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Secretary Rumsfeld Townhall Meeting in Kandahar, Afghanistan

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
April 13, 2005
Secretary Rumsfeld Townhall Meeting in Kandahar, Afghanistan

            RUMSFELD:  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Thank you very much.


            The first order of business is going to be the re-enlistment ceremony.  General Barno.


            [Re-enlistment Ceremony].


            RUMSFELD:  There were only 11 of them.  [Laughter].


            Look, it's terrific to be with you.  We've had a big couple of days.  Yesterday we were in Iraq for about 15 hours and had a chance to visit with the troops there.  It's a privilege to be here and to be able to personally thank each of you for your service to the country.  And I should also add to thank your families for their service to the country because they too sacrifice.


            I'm told this is my ninth trip to Afghanistan since the war, and I must say that I'm reminded of all of the men and women in uniform, including all of you here, who have done so much to help the Afghan people forge a new future.  Each of you stand as an example of giving to a cause larger than yourself. 


            Last week in Washington I was able to see another example of selflessness.  Two years ago in Iraq a non-commissioned officer refused to retreat when his platoon came under very heavy fire.  [inaudible].  His award cited that he killed some 50 of Saddam Hussein's soldiers and likely saved as many as 100 American lives at the cost of his own life.  In doing so the soldier testified to that ancient truth that there's no greater love than that a man would lay down his life for his brothers.


            I think you would agree that President Bush could have made no finer choice for the recipient of the first Medal of Honor in the global war on terror than Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith of the United States Army.


            His name is now listed in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes, honoring all of those who have earned the Medal of Honor.  Think of some of those great figures that are remembered there in the hall -- Audi Murphy, certainly one of the most formidable combat soldiers of World War II; Jimmy Doolittle whose 30 seconds over Tokyo meant so much to American morale after Pearl Harbor when there was loss after loss after loss for months.  I've been around so long I actually knew Jimmy Doolittle.  [Laughter].  I had a chance to visit with him on a number of occasions.  And also Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Rider who charged up San Juan Hill.  No, I'm not old enough to remember Theodore Roosevelt.  [Laughter].


            You know, when those men were growing up I don't believe one of them ever really thought of themselves as a future hero. I doubt that the sailors who were fighting in Midway Island in the Pacific or the soldiers who were charging down Little Roundtop at Gettysburg realized that they were taking part in some of the most important battles in history.  And one day you will learn what it is that will be said of you.  One day Americans will read about how in the early part of the 21st Century servicemen and servicewomen freed some 25 million people in Afghanistan from the grip of a tyrannical regime that harbored terrorists, indeed that harbored terrorists who killed some 3,000 people in our country on September 11th; gave citizens a chance for a representative government for the first time in 5,000 years history; and who helped rebuild a society decimated by years of hardship.


            They will marvel at the daily challenges which were largely unknown in previous wars where victory now depends on your ability to succeed in combat to be sure, but also construction, civil affairs at the same time.  You're rewriting the new rules of warfare, and you're earning your place in history.  And let there be no doubt, it will be a proud one.


            Consider the coalition successes from the enemy's point of view.  Extremists attacked Americans many times before September 11, 2001. They believed they could attack our people with impunity from a safe harbor here in Afghanistan.  Never in their worst dreams did they believe that a coalition would respond as boldly as it has.  Keeping the extremists in disarray, taking the offensive against terrorists and the regimes that harbor them.  Even regimes halfway around the world.  And foiling their plots to strike at our country and our people.


            They never thought that our coalition would attack the very foundations, the underpinning of their extremist ideology by offering those who might be drawn to their extremism the opportunity to choose freedom instead.  They hadn't planned on having to contend with a determined coalition or with the liberated Afghan people who refused to go back to the dark times. 

Or with heroes like those who have fought and died here in Afghanistan or with Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith.


            If anyone still has doubts that what you're doing here is making a difference listen to what Sergeant Smith's widow said last week when she accepted the Medal of Honor on his behalf.


            Birgit Smith was born in Germany.  She said, "Sixty years ago American soldiers liberated the German people from tyranny in World War II.  Today another generation of American soldiers have given the Iraqis and the Afghan people a birth of freedom.  That is an ideal that Paul truly believed in."  She finished with a heartfelt, "Hooah."  She's quite a lady.


            There are still quite a few folks in Europe who remembered the allied troops who liberated that continent.  One day I suspect the Afghan children you have met during your time here will grow up and tell their own children about American GIs who risked their lives to fight against the extremists and terrorists who sought dominion over free people everywhere.


            Ronald Reagan told a story once about an American sailor on the carrier Midway patrolling in the South China Sea.  ON the horizon he saw a leaky little boat crammed with refugees.  The Midway sent a small launch to bring in these folks to the ship and to safety.  As the launch made its way back through the choppy seas, one refugee spied a sailor on the deck and called out to him.  The refugee yelled, "Hey, American sailor.  Hello, freedom man."  An American's mission has always been a proud one.


            So to you all, to each of you, to all of freedom's men and freedom's women -- for that is what you are -- I thank you for your service to our country.  I thank you for your service to the cause of freedom -- the very freedom on which America's security depends.


            May God bless you all and may God bless the great land of liberty.  Thank you.


            Now I'd be happy to answer some questions.  And I'm told there are no moving mics, there are only some stationary mikes, there are three of them.  And there's a fellow with his hand back, way in the back, and he's nowhere near a mic I don't think.              I think what you better do is come up to one of the mics, folks, and I see somebody at a mic so I'll call on you.  I'm a little worried about that fellow back there.  He wanted to ask that question: too bad.


            QUESTION:  Sir, Sergeant First Class Dimachio from the Island of Saipan.


            My question is about shortfalls in recruiting personnel.  Is there an issue?  What is the plan to fix it?


            RUMSFELD:  Well, it was expected that we could see some softness in recruiting about close to a year ago, and as a result a large number of additional recruiters were put in place.  Some additional incentives were put in place.  And the work has been going forward.


            There's a lag always when that occurs, but it is expected that most of the services will come very close to their targets by the end of the year.


            One of the reasons for the shortfall, I'm told, is because retention has been so high.  Interestingly, retention has been particularly high among folks who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq.  And if you think about it, it's the force, the existing force, the active force as they leave that become the pool for the Guard and the Reserve and it is in the Guard and the Reserve where the shortfall has occurred for the most part.  So I think that what we'll find is as we go forward -- We also have done, I think it's 35 or 40 different things to reduce stress on the force and it is expected that that will also assist in improving the recruiting and retention figures.  Thank you.


            QUESTION:  Staff Sergeant Joe Selski, [inaudible] Bobcats out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.


            It's well aware the 25th hasn't participated in a major conflict or a war since the Vietnam era.  Now that we're back in the game I wanted to see how personnel at your level view our performance over this last year's deployment.


            RUMSFELD:  The performance has been -- I talked to General Barno about it, and the performance has been truly excellent.  It is impressive.  The amazing thing to me is that folks will come into a combat zone, into an area of conflict, and from private life and personal life, whatever they were doing, and perform with such skill and such dedication and such courage.  So I have great respect for the active force which has done such a wonderful job, as well as for the Guard and the Reserve that have made the total force concept work so brilliantly.  Thank you very much.


            QUESTION:  Good morning, sir.  My name is Specialist Cruz I'm from Houston, Texas.


            Being that now we are in OEF-6 what is the future of Afghanistan once commercialization has been implemented across the country?


            RUMSFELD:  Afghanistan is a country I think with a wonderful opportunity.  It does not have the oil wealth, for example, that Iraq does.  It has not had the water wealth that Iraq has had.  It's been historically somewhat of a poor country.  It's suffered civil war; it's suffered drought; it's suffered occupation by the Soviet Union; and it's suffered under a vicious Taliban regime that used the soccer stadiums here to chop people's heads off instead of to play soccer.


            But I have been enormously impressed with the people over these past two-plus years: to see what they've accomplished, to have the first popularly elected president in 5,000 years, the courage they showed when they went out to vote and not having had experience with democracy.  It's a country that's located in an important area, historically a crossroads, and as the government finds its sea legs and develops strength in the ministries and is able to provide more for the people and continue on this path of representative government with parliamentary elections coming up later this year, I think they have demonstrated a resilience and a strength that suggests they have a good future.  So I'm optimistic for Afghanistan.


            QUESTION:  Thank you, sir.


            QUESTION:  My name is Sergeant Lief from Honolulu, Hawaii. 


            My question to you sir, is, is XM8 going to replace M16 or the M4?  If so, when?


            RUMSFELD:  Is what?


            QUESTION:  The XM8, the new assault rifle I've been seeing in Army Times, sir.


            RUMSFELD:  General Barno, what's the answer?


            BARNO:  The answer is we don't know yet.  It's a good question.  We're looking at different rifles for the infantry.  That decision has not yet been made.


            QUESTION:  Specialist Stemy from Miami, FL.


            I was wondering if a year deployment could be cut in half for six months or if --


            RUMSFELD:  Say it again.


            QUESTION:  The year deployments, instead of going the whole rotation of a year, be cut in half by six months.


            RUMSFELD:  There's been -- The Air Force has had one deployment schedule, the Navy another, the Marines have been on a seven-month cycle, and the Army of course has been on a year in country deployment, and they have been debating whether or not that's the proper length.  Thus far they've decided that for a variety of reasons that are really external to that specific decision, the things that are already in motion that they can't change, they've decided to stick with one year for this period.  Whether or not it might be shortened at some point in the future is really something that the Army is thinking hard about and considering but they've not come to a conclusion.  Fair enough?


            QUESTION:  Sir, Sergeant Titus, Shelton, Washington.


            My question for you, sir, is about the Immigration Naturalization Services offer to deployed soldiers. 


            RUMSFELD:  The what?


            QUESTION:  INS services for deployed soldiers.  Immigration services for deployed soldiers, sir.  I was wondering if there were any policy changes coming out to expedite citizenship for deployed soldiers, sir.


            RUMSFELD:  I don't know.  [Laughter].  Should there be?


            QUESTION:  I believe there should be, sir.  There are many soldiers who are out here who began the process prior to deploying and now it is at a halt now that they're here, sir.


            RUMSFELD:  Does anyone here know the answer to the question?


            BARNO:  We'll see if we can figure it out, sir.


            RUMSFELD:  We'll find out the answer to the question.


            QUESTION:  Thank you, sir.


            RUMSFELD:  You bet.  Thank you for raising it.


            QUESTION:  Specialist Imael [sp.] from 133rd Airborne.


            I’m wondering why our MPs aren't considered for the close-combat patch?


            RUMSFELD:  You're wondering what?


            QUESTION:  Why MPs aren't considered for the close-combat patch.


            RUMSFELD:  What's the answer?


            BARNO:  Our Army leadership's decision was that the close combat badge would only be for those units that were designated to fight as infantry, in other words they were retrained to be full-time infantrymen instead of being artillerymen or engineers.


            BARNO:  So that initially has not been extended any beyond field artillery, armor, engineers, the general combat arms.  That's the current set of the decision at least.


            RUMSFELD:  But General Barno, she didn't ask what the decision was.  She asked why that was the decision.  [Laughter].


            BARNO:  You guys have got to realize that I get to do this with the Secretary every two weeks and we get lots of tough questions like that.  [Laughter].


            RUMSFELD:  Last question.  Make it an easy one.  I've had a long day.  I started in Baku.


            QUESTION:  Chief Warrant Officer Anthony Domar, 165 MI.


            It seems like in the media there's a lot of negative and --


            RUMSFELD:  No.  [Laughter].  You've got to be kidding.


            QUESTION:  Do you have any influence on showing some of the wonderful things and good things that these soldiers do?  And my father, who is U.S. Navy Retired, would like to know that also. 


            RUMSFELD:  And you're asking who has influence on the media so that they might show something that's actually happening instead of something -- I mean something positive that's actually happening?


            QUESTION:  Yes, sir.


            RUMSFELD:  Instead of something that's negative?


            QUESTION:  Yes, sir.


            RUMSFELD:  Is that the question?  Let me repeat the question.  [Laughter].  He has the impression that from time to time some of the media leave the impression that the only things that happen are negative, is that right?


            QUESTION:  Sir, yes, sir. That's pretty close. 


            RUMSFELD:  You're asking me why?  [Laughter].


            QUESTION:  The answer I got down in Iraq was it sells, but again, folks back home say they disagree with that.


            RUMSFELD:  The truth is there seems to be, if you look at the front of almost any newspaper, any television story, the pattern tends to be that it's a negative story.  That that is what sells.  That is what attracts people.  For whatever reason, I don't know. 


            I do know this, that the people who come to this country and go to Iraq and come out are struck by the contrast, the stark contrast between what they see in terms of progress and contribution by the men and women in uniform, what they see as opposed to what they read and hear. 


            I don't know what the answer is, but I can tell you this.  Our country's been around for well over 200 years now and it suggests that the American people have a pretty good center of gravity.  They must have an inner gyroscope that centers them because they're able to read all the negative things and hear all the negative things and yet they're able to sift through it and sort through it and come to reasonably right decisions about what's really happening.


            I can tell you what's really happening.  You, the people in this room and the people across this country from the United States in uniform, the coalition countries that are increasing all the time as NATO takes a bigger and bigger role, are doing an absolutely superb job for the people of Iraq and for the people of the world, helping to make this a stable, moderate Muslim country, and in an important part of the world at an important point in history, and I thank all of you for what you're doing.

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