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Secretary Rumsfeld Town Hall Meeting At Camp Lemonier, Djibouti

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
December 12, 2002

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

(Town Hall meeting at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti. The Town Hall meeting consisted of approximately 400 U.S. troops from all services, though mainly Army. About 900 U.S. troops are currently assigned to Lemonier, including Special Operations Forces. Lemonier, a former French Foreign Legion Base, essentially exists to support SOF going after al Qaeda in the Horn of Africa. Also participating was Col. Earnest Forrest, )

Forrest: Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my distinct privilege to introduce to you today a former Navy pilot, the former 13th and youngest in our nation's history secretary of defense, and our current 21st Secretary of Defense of the United States of America, the Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld.

[applause]

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much, Col. Forrest thank you so much for those fine words. Men and women, soldiers, sailors, Marines I didn't see any coast guardsmen but if they're here hello as well. It is a real pleasure for me to be here, to have a chance to look you in the eye and tell you how much we appreciate what you're doing. That's clearly the best part of the job I've got as secretary of defense is to get out of Washington and shake hands and let people know personally how much we appreciate your service.

Each of you volunteered. Years ago that wasn't the case. People were drafted. On our conscription military. But today each one of you stepped up and said you wanted to serve. You offered to put your lives at risk so that all Americans can be free and live in peace. That's a very special calling that you've undertaken. Your work long hours, you're far from home. We know that. Sometimes it's even hot [some laughter]. Sometimes it's even dusty, um there's also the uncertainty of not knowing precisely what may lie ahead. You do it voluntarily because of your love of our country. You should know that your country knows that and is grateful to you.

We're also grateful to your families. They worry about you. They endure long periods of separation. And that can be particularly difficult this time of year. So your families also sacrifice for our country. And while we're proud of you, we're proud of them as well.

Your task in the global war on terrorism is a difficult one and potentially a very dangerous one. As President Bush has said you carry on your shoulders not only the values of America but also the hopes of the world. And it is so. Thousands of people, citizens of every race and religion, were killed on September 11th. People from all across the world. And at this moment, terrorist networks and terrorist states are seeking weapons of mass destruction. That will allow terrorists to kill not simply thousands but tens of thousands or potentially hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

Our job, your mission is to stop attacks of such magnitude. It is a challenge of historic proportions, let there be no doubt. So you as work to defend our people from those that wish them harm, you can have no doubt but that we're not in this alone. We, our country, have been sent here by Providence at this moment in history to deal with this threat. We have a coalition of some 90 nations, more than half the countries on the face of the earth cooperating in the global war on terrorism. The goal of course is to see that free people can live at peace wherever they live.

So I'm delighted to be here to be able to thank you personally for your courage, your commitment, for your dedication to our country. It's a wonderful country. Your nation is grateful. As families gather across America to celebrate this holiday season, their thoughts and their prayers will be with you. In their hearts, all Americans know that they can celebrate this season in peace only because brave men and women such as you stand ready to defend our freedom and defeat terror. I thank you for all you do for your country. You have my very best wishes for the holiday season. And may God bless you all. Thank you very much.

[Applause]

Now I just met with some folks a little earlier and they asked me some tough questions and uh I knew the answers to some and I didn't know the answers to the others. But I darn well wrote them down and will be back in Washington trying to help figure out the answers to some of the others. And I'd be delighted to respond to any questions that you might have.

Who's first with a good loud voice?

If you don't get you hand up I'm gonna let the press ask questions.

Yes sir.

Q: Sir where do we stand on getting an access agreement with this country?

Rumsfeld: With this county. The question is where do we stand on getting an access agreement with this country. The answer is I just came out of a meeting with the president of this country. And we talked about an access agreement and some other arrangements. And you won't believe it but when I turned to our ambassador who's here - where are you Mr. Ambassador? You're not here? There he is. He looked at me and said it's waiting for a couple of lawyers to come from Washington next week. And I take him at his word. So all I can say is he's a good ambassador and he's pressing it hard and I'm gonna go back to Washington and press it from the other end. And uh the only problem we've got is we've got some lawyers in the middle who work like beavers who get in the middle of the river and dam it up.

Next question.

That's amazing, that's amazing. What about from the press over here? These are some of folks are in the Pentagon press corps, distinguished, talented. [laughter]

Q: Uh Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Jim?

Q: The missiles that were found on that North Korean vessel

Rumsfeld: He's asking about the missiles that were found on that North Korean vessel.

Q: Uh is there any reason to believe that they were bound for Iraq?

Rumsfeld: He asked is there any reason to believe that those missiles they just found on the North Korean vessel might have been bound for Iraq. And the answer is we don't yet know where they were headed for. Sometimes they end up heading in one direction and it becomes a transshipment point and it goes to an entirely different direction. And until we get more information all I can say is we're very interested in what the ultimate destination was intended to be, but we've not yet found out.

Questions?

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Q: Sir the standard of living on a camp has often determined our permanence or temporary bases. Is there any insight into how long we will be in Djibouti or the future of Djibouti and Camp Lemonier?

Rumsfeld: The question is to what extent is this camp likely to be more than just a temporary arrangement? Uh an answer is it's not knowable at the present time. Needless to say, a year ago we weren't here. Um what is very clear is, are several things. Number one it's clear that the al Qaeda and terrorist networks are spread all across the globe. It is clear that when they were run out of Afghanistan, they spread themselves out into different countries. A number went into Pakistan, some went into Iran, some into Iraq, some down here in Yemen. Still others into Africa. And still others into North America and indeed Southeast Asia.

A second thing we know is the president of this country and the government of this country has been very very cooperative. They've been leaning forward to assist the coalition of countries in the global war on terrorism. They have been hospitable to us here. And clearly that is what, among the things one looks for as to how we ought to be arranged in the world, what our footprint as a country ought to be. The thing is we need to be where the action is and there is no question but there, this part of the world is an area where there's action. The Central Command's area of responsibility and the number of terrorists for example just across the water in Yemen and in the southern part of Saudi Arabia uh these are serious problems. So this is a good location from the standpoint of what a reasonable person can expect for the coming period of years.

The other thing we look for is the country hospitable? Do they want us there? Are they friendly to us? Do they do they feel it's a good thing for their country to be a participant in all of this? And there is no question but that that's the case in this situation. Uh so I suspect that if we looked out one or two or three of four years we'd find that this facility would be here. Or something very closely to it.

Yes ma'am.

Q: [inaudible]

Rumsfeld: I think that the was asking a question about a pay raise in January of 03, was it something like that?

That's a good question. [laughter] The Congress for whatever reason has delayed passing legislation and it has only recently passed the authorization bill and the appropriation bill. The proposal was for a pay raise to begin in January, someone correct me if I'm wrong. It is January. And the amount of that I believe is written in the statute. The only issue that I know that's open is how does that amount of money gets allocated across the spectrum of military personnel. It doesn't affect civilian personnel as I recall, this particular provision of the bill. And what has been done the last two years I suspect will be done again, and that is to take a flat amount that everybody will receive and take the remaining portion of the pay raise funds available and target them on the people who are in the categories of greatest need for the military. That is to say, as people do personnel reviews and look at compensation, they find, one of the things they found that there are an awful lot of people for example serving in the enlisted ranks who have a number of years of education, college education, and that they're peers on the outside would be making more money. So some of the money was targeted in the mid uh enlisted ranks. That is how that allocation is made for the money that is not part of the across the board. And I didn't, to my knowledge those final calculations have not been done by the Pentagon or the Office of Management and Budget but should be done soon. Obviously it's December so they'd better get on with it because if we're gonna start paying it in January they'll have to be there.

Question? Yes sir.

Q: [inaudible]

Rumsfeld: The question is on retirees when would the age be lowered by 64 to 55, 60 to 55, for reservists to retire. Right, I got it right?

Well I'm 70 years old - I can't imagine anybody wanting to retire at 55! [laughter] I tell you I'm kind of looking at it going the other way. I'm concerned that people in the military tend to serve too short a time in their assignments. They get in those assignments and they get churned out, or they get sent out for 179 days and one thing and another. And I think people get good at their jobs after they're in them for several years, two or three years. So I'm working with the personnel folks in the Pentagon to see if we can't slow down this constant churning that's taking place.

Second, I think that we ought to be able to fashion a personnel system in the military so that when people get to that up and out point they don't have to necessarily get out. I think that people may want to stay in. They may, don't have to stay in longer than 20 or 30 years but I would like to see a situation - I was talking to one of the senior enlisted people the other day. He walked up to me - he was getting a photograph taken - I said what's up? He said I'm out. I said how old are you? He said 47. He's at the top of his game, a superb, outstanding soldier and he's leaving. Now there must be something funny about an organization that takes the people who do the very best and then pop 'em out. So I guess if I get up in the morning and you ask me what do I worry about most, worrying about lowering it from 60 to 55 for reservists is not what I worry about most. The truth is the truth.

[Laughter]

Last question.

Q: (inaudible) but about smallpox vaccine

Rumsfeld: I know a little word on that. It looks to me like what's gonna happen is there is smallpox vaccine that's available. It's gonna be made available first I believe to the first responders, people who have medical - who are the likely people to be dealing with people who have smallpox. Second to people who would likely be in a theatre of action where it conceivably should be a problem. And I think that it should be rolling out over the weeks and months ahead. And people will be being given vaccinations depending on how they fit in that priority list.

Thank you very much. I appreciate what you're doing and God Bless each one of you.

Thank you.

[applause]