest and demonstrate for what they believe in just as Americans.
Q: What do they believe in?
Scott: What do the Bahrainians believe in?
Scott: They have certain issues that they want to see resolved. Their priorities aren't necessary always our priorities. But on a person-to-person level they were just tremendous hosts. Having had the opportunity to interact, it really was a wonderful experience.
Q: When you walked around in uniform in a foreign country like this wearing the American uniform, you'd stand out, would you not?
Scott: As a practice we didn't wear our uniforms off of our military compound.
Q: Is that right. For the very reason of not wanting to stand out too much.
Scott: There's no reason to --
Q: That's what I wondered, how that would sit with them.
Scott: It wasn't something we tried to flaunt.
Q: We often talk about democratizing the Middle East. Secretary Wolfowitz talked to us earlier about that. Bahrain is not a democracy.
Q: Could it be? Would it ever happen there or is that something that's just too hard for us to understand?
Scott: Well --
Q: You're biased because you lived there.
Scott: When you're taking a look at different countries, there are a lot of countries that we have as allies that aren't complete democracies and we would consider Bahrain one of our allies, especially there in the region.
But one of the experiences that I had while living there performing the job that I did, I had an opportunity to visit with the sailors and the marines that were deployed over there on a regular basis. When I'd look at those sailors and marines that were coming over from the United States and saw the commitment that those sailors had, that was something that just filled you with a sense of pride.
I'll never forget during Operation Enduring Freedom going into Afghanistan, a place called Camp Rhino, it was in Southwest Afghanistan. I had an opportunity to visit with the sailors and marines that had gone into Camp Rhino, and as I was walking the perimeter I got to a mortar position. It had three marines and a sailor. And in that opportunity to talk to them they told me how they'd come under attack two days previous or just 48 hours previously.
This is something when you look at these guys and you see just the brimming sense of pride that they have in serving their country, it was something that is just awe-inspiring.
And as we continued to talk and you looked at the conditions that they were living in at the moment, it was pretty austere but they were doing quite well with it. They had been in that fighting hole for about three weeks.
Q: Were you overseas on September 11th, 2001?
Scott: Yes, I was.
Q: What was it like to be there and not here?
Scott: One, being where I was we immediately focused on what was eventually going to become Operation Enduring Freedom, so I'd say I didn't personally have a whole lot of time to think about it.
Q: Did it make you angry?
Scott: Oh, most certainly. I think any American would.
Q: I'm just curious to know how it felt to be there instead of -- We all know what it was like here, particularly in the building in which we're seated now which was attacked. Did you feel like I want to get back to America as quick as possible?
Scott: No, that's something, I think I would share the same feelings as most of our military members. When the mission was identified I didn't want to be anywhere else than where we were doing the job that we were doing.
Q: Let me ask you, Colonel Key, then we'll take a break and come back and get to the other gentlemen. Where were you on September 11th?
Key: Actually I was at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama attending Air War College which is a senior service school for the Air Force. They instruct lieutenant colonels and colonels at the strategic level of war. The same as the Master Chief here, I was very [impassional] about the attacks and I would have been very glad to have stopped my studies right there and get in the fight alongside everyone else.
Q: So would we. That was the thing that was remarkable about that is that even old out of shape geezers such as myself, if somebody had handed me a gun and said go, we'd have gone. That was, I don't think I've ever seen the country in my lifetime as united as we were on those days that followed, and I hope to some extent we're still that united.
Let me take a break and when we come back I'm going to ask both of you about your experiences on September 11th, and then I want to talk with you, Major, about having fought in the Gulf War and what you saw and what you learned.
Q: The last segment of the program, thank you for joining us for this special edition of the program tonight. We're about to talk with Gunnery Sergeant Michael Gianetti of the Marines.
Sergeant, where were you on September 11, 2001?
Giannetti: I was right here at the Pentagon. We were watching CNN, watching the World Trade Center. The next thing you know the alarms, the whistles, the building shook and --
Q: Did you feel it?
Giannetti: We did. It was pretty intense. We evacuated the building immediately and then we saw the chaos and the smoke and the damage.
Q: What part of the building were you in?
Giannetti: I was in the seventh corridor which was probably about 200 or 300 yards from where the plane actually impacted, but you could feel it definitely when the building got hit.
Q: When you watch what happened in New York and you realized at some point that it was terrorism, and you're sitting in the Pentagon, realizing what was going on. Did it occur to anybody, you know, we could be next.
Giannetti: Seconds before the plane hit somebody turned around and looked at me and asked me do we have anti-aircraft weapons here at the Pentagon? And not ten seconds later --
Q: What's the answer to that question?
Giannetti: No. The answer is no.
Q: Do we now?
Giannetti: I don't know.
Q: I'd always been under the impression, apparently false, that we were well fortified around the Pentagon. Of course then giving the order to shoot down a civilian airplane would have still been difficult to do although I think we were prepared to do it. So only seconds before the plane hit did it even occur to you that you might be a target.
Q: When it hit, did you immediately know what it was? Or what did you think it was? Did you think it was --
Giannetti: It was pretty much disbelief.
Q: I mean did you think --
Giannetti: You couldn't imagine that something like that happened right here.
Q: Did you think it was a plane or did you think it was a bomb or what did you think it was?
Giannetti: Before I got outside we knew it was a plane.
Giannetti: The alarms and the chaos. We knew it was a plane or a bomb. After seeing two planes hit the World Trade Center, you pretty much knew the way they were going to attack you.
Q: Tell me the psychological impact of being in this building which is the center of American military might, the greatest military in the history of the world, and have it be as vulnerable as it was on that morning.
Giannetti: It's probably the worst thing they could have ever done. For myself, it solidified my reason for being a United States Marine. At no point in my career did I feel more proud, more committed, more dedicated to defending our country and I think probably everybody here in the Pentagon felt the same way.
Q: You know what was great were the people that got on top of the building and put that flag down along the side. I get choked up even thinking about it now. I brought my wife and daughter over here on the Sunday afterward because I wanted my daughter to understand, she's young, I wanted her to understand. And just seeing that flag off the side of that building, even as charred as it was, was just one of the great --
Giannetti: It was amazing. Throughout my 17 years in the Marine Corps, every time you reenlist every four years you kind of stop and think is this what I want to do? I've always loved being a Marine, but you always kind of look at the other side of the fence thinking I could go out and make some more money maybe doing something else. I went to a private school back home, and all my friends are either doctors, lawyers, politicians, what not. Every quarter we get a high school newsletter and somebody just got their PhD in this or somebody just became the President of that corporation. I always in the back of my mind think did I really achieve my full potential in life?
That day, walking down 395 in the middle of rush hour because -- I was walking down the middle of 395. Right then and there I knew I made the right decision with my life.
Q: Major Hing, you were a veteran of the first Gulf War. Talk about what you saw.
Hing: It's been 12 years but the visions and what you have and what I remember from what Saddam Hussein's troops did will vividly splash across my mind.
We had just finished the ground offensive. We were approximately ten kilometers inside Kuwait facing the highway, sometimes called the Highway of Death. They were trying to get all their equipment, trying to get all their booty which they had stolen and taken and pardon the term, raped from Kuwait, and trying to get it back to Iraq. Our forces stopped them, stopped them cold.
What was worse is days after the ceasefire Saddam Hussein's goons somehow cajoled our higher command to allow them to use helicopters to transport and ultimately, because we weren't specific enough, to arm them. We were slightly repositioned and we were outside the town of Basrah, and you can still feel the anger welling up in each one of the soldiers as we had to stand by and watch those Iraqi HINDS and HIPS rocket their own people, blasting women, children, blowing up over them, coming in with strafing canons. I will never forget standing outside of one of our medical tech points and a young Iraqi woman walked up to us and she had our child and she was begging us for first aid for her child. Her child had been hit by shrapnel and had been dead for three days. That's the type of tyrant, this egomaniacal monster that we're facing. Yes, I have a personal bias against this guy. He's got to go.
There is nothing that can justify that type of person being in control of a country and I thank God that we have leadership in this country that's going to stand up against that type of stuff.
You can't ever erase those images of those poor people, his own people, being blown to shreds after he had just raped an entire country for his own well-being, and he's still doing it. He's still taking oil money. He's not providing it to the electrical companies, not for sewage, but he's spending it on his palaces and to make himself bigger and build weapons.
I support our leadership.
Q: Where were you when the war ended? In other words when we stopped?
Hing: About ten kilometers inside Kuwait.
Q: At the time when the order was given, and this is hard for you because you follow orders, was there any questioning that we were stopping? Did people say, but we're so close. We could take this guy out now?
Hing: At the time we were just very pleased that we had done our mission. Our mission was to get Iraq out of Kuwait. That was our mission. Now I would say that we had questions, but back then no.
Q: Back then there weren't people who were frustrated by the fact that we were so -- Some of our -- How close did our troops get to Baghdad? Pretty close, didn't they?
Hing: I don't know.
Q: I know there are some that have talked about being frustrated that they couldn't go finish the job when they were so close.
Hing: That was not my unit.
Q: Will you be going back to Iraq?
Hing: I can't say for sure.
Q: Is there a possibility you'll go back?
Hing: There's a great possibility.
Q: What's the one thing you want to do while you're there?
Hing: I want to take care of my people and I want to execute our mission.
Q: Do you feel a special kinship, I guess, with the Iraqi people now because of what you saw before, what you just dramatically described to us, that you want to go back and say to them okay, this time we're taking care of you?
Hing: It would be a nice opportunity to do that, certainly it would be, but that is policy above my level.
Q: Gentlemen, thank you so much for coming on the program. We're out of time, but this has been really interesting and I'm glad to get your personal stories on this. Thank you very much for your time and your service to our country. We appreciate it.