(Town hall meeting at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas)
Rumsfeld: Thank you very much. (Applause continues.) Thank you all. Thank you very much. (Applause continues.) Thank you.
General Cook, thank you so much for that warm introduction, and thank you for your leadership.
I'm not a Texan, but I was stationed in Texas when I was in the Navy, at Corpus Christi. Does that count a little bit? (Laughter, applause.)
Colonel Holmes, Governor Rick Perry, it's a pleasure to see you, to be in your great state of Texas. I do have the mike, and I could comment on some of your comments, but I shan't. (Laughter.)
How about that band? (Cheers, applause.) How about the vocalists? (Whoops, applause.)
Men and women of America's armed forces -- Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines --
Rumsfeld: Is that for the Navy or the Marines? (Laughter.)
(Chuckles.) And the veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom -- I understand many of you are arrayed behind me here. Is that right? (Applause.) Terrific.
I wish each of you could have gone to the back of the room and walked in, like we did, and received the kind of greeting we received, because each of you deserves that applause. And we thank each of you for your service to our country.
What a day this has been! This morning I had the honor of meeting with some 6,000 members of Veterans of Foreign Wars at their national convention, to speak to some of the heroes of America's past; warriors whose gallantry and valor earned them the right to be called "the greatest generation." Later, I visited Fort Sam Houston, where thousands of Army medics are trained. Also had a chance to visit the Brooke Army Medical Center, where over 300 soldiers and Marines, wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom, have been so well cared for, and to visit with some of the troops there who are currently in recovery. And now here this afternoon with America's latest generation of warriors.
Last month, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the all-volunteer force. And what a force it is; men and women who voluntarily step forward to put their lives at risk to protect and defend freedom -- our freedom here at home, but also the freedom of folks across the globe. During these past 22 months, in the global war on terror, America's armed forces have been tested again and again. And as our commander in chief, President George W. Bush, has said, "In every case, in every mission they have brought credit to the uniform, to the flag and to our country. Whenever and wherever we have needed you," he said, "you have never let us down." So, we thank you for that.
And I must say, I thank your families, also, for they, too, sacrifice, let there be no doubt; they sacrifice so that each of you can do your job for our nation and for the world.
Our world is a different place than it was two years ago. September 11th ushered in a new age, an age of -- some are calling, of asymmetric warfare. In this age, the threats we have faced have not been so much large armies, large navies and large air forces locked in great battle, but suicide bombers, cyber-terrorists, low-intensity warfare, and the spreading contagion of weapons of mass destruction.
These unconventional dangers threaten the safety and the security of our people at home, and peace and freedom abroad. The war on terror is not a war that our country asked for, but it is a war we have to fight and we have to win because there is no safe, easy middle ground. Either we take the war to the terrorists and fight them where they are -- at this moment, to be sure, in Iraq and Afghanistan or elsewhere -- or at some point we will have to fight them here at home.
This war is real, it is difficult, it is dangerous, and it's far from over, but we're making good progress. Think of it. Two terrorist regimes have been removed and two peoples have been freed from years of fear and years of oppression. We're working to lay the foundations of freedom and helping to build the pillars upon which liberty and representative government will rest.
The 100-plus days that have passed since Iraq's liberation have been days of both difficulty, to be sure, but also progress. The Iraqi Governing Council has been formed. A national army is being created in Iraq. Dozens of city councils have been established. An independent central bank has been established. Oil exports have resumed. The Iraqi people are emerging from the shadows into the light of liberty. And all that in some 100-plus days.
There will continue to be some setbacks, I regret to say, but there will be more successes. And the outcome is not in doubt. Enlistments are up. Recruiting is up. And the success of military operations in Iraq is an indication of the dedication and the motivation of our forces. They are doing important work. Each of you is doing important work.
As for how long our country will have to stay in Iraq, the truth is that it's not knowable today. I wish it were. But it really depends on when the Iraqi people are able to get themselves on a path towards a sovereign and representative government. This much is certain: The president has said we will stay as long as it takes to finish the job and not a day longer. Our task is to lift the threat of terrorist violence from our people and our future.
As President Bush has said the advance of human freedom depends on you.
Like the greatest generation that saved the world from the tyranny of their time, your generation has been called to greatness, as well. Our freedom, our future, depends on the courage and the determination of our forces and what they bring to this task. All over the world, all across this globe, everywhere you go, people long for what we have, for what each of you has volunteered to defend: liberty, democracy, tolerance and a future without fear; the ability to get up in the morning, walk out your door and not have to look in every direction to make sure that someone won't shoot you. That's why we will prevail. It is a momentous mission, and your role is critically important.
On behalf of the president and the American people, I thank you for your service. Thank you all, and may God bless each of you.
Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you very much. (Applause continuing.) Thank you.
I'm told there's some microphones here, and that I've got some time and I can answer some questions before I have the privilege of going down and shaking hands and looking into your eyes and telling you how much I appreciate that you volunteered for this service.
Where are the microphones? Who's got a question?
Q: My name is Master Sergeant Ali. I work on the avionics on this big C-5 behind us.
Rumsfeld: That's quite a sight. (Laughter.)
Q: Big plane. Being a Shi'ite Muslim, a proud Shi'ite Muslim and an American, my family, me and the Muslim community of San Antonio want to thank you and the president for getting rid of Saddam and his regime. Thank you, sir! (Applause.)
Rumsfeld: (Chuckles.) Thank you, and God bless you. Thank you! (Applause continuing.)
Q: Our Muslim community also wants to give you our 100 percent support, and this comes from bottom of our hearts. Thank you, sir.
Rumsfeld: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. (Applause.) Thank you.
There's a question over here.
Q: Airman First Class Rebecca Packer, from the Air Force Band of the West.
Rumsfeld: Are you the one that sang that song?
Q: Yes, sir.
Rumsfeld: Oh! It was wonderful.
Q: Thank you, sir. (Applause.)
Mr. Secretary, my question has two parts, and it has to do with your proposal that the retirement age be extended to 62 for military members. I wondered, first of all, if that is something that will be extended to everyone or just senior officers, and how close are we to actually having that happen?
Rumsfeld: Well, being 71 years old, 62 sounds young to me, but -- (laughter). It is something that we're thinking about. I have not made a specific proposal. I do think that -- two things. I think, one, that it is probably a good idea if people serve somewhat longer in some posts; that the average tour length for a lot of people is awfully short, and it leads to an awful lot of permanent changes of station, which is difficult on families. It also creates a situation where sometimes people move through jobs so fast they don't have a chance to clean up their own mistakes. (Laughter.) And that's an important learning experience! (Applause.)
If that were to be the case, if tour lengths were lengthened somewhat, then the next reality is that people do live longer today, and they are healthier, and it seems to me that the process of up-and- out is not necessarily always a good idea. And therefore, I would think that you might find that over time, there could be a way to increase the opportunity, for some people who want to, to serve somewhat longer in a career.
And we've got Dr. David Chu and the folks in the military looking at these questions and seeing how we might do that in a way that would benefit the force. But I have not developed a -- I've got an idea and a theory, but not a conviction, yet, that I know what the solution is. And we have to make darn sure -- you know, to those who would tear down what is, you better recommend something better. So we want to make darn sure that whatever we recommend in fact would be better, so we're going to give it a great deal of thought.
Q: Thank you, sir.
Rumsfeld: Thank you.
Q: (Off mike.)
Rumsfeld: That mike doesn't work?
Q: (Off mike.)
Rumsfeld: Where is another mike?
Q: I'm Master Sergeant Myers (sp).
Rumsfeld: Oh, good.
Q: I'm with the Air Intelligence Agency on Lackland Air Force Base. My question, sir, is: During another recent town hall meeting, you mentioned that DOD is working towards deployment and redeployment efficiency, and we were wondering -- the balance between the active, the Guard and the Reserves, and their skill sets -- how are you looking towards realigning that to the Air Force -- (inaudible) -- concept?
Rumsfeld: We've got -- thank you, Master Sergeant. We've got -- the services and the Joint Staff are currently working on each of those issues.
The last issue, with respect to balancing the active and the Reserve force, is a result of the reality that we have had to call up in the Reserves a number of units and people too frequently. And they -- they're in the Reserve, they're not in the active force, and because we have too few of their skills and specialities on active duty, we end up reaching into the Reserve and the Guard to call them up too often.
So what we need to do is to put some skill sets that are in the active force into the Guard and Reserve, and some skill sets from the Guard and Reserve into the active force, so that we have a better balance between them. No one person is smart enough to know exactly what that means, but we've got the service -- each of the services, plus the Joint Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, working on it. And there should be proposals coming forward in a reasonable period of time.
The deployment and redeployment process was -- I don't want to say "ugly," but it was -- I suppose a nice way to say it -- it was imperfect. (Scattered laughter.) Sometimes I understate for emphasis.
We ended up, in the case of the Army, in -- at one point, they were averaging only five days' notice for a call-up for Reserve and Guard. Now that's just not right. It's not fair to the families. It's not fair to there Reservists. It's not fair to their employers. And we -- the people are the most important thing we have, and we've got to see that we manage that force in a way that's respectful of people and that gives them a degree of certainty, a degree of predictability. So we've got to fix that.
What we have is basically an Industrial Age process where either the big lever is off, it's peace, or it's on, and it's World War III. Now the reality is, we're not likely to have either of those circumstances. We're much more likely to have a series of activities and requirements and contingencies that we have to address, which means we need a process that's more nuanced. We have to be able to bring in people without this blunt, crude instrument of a TPFDD [time-phased force deployment directive], in a way that brings into the active force, for periods of time and in ways that are respectful of them, the kinds of skills and capabilities we need. There are lots of things we can do to improve it. We've got a number of things underway already, obviously. We've tried to do our best using volunteers, we've tried to use elements in the Reserves that had not been previously called up recently, and we've also tried to be somewhat respectful of major holidays if it's possible to do so. But we're going to get a system with some planing tools that give us a great -- more flexibility and agility in how we do that. And my guess is that within six months to a year, we'll have a vastly improved process.
Question? Yes, sir?
Q: Sir, my name is Sergeant First Class Wilson, a/k/a "Green Mile." I'm with AMEDD [Army Medical Department] Noncommissioned Officer Academy at Fort Sam Houston Texas. (Cheers.) Sir, I have a three-part question for you.
We've already got some Marines and Navy SEALs deployed in Liberia. Where is this operation headed? Are we going to increase our presence with Army and other troops as well? And how long will we be there?
Rumsfeld: Right now we have somewhere between 290 to probably 320 uniformed military personnel on the ground in Liberia. We have some additional forces -- Marines, for the most part -- standing off in the Iwo Jima in a -- two other ships.
The purpose was - the president's decision was that he believed it was important to provide some assistance in Liberia because of the danger of a humanitarian crisis. You may recall that there have been various elements fighting each other in that country. It is a country that is -- has been largely, oh, destroyed in many ways, their electrical system, their clean water. They've got a cholera problem. And he decided that it was important that we provide some assistance. But he wanted to make sure that we were in support of the Eastern African countries rather than taking over the operation and doing it ourselves.
So the work that Secretary Powell and the Department of Defense have been engaged in is to try to get the ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] forces -- mostly Nigeria, but there are six or eight other countries that are prepared to bring in forces and are starting to do so -- and give them the major role, and we would provide a variety of types of assistance.
We've gone in, for example, and done an assessment of the airport; we've done an assessment at the port in Monrovia. We have provided some assistance to begin repairing the port so it can receive humanitarian assistance. We have provided a Quick Reaction Force that went into the airport, and is now in the process of pulling back onto the Iwo Jima, during the period when the Nigerian forces were too few to secure both the airport and the port where the humanitarian assistance has to come in.
I think our role there, assuming things go well, should be relatively short-lived. The Quick Reaction Force will be repositioned back aboard the Iwo Jima. And, the good Lord willing, the humanitarian, non-governmental workers will begin coming back because the environment is more secure. There are now two Nigerian battalions in there, there are additional ECOWAS, East African country forces, ready to come in. And I read the information today leading me to believe, at least at the moment, the situation has stabilized somewhat and things are working roughly according to plan.
Way in the back.
Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, I am Major Mica Scott (sp) of the 433rd Logistics Readiness Squadron. I'm a Reserve officer here at Lackland Air Force Base. And I'd like to say a couple of things. First of all, I'd like to thank you for your support of the reservists. I see a lot of message traffic coming down from your level, and I really appreciate it.
Rumsfeld: Thank you.
Q: Second of all, I'd like to ask if there are any new initiatives coming down regarding federal civil service employer support. I am a federal civil servant, and I specifically sought out that job because I wanted to serve in sort of a twofold capacity. But my experience hasn't afforded me the type of support that I had hoped and dreamed of. So --
Rumsfeld: Well, thank you very much. The -- we have a wonderful civil service civilian element in the Department of Defense and the defense establishment. We have the active force, we have the Reserve component, we have the civil service component, and we have the contractor support, all of which are critical to our success.
For a variety of reasons, my impression, that is fairly well-documented at this stage, is that the pattern of behavior on the part of managers in the department today is to try to get a job done, and they look around to how to get that job done and they tend to lean towards military personnel because they know they can do the job; they can bring them in, they can move them out, they can deploy them, they're responsive and they do a good job.
They tend to reach for contractors because the contractor can be brought on board, do a job and then leave and do something else. They tend to be very concerned about using civil service employees. So we end up today with what the experts say is -- may be as many as 300,000 uniformed military personnel doing tasks that could be done by nonmilitary personnel -- civil service or contractors. It doesn't mean those tasks should be done by nonmilitary personnel, but they could be done, because they're not core competencies of the department.
Why is that? Well, it's because managers are rational. They reach around, they have to get a job done, and they reach for the people who they can manage effectively. And we have some civil service managers today in the department that have to manage three, four, five different personnel systems in one office of 60, 70, 80 people -- 100 people. Now that's really complicated. They have to treat these people one way, those people another way.
We need -- we've gone to the congress, we've asked for the flexibility so that we can use some of the demonstration projects like China Lake and other places where we have been given authority by Congress to have a more flexible system so we can use that important element of the department, the civil service, in a more effective way. We're hopeful that the Congress will pass something that will free that up. And I think that at that point, we'll find that it will benefit the civil service element, because managers will more likely be willing to reach in there and work with them to achieve the goals of the department.
Question? There's a mike. Yes?
Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you for coming to San Antonio. We appreciate it.
Rumsfeld: Thank you.
Q: My name is Ray Randsel (sp), 563rd Flying Training Squadron, Randolph Air Force Base, the best outfit in DOD. Just to ask you to clarify what you just talked about, OPM [Office of Personnel and Management] seems to be in control of civil service right now with all the rules and regulations. And I guess my question is with the outlook for the House version of the Defense transformation bill, do you think that's going to pass? Or do you think the Senate will hold it up? Or when do we get started, is my question.
Rumsfeld: (Laughs.) Well, there are so many important issues that are pending right now. We have some critical environmental issues that we need, and we have the reform of the personnel system, which is important. And there are a lot of big issues that are being discussed and debated between the House and Senate conference; there's just no way to know how it will come out.
We got about 80 percent of what we proposed in the House version, and in the Senate version it is not as -- the Senate position, I should say, is not as helpful to us as the House version. And we're hopeful that if the tilting takes place, it will tilt towards the House version when the final decisions are made. But, of course, those folks will have a lot of issues on the table as they go through that discussion and conference process. Let's hope they do -- they give us the kind of flexibility so we can move this department into the 21st century.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I'm Technical Sergeant Neil Herndon (sp) from the United States Air Force Band of the West here at Lackland. Recently, the House Armed Services Committee proposed a $23 million cut in Defense Department Public Affairs Program, including the Defense News Network. What is your position on that? What can we expect in the future?
Rumsfeld: I don't know. (Laughter, applause.) Confession is good for the soul! (Laughter.)
You know, when I first ran for Congress, I was 29 years old. And I'd go to a group, and there'd be in the room -- I knew every question I was asked, there would be someone in the room who was the world's leading expert on that question. And I learned to say, "I don't know" early, and I use it often. And I simply don't know.
I have a sense you have a recommendation! (Laughs; laughter.) Thank you.
Oh, oh. Way in the back there. Look at the hat waving -- or the beret. I can't see what it is from here.
Q: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, I'm Major Dawn Stay (sp) from Wilford Hall Medical Center. Circumstances are necessitating an expanded role of coalition forces in the Middle East and throughout the globe. What is the likelihood that U.S. military troops would be fighting under the orders of the U.N. or other countries' commanders?
Rumsfeld: The -- I'd say two things. One, we do need coalition forces, and the Department of State and the Department of Defense, John Abizaid, the combatant commanders, and others, the Joint Staff, have been talking to something in excess of 60, 70 countries, about bringing assistance in. I think the number currently is somewhere around 40 countries are participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom in one way or another. We do need international support and assistance. It's a big help. Full stop.
Second question, what is the likelihood of our forces serving under a blue-hatted United Nations leadership? And I think that's not going to happen. (Applause.)
That is not to say that there are not important places and roles that could be played by United Nations forces. For example, the United Nations has agreed to come in and replace the Eastern African countries, ECOWAS, in Liberia, but it's going to take them several months to get ready to do that. And they may very well come in and replace the ECOWAS forces in Liberia, and that would be a useful thing, to try to take a situation that has been stabilized, go in and then create an environment that's hospitable to the humanitarian assistance workers so that they can continue to provide some help to the Liberians.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I'm Sergeant Major George Swarner (sp). I represent USAMEDCOM [U.S. Army Medical Command]. With the OPTEMPO [operations tempo] of the Reserve component forces here recently, it's making it more difficult to transition soldiers from active -- all service members from active duty to Reserve component.
Rumsfeld: Could you speak a little slower? There's a big echo and I'm having trouble with the --
Q: I understand, sir. I'm just a little hyper when I talk. A former recruiter, you know.
Rumsfeld: (There you go ?). (Laughter.)
Q: Anyway, what we're having trouble with is, with the OPTEMPO of the Reserve component serving, transitioning soldiers, airmen and Marines and Navy from active duty to RC has been a real problem and a challenge for us these last six months, especially in our low-density job skills: officers, medical, military intelligence, that type of thing. Are there any --
Rumsfeld: In transitioning reservists into the --
Q: No, from active duty -- as they leave active duty, transitioning them into the Guard and Reserve.
Rumsfeld: Oh, I see.
Q: We're having trouble doing that because they're saying, "If we wanted to be deployed, we'd stay active duty." So are there any incentives coming along, for these officers and soldiers and sailors and airmen who are leaving, to go into the Guard and Reserve? And if so, what type can we expect?
Rumsfeld: Well, Sergeant Major, what we have to do in our country is to be proud of our all-volunteer force and understand that the requirement if you do have an all-volunteer force and you don't want to use a draft or compulsion to force people to serve, then what you've got to do is you've got to manage the incentives to see that you can attract and retain the correct number of people on active duty, the correct number of people in the Guard and Reserve, in the kinds of skills you need for the periods you need them. And that is a complicated task, and it does require targeting and different kinds of incentives in different circumstances.
Right now, if you drop a plumb line through the process, we are currently meeting or exceeding our recruiting and retention goals, broadly.
That does not mean that in each subcategory we're having success. And what we have to do is to develop the skill so that we can make sure we're competitive, that we can -- if people are going to have to serve on deployments longer, they -- in my view, that has to be recognized. If we want some people in the Reserves to be activated earlier or faster, and that requires a higher state of readiness, rather than a longer period, then we have to recognize that and see that we can attract that kind of person to do it.
We have a broad look going on at the present time in the undersecretary of Personnel and Readiness, Dr. Chu's office, on this very subject.
Q: Thank you very much.
Rumsfeld: Thank you. Thank you.
Q: Check, check, check. There we go. Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. Welcome to San Antonio. We sincerely appreciate you taking the time out to be here with us today.
Rumsfeld: Thank you.
Q: Mr. Secretary, my name is Larry Kisher. I'm member of the Cryptologic Systems Group here on Lackland, on Security Hill. As you've probably heard, sir, CPSG rocks.
Q: (Off mike.)
Q: Thank you very much.
Sir, my question to you concerns a military uniform, a proposed BDU [battle dress uniform] for Air Force members only. I'm a retired member, and I, like everybody else in this room in a blue suit, looked at that fatigue that is being tested -- the fatigues or BDUs -- I'm sorry -- and I have to say some of the comments I've heard are, to use your words, that it's irregular. "Ugly" comes to mind. Folks are scratching their head.
Do you have any ideas, sir, if a blue BDU is coming down the pike for Air Force members? And if so, what experts -- what do the experts envision our warfighters to be camouflaged with? (Laughter.) Thank you. (Applause.)
Rumsfeld: I don't believe he is what he says he is. (Laughter.) I think he sounds like an announcer for the local television station. (Laughter.)
The -- I guess the answer is if it's as bad as you say it is, I hope it's not coming. (Laughter, applause.) And I'll ask General Jumper about that, the chief of staff of the Air Force, when I get back there, and explain to him that at least a few handfuls of folks down here have a minimum of high regard for what they think they're doing. (Laughter, applause.)
Q: Good afternoon, sir. I'm Technical Sergeant Wilson. I'm an instructor with the 324 Training Squadron here at Lackland. You mentioned in the front of your speech there that you got to meet with members of the VFW this morning. I'm a former Marines Corps veteran of Desert Shield and Desert Storm and a longtime member of the VFW. I know for many years, the VFW has been trying to get it passed -- get a bill passed where they can receive concurrent pay both if they're retired and they're disability. I'm trying to find out why that's always been shot down, and if you see it being approved in the future.
Rumsfeld: There are -- I think it's called concurrent receipts, is the phrase they use for it. And I believe it is one of the big issues that is currently being discussed in the House/Senate conference. And the argument that's been against it in the past has been cost. That is to say that the -- it is -- the problem is, there's no one proposal. They're a range of proposals. And something in this regard was passed last year in the bill that provided some sort of concurrent receipts. There are now a range of proposals that are pending, and what they're doing is they're trying to cost them out. And to the extent they end up costing billions of dollars a year, then the people making those decisions have to ask what are we giving up for what are we getting, and who would the beneficiaries be? And that goes to the question that I answered earlier and mentioned that there's a broad review going on about where the targets have to be to see that we can attract and retain in the force the people that are needed. Now -- for the skills that are going forward.
One of the ways you attract and retain people in the force is to make darn sure you treat the people who are retired properly. And -- because people look ahead, and they want to see what kind of a -- what kind of an outfit is this? Do we take proper care of people and look out for them? And those are the kinds of considerations that are currently underway.
Way back there.
Q: Finally, sir. Greetings, sir. Welcome to San Antonio. On behalf of the civil service out there, I'd like to thank you for being here. More importantly, sir, or just as important, I've heard of several plans to realign the current civil service system -- promotion system, that is, to a more merit-based system that is a lot more in tune and effective for the average civil servant out there. I'd like to know, sir, if you would mind commenting on any of those changes that are forthcoming.
Now, sir, before you answer that, let me tell you who I am. My name is Kerry Robinson (sp). I work in Air Force Security Assistance Training at Randolph Air Force Base here in Texas.
Rumsfeld: I think it is accurate to describe the proposals that are pending before the Congress, the House and the Senate, as moving away from seniority based and more towards performance based, as you suggest. The reason for that is because over the past -- oh, 10, 15, 20 years, Congress has authorized the Department of Defense to use a series of experiments or demonstration projects. And they, in various parts of the country, have tested these very approaches to use performance rather than seniority. Then they go in and they talk to the people who have been under this experiment and ask them how they feel about it, after five or 10 years. And the answers have been uniformly positive after these systems have been in place for a period. There's some apprehension at the outset, and there's some apprehension being expressed today.
But for the most part, let's be honest; I mean, people who come to work for the government tend to come because they want to serve the country and they want to serve the government and they want to do a good job and they want to be measured on the kind of job they're doing, and they don't like to see people get promoted who aren't doing a good job.
Other problems we've got is we go to a college job fair to hire people, and sitting next to us is Hewlett-Packard or IBM, and they can offer someone a job and a bonus and tell them when they start and where they're going to be located and what they're going to be doing. We walk in there, all we can do is hand them a stack of paper to fill out and tell them, "Well, gee, come back in about three months and maybe something will be processed." So we need the ability to hire. We need to compete in the marketplace for people.
The same thing is true if you have somebody who engages in activity that is harmful to the institution. It takes, some cases, a year, two years, to even begin to get them moved aside so that they're not disrupting what's going on. So we need those flexibilities and the assistance there. I am very hopeful that we'll have a chance to bring some reform and some flexibility into that system because we need to make it work for the country better.
Thank you, sir.
I am being told, as is always the case, by a colonel -- (laughter) -- that I can only have one more question. So what we'll do is take two. (Laughter.) There's one and there's one. (Applause.)
He's a heck of a colonel, though, I can tell you that. He's terrific.
Yes, ma'am? Miss.
Q: Good afternoon, sir. First Lieutenant Leigh Marvel (sp), Brooke Army Medical Center, Army Nurse Corps. (Cheers.)
Rumsfeld: Oh, yes.
Q: My question is, some of the veterans and the general public are of the opinion that we are fighting a war that we are not prepared for, so we should pull out. Are you of that same opinion? And what do you find is our greatest strength as a military force in our generation?
Rumsfeld: I don't share that view. I think that the overwhelming majority of the people, who are doing such a superb job, recognize how important their work is. The -- it is a difficult task, and it's understandable that some people would prefer not to be doing it. It is not anyone's first choice to be putting their lives at risk. But what's taking place in that part of the world could have an enormous effect on not just that region, but the world. And the reality is that the terrorists are either going to have to be fought there or they're going to have to be fought here and somewhere else in this globe. And we need to win the battle of ideas, as well as what's taking place on the ground. And I think it's important work, and I think the country's made the right decision. And I am confident that over time, we will in fact prevail.
What is the greatest strength of the armed forces? Well, you're looking at them, you're sitting next to them. It's the men and women in uniform. God bless you. (Applause.)
Q: Sir, Master Sergeant Anderson (sp). I'm with the 314th Military Intelligence Battalion. You touched on retiree benefits just a moment ago. How are you working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to make sure that our retirement benefits in the future won't get eroded?
Rumsfeld: Well, I suppose you wouldn't be asking the question unless you thought it was imperfect, how we were doing. Tony Principi is doing a good job, I'll tell you that, at the Veterans Affairs. And we are working closely with them on a variety of different things. You cannot allow an erosion of benefits and expect to be able to attract and retain the people that we absolutely must have to preserve the freedom of the American people and contribute to peace and stability in our world. Therefore, it is something that has to be taken into account; it has to be monitored; it has to be a metric; it has to be a part of the equation as we look at what we do.
Do we need -- I mean, think back to what's happened in the last two and a half years. There have been two pay increases, and the preference on the part of some was to make them across the board, blanket, for active service. And our preference was not to. Our preference was to have an across-the-board amount so that everyone receives some amount, some flat amount, but that the targeting went on in those grades and those circumstances, particularly, I should say, in young men and women who had more than a college education, and their peers on the outside were making more money, and we needed to see that we had the right kinds of incentives. Well, the same thing's true.
If you look at what's been done in the last two and a half years, the health care for life that's been passed is a cost to the taxpayer, a cost to the department, of billions and billions of dollars. Now, it's hard to say that that's an erosion of benefits if one aggregates it. My problem is that I think what we need to do is -- in a private corporation, a large, worldwide corporation, you wouldn't reach in and do that without looking at the effects of everything else. You need to look at the totality of it so that your treating all levels right and you're treating both active and Reserve, as well as retired community, properly.
And it's very easy for someone to come up and say, "Oh, gee, we ought to do more for this group or more for that group." But it is -- the complexities of the interaction of those things -- if you do more for this group, that means you're going to be less for that group. And it's not -- resources are finite. We just have to live with that reality.
And what we need to do is to make darn sure when we manage that process that we end up with the world's greatest fighting force. We've got it today and we better darn well keep it.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Colonel Holmes, could you come up? (Applause continues.)
What I'd like to do before I leave the stage here and say a final thank you is to present to Colonel Holmes and the men and women of Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, the Department of Defense coins and a plaque as a way of expressing my appreciation for all that's been done here this afternoon: the flag, the band, the wonderful questions, and the warm welcome.
Colonel Holmes, thank you very much. (Applause.)
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