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Secretary Rumsfeld Town Hall Meeting at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
August 20, 2003

(Town hall meeting at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras.  Photos from the town hall meeting are located at http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Aug2003/0308020-F-2828D-274.html, http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Aug2003/0308020-F-2828D-271.html and http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Aug2003/0308020-F-2828D-063.html.)

 

     Rumsfeld:  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 the -- 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 a part of a 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 but 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 they 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 a half a world away some of their soldiers and MPs and we’re deeply grateful for that.  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.  And I would be delighted to answer a few questions.  I’m told we don’t have to leave for a little bit and then I would hope I would have a chance to shake some hands and thank you personally.  Now is there anyone behind me with their hand up that would like to ask me a question?

 

     What about out here, anyone have a question?  Make it an easy one it’s early in the morning, for an old man I need to kind of get going slow in the morning.

 

     Yes, sir?

 

     Q:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Rumsfeld:  Someone was talking and I couldn’t hear the first part of your question, would you repeat it.

 

     Q:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Rumsfeld:  Oh, I can’t imagine a reduction in the force level if you’re talking about worldwide end strength.  We are engaged in the process of looking at end strength and asking the question, what are the things we can do to reduce stress on the force and to relieve pressure for end strength increases.  Needless to say our country can afford increases in end strength if we decide they’re appropriate and necessary for the commitment that have been made.  But I sit down with some folks about a week ago and developed a list of 25 or 30 things that we can do to improve the way we manage the force so that we will relieve the pressure and the stress on the force and the pressure for an increase in end-strength.

 

     On the issue of commitments that is something that we do have to look at very carefully, we cannot be everywhere at all times in the world and there’s always a request for additional U.S. assistance.  I was looking at tables coming in and we have I think 275 or 279 folks on the ground in Liberia at the present time and the request is coming in from the Nigerian forces that have the bulk of the forces there -- something in excess of 1,000 peacekeepers -- asking us to do more and constantly do more and of course that’s understandable, there’s great need in Liberia and in other countries in the world and our folks do a great job and so when the U.N. needs some help or when an East [sic West] African country organization ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] needs some help they look to us and ask for assistance and to the extent we can we would like to do that but there are limits and what we’ve been doing in the last 2 ½ years I’ve been systematically looking at a number of older commitments that we had and asked the question why don’t we start reducing down those forces and we’ve been doing that we’ve been pulling down the forces in Bosnia, we’ve been reducing the forces in Kosovo, we’ve reduced the forces in the Sinai.  We had a situation where we’re working to reduce some forces we have in Iceland that really aren’t -- we think that we can work out with the government there.  We’re looking at our footprint worldwide and to the extent we can pull down some of the forces that are in Asia and in Europe, which I believe we can [inaudible] sufficient end strength not for the purpose of reducing it but for the purpose of reducing stress on the current force.  If we implement some of the 25 or 30 things that we just are currently casting people to address.  So I feel that we’ve got a lot of commitments and we got a lot of wonderful people doing things around the world and the world is a safer and more peaceful and a better place because of the things we’re doing but we have to manage it in a way that we are respectful of the active forces as well as the Reserve force.

 

     Question.  Yes.

 

     Q:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Rumsfeld:  Our equipment.

 

     Yeah.

 

     We did an interesting thing this year in the Iraq conflict.  General Franks was a superb commander and just did a wonderful job he and his team, joint war fighting team.  But what they did was at the very outset of the conflict they embedded 75 or 100 people at every level of that war fight and the purpose was to look at lessons learned and they had come back in with their report and it is fascinating.  I got an hour and half briefing on it one day and I immediately scheduled a 5 ½ hour briefing for the next Saturday and since then I’ve seen another hour and a half of just another hour of it and it’s just an intriguing thing.  We learned a great deal and there’s no question but that we need to be able to have a somewhat smaller footprint, we need to be more agile, we need to be able to do things on a shorter time line rather than a longer time line, we have to be able to work inside the decision cycles of the enemy, because the enemy go to school on us just as we go to school on them.  They watch what we do and develop the ability to deal with those kinds of threats and they go to school on us and watch how we do things so we are in the process of reconstituting after a war but instead of going back and filling up each of things that we’ve expended or used during that war -- by of equipment what we’re doing is we’re not doing that, we’re consciously not doing that we’re looking at the changing nature of the requirements because we can look at usage during that war and see that it was not what was predicted because it was a different circumstance and therefore we have the ability to make adjustments in the things we bring back in line.  And we need to invest for this new security environment.  We’re going to need or things we have but we’re also going to need to be investing in certainly much better intelligence and much better sensors and have the ability to move things faster so we’ll see a continuing migration by way from where we are towards where we need to go to see that we have those kinds of skills and capability.

 

     Question.  Yes.

 

     Q:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Rumsfeld:  No I’m just in the process of looking at that and I am without conviction at the moment and what I have to do is spend some time with the people who have invested time on it for a couple of obvious reasons, we have a much bigger footprint in Asia and Europe and therefore -- which is why I have invested a good deal of my time on those two situations, I’m farther along in my thinking there but sometime in the weeks ahead I’m going l be sitting down with General Hill and others and looking at this hemisphere and asking those tough questions.  It’s an important hemisphere, we live here, we care about this hemisphere being a peaceful and stable hemisphere, we’ve got a terrible problem with terrorism in certain places, we’ve got a terrible problem with drugs and narcotic traffickers and billions of dollars that flow into their pockets for them to use in ways that harmful to peace loving people.  We’ve had a problem with hostage taking for political purposes, hostage taking for money and so we have to figure out how we ought to be arranged and how we work with the peace loving countries in this region.

 

     Question.  Yes.

 

     Q:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Rumsfeld:  What does that mean -- voluntary purposes?

 

     Q:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Rumsfeld:  Oh for the (Inaudible.).  Ok.

 

     Q:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Rumsfeld:  We need to reduce the response time.

 

     Q:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Rumsfeld:  I don’t know.  Whenever a group that have been put together among just volunteers it’s just a pick up group.  Is that what you’re saying?  And they do search and rescue, but it’s not a formalized team but could be assigned here for that purpose.  How much search and rescue has to be done? And what kinds of things?

 

     Q:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Rumsfeld:  What’s 228?

 

     Q:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Rumsfeld:  You said 228.

 

     Q:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Rumsfeld:  The ones that are going to fly us away from here in a few minutes.  Well I’m sure I’ll know what 228 is in about 10 minutes.  Well I don’t know the answer to that question and I’ll talk to Colonel (Inaudible.) about it.  Thank you.

 

     Anyone asking behind me, any hands up back there?

 

     Just a bunch of pretty faces back here.

 

     Yes, we’ll make this the last question.

 

     Q:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Rumsfeld:  The question is about privatization and outsourcing.  I think it’s an area where we can -- it’s one of the areas on the list I mentioned of 25 to 30 things.  For one thing, I’ll give you an example, we have been dramatically increasing the outsourcing of housing for forces, and what we’re able to do is instead of using our cash to build and own, we’re able to use the leverage of the private sectors cash to build and own and we’re able to do 3 or 4 or 5 times as many structures as we otherwise would be able to do and it’s been an enormous success.  I looked at some data last week and I’m going to be within 10% but that’s close enough for government work I guess.  The prison system that the military runs is costing something like -- some people say $26,000 a person, others say more.  In Kansas the state is doing it for $14,100 per person per year.  Well I don’t think of managing prisoners as a core competency of the military and I would think they ought to find a way to outsource some of that type activity and so we’re looking at a whole series of things.  There’s another area that we’re looking at is, we’re told that some studies have been done that shows there is something like 300,000 military people doing tasks that could be as easily done by civilians.  It doesn’t mean that it should be done by civilians, but they could be done by civilians.  One of the reasons it happens is because the civil service laws in the United States, that we’re currently trying to get changed, are so strict and make it so difficult to hire people.  It takes months to hire somebody, it takes much longer to fire somebody -- it could be a year -- and so what people do is they behave rationally.  They go and grab a military person because they know they can assign them, they can have them do the task, they can deploy them, they can change their assignment, and it all works and they do a good job so they end up sticking more and more military people in the jobs that (inaudible) because of the difficulty of the civil service system.  And we’re trying to get some rules changed the way that the Department of Homeland Security did and the way that some other departments have some flexibility so that people can make rational decisions and make them use military people for military tasks and they can bring the new civilian people or contractors for those tasks that need not be done by uniformed personnel.  So I feel -- I’m hopeful we’ll get the legislation approved if its not quite clear, there’s a debate between the House and the Senate and it’s in conference but I’m hopeful we’ve gotten a good hearing on it.  Imagine not 300,000 let’s say we got 20,000, what that would do to relieve stress on the force -- going back to that first question about end strength, where there would be 20,000 additional end strength we could be using for the military for military tasks.  So there’s a lot things like that we’re working hard on.

 

     I’m glad to be here, I appreciate what you’re doing, you folks you do a superb job and you’re respected in our country and you’re respected in countries across the globe because of the fine work you do.  So thank you so much.

 

     Staff:  We appreciate your comments and again, sir, we’d like to reiterate, we consider it an honor to be part of your team.  Sir this is again a small token it has a lion statue, which is deflective of the history of this region it also has five coins of which represent each one of the subordinate commands and then sir, the JTF-Bravo coin representing command as a whole.  And, sir, on behalf on of all the folks here assembled thank you so much for coming and visiting.

 

     Rumsfeld:  Thank you -- appreciate that, that’s very nice.   

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