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Secretary Rumsfeld - USS Blue Ridge Town Hall Meeting

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
November 15, 2003

Rumsfeld:  Thank you, Captain [inaudible].  [Applause]


If they serve food like this every day I'm about ready to rejoin.  [Laughter]


Captain and distinguished guests, members of the press that are traveling with us here, and the crew of the USS Blue Ridge.  I am delighted to be here.


We've been in Guam and we head from here to Okinawa and then over to Korea.  The reason I'm here and those that are traveling with me are here is because this part of the world is so enormously important to our country and to this region.  We feel the events that are taking place across the globe are important to be sure, and the folks that are serving here are very deeply involved in the global war on terrorists, just as those who are serving in Afghanistan and in Iraq and in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere.


So I thank you for what you're doing.  I had lunch here with some folks who are from various parts of Alabama and Texas and St. Petersburg.  You're from all over the United States and indeed all over the world so you're a long way from home.  Your families I know miss you, and the American people recognize the fact that each of you is a volunteer.  Each one of you made a conscious decision to step forward and serve your country and to help defend freedom, to help see that the American people can live without fear and live in freedom and enjoy all the wonderful benefits that accrue to free people.


All one has to do is to visit a country like Iraq where for 30 years people have been repressed.  They had an economic system that represented almost a Stalinist-type economic system where everything was controlled.  The people were denied opportunities.  In their political system people were not free.  There were no votes in their own affairs. And after decades of that people become scarred.  They couldn't do anything other than what they were told.  And suddenly today they're free and they have all kinds of opportunities.


The people who have gone in from our country and from the coalition countries have seen the mass graves with tens and tens of thousands of dead innocent men, women and children who were murdered there.  They have seen the torture chambers that were used.  They have seen the effects of an infrastructure that's destroyed and decayed because it wasn't invested in. And the 23 million people there in that country are now liberated.


There are still some folks, as you read every day, who are trying to take that country back for Saddam Hussein and his crowd, but I can tell you it's not going to happen.  The President of the United States and the American people are determined to see that that country remains a single country, that it's at peace with its neighbors, that it does not have powerful weapons, and it has a system of government that's respectful of the diverse religious and ethnic minorities of the country.


It is not going to be easy. It is dangerous.  We're losing lives and wonderful young men and women get wounded, but they know what they're doing is important.  They're proud of what they're doing.  And you and the American people can be proud of them as well.


So with that I'm going to stop.  We have a little time.  What I'd be happy to do is to answer a few questions, or more precisely, I'd be happy to respond to a few questions.  If you ask hard questions I'll refer them to -- well, there's Ambassador Howard Baker sitting right there.  Stick your hand up, Howard.  There he is.  [Applause]


Howard Baker and I served in Congress together and he's a dear friend, and he is doing an absolutely superb job representing our country here in Japan. We're lucky to have him doing it.  Believe me.


Now, who has a question?  There you go.  Uh oh, the first question's always hard.


Q:  Yes, sir.  What can you tell us about the future role of the Navy in Japan?  Will our role increase or decrease?


Rumsfeld:  The importance of this part of the world is so great and growing that there's no doubt in my mind that the role of the United States Navy and our cooperation with this country and with neighboring countries is going to grow over the coming two, three, four decades.


I think those of you who are serving in the Navy are going to see the responsibilities of the United States Navy increase generally, and increase particularly here.


I'm a broken-down ex-Navy man myself.  [Applause]


Q:  Yes, sir.  My question is why are we forcing top enlisted personnel to retire early when we're still energetic and have a lot left to do?


Rumsfeld:  I'll be damned if I know.  [Laughter]  I think it's a lousy idea.  I was talking to a senior enlisted person the other day.  This fellow is at the top of his game.  He was the top person.  I said how are you doing?  I knew him.  We were having lunch.  He said well I'm fixing to go out. I said how old are you?  He said 47.  I said 47 and you're leaving?  I've got a 49 year old daughter and I'm still going.  [Laughter]


There's something wrong with a process that does that.  I think two things about it.  I think people change assignments too frequently.  I worry about particularly people going into a job and then leaving before they have a chance to clean up their own mistakes.  And I worry that you trip along the tops of the waves and never really get engaged.  And I worry about the fact that with people living longer and with knowledge and experience so terribly important the idea that people still in their 40s would feel they have to go up and out I think is a mistake.


I hope we'll be able to over time, we can't do it fast, but over time I hope we can lengthen the number of months that a person is in their post somewhat, and I hope we can lengthen the number of years that people have opportunities to serve in the military if in fact they'd like to continue to serve in the military.


Q:  Mr. Secretary, Sir, [inaudible] Rodriguez.  Sir, do you see further downsizing of the military?  [Inaudible] U.S. Navy.


Rumsfeld:  I don't see further downsizing in the U.S. military.  It seems to me that the total force concept's the right concept.  We need to have active duty forces, and we need to have ready Reserve and Guard forces that are capable of supplementing the active force during a period when we have a spike in activities like we do right now in Iraq and Afghanistan.


The problem we've got is that we have an imbalance.  We have people in the Guard and the Reserve that we really need to have those skills on active duty; and we probably have some skills on active duty that would be better off in the Guard and Reserve.


So the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines are all in the process of rebalancing the active force with the reserve components.


The force at the present time is stressed.  There's just no question about it.  We can't be doing all the things we're doing in the world, in Bosnia, Kosovo and some longer-term commitments.  For example we've been in the Sinai for 20-plus years with a small force.  We have forces in Iceland.  We have forces in Korea and Europe.  And then in addition when you add on an Afghanistan or an Iraq, it does put a stress on the force.  We have to be careful that we manage the force in a way that is respectful of both the active service people as well as the Guard and Reserve who don't intend to be full time.  They intend to be available to help in a crisis.

There are a lot of things we can do to reduce the stress on the force.  One of the things ultimately we may have to do is increase the size of the force.  But at the moment it looks to us that, every study that's been done indicates we've got a lot of things we can do before we feel we have to increase the size of the force.


Of course the people part of it is so critically important that we've got to make sure we pay people properly, we've got to make sure we reward them and their circumstances, their housing is proper.  The food obviously is fine.  I know that.  [Laughter]  And that's expensive.  Therefore you want to have the right size force.


One of the things we're doing, for example, we just got approval of the Congress so we can change our civilian personnel system.  At the moment we've got something like 300,000 men and women in uniform doing jobs that everyone agrees could be done by civilians.  What we'd like to do is -- Some of them it's better to have military even though they could be done by civilians.  But once we can manage that civilian workforce -- Right now everyone reaches for a person in uniform.  When they have a job to be done they grab someone who they know can do it, they can assign it, they can deploy them, they can take them in the job, take them out of the job.  You can't do that with the civilian workforce.


So the new rules are going to allow us to do more of that, in which case I think we'll free up a number of military people to be available to reduce some of the stress that currently exists on the force.


I'm about ready to get the hook by a three-star general.  Can you believe that?


I'm told I can do one more question.  Way in the back.


Q:  Good afternoon, sir.


Rumsfeld:  Good afternoon, ma'am.


Q:  I was just wondering if the Kitty Hawk gets decommissioned, who will replace her?  [Laughter]


Rumsfeld:  First of all you say if the Kitty Hawk gets decommissioned.  The truth of the matter is, eventually all of us get decommissioned so the question is when, not if. I think. That's some years off.  I could be wrong, but my recollection is that that ship is due for '08 or -- Is that right?  2008.  That's close enough for government work.  It could be plus or minus a few, I'm sure.  And between now and then they'll figure that out.  [Laughter]


Q:  Roger that.


Rumsfeld:  All right.  It's good to see you all.  Thanks for what you're doing.  We appreciate it.

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