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Secretary Rumsfeld Excerpts of Town Hall Meeting

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
June 04, 2004

Secretary Rumsfeld Excerpts of Town Hall Meeting

            SEC. RUMSFELD: Don't you think we ought to have everyone be at ease? (Audio break.)


            (In progress) -- time in your life. And so I thank you for your decision to reenlist, to stay in the service of our nation, to keep our military forces strong with your experience and your professionalism, and certainly want to say that you make us all very proud.


            And since I'm told it's an old sea service tradition that on the day you reenlist, you get the rest of the day off, I think we ought to get right down to business.

Please raise your right hands and repeat after me. (Enlistment oath is administered.)





            (Re-enlistees are announced.)


            First, let me say how pleased I am to be here aboard this aircraft carrier. The first aircraft carrier I ever was aboard was, I believe, in 1943 or -4 -- (audio break) -- shortly after the revolutionary war against the Barbary Pirates who used their terror and murder to intimidate innocent people and to advance their interests. Centuries later, enemies of civilized society still plot attacks against free people, and they still use terror and intimidation as the weapons of choice. And we can still call upon this Essex and other ships of this strike group to come to our nation's defense.


            And of course, a great deal has changed in the past two centuries. Today, we face a different world, a world that took new shape on September 11th, 2001, when terrorists converted our commercial airliners, passenger liners into guided missiles, two of which struck the Twin Towers in New York. I was in my office when the third hit the Pentagon. A fourth went down in that Pennsylvania field, thanks to some brave souls on board who left us with that battle cry, "Let's roll." And of course that's exactly what you and our fellow citizens have done.


            Our commander in chief moved rapidly to strengthen ties with new friends and send our forces abroad. In less than three years, a global coalition has overthrown two vicious regimes, liberated 50 million people, disrupted terrorist cells around the world, including in this part of the world, and thwarted a good many terrorist attacks.

Yet despite those successes, the reality is that we're still closer to the beginning of this global struggle, this insurgency, this war, call it what you will, than we are to its end.


           Today, civilized societies face adversaries unlike any we have known. They threaten us through shadowy networks that are not easily weeded out. And they have a real advantage: A terrorist needs to succeed only occasionally, but as defenders, we need to be successful always.


            Our task is further complicated by our openness, if you think about, our trust. Indeed, it's that very trust that makes us the most productive, free society in the world, but also makes uniquely vulnerable to those who would try to take advantage of our respect for freedom.


            It is impossible to defend against terrorist attacks at every place, at every time, against every conceivable terrorist technique. So the only way to prevail in this struggle, the struggle against extremists and radicals, is to root out the terrorists before they develop still more powerful means to inflict damage on still greater numbers of innocent men, women and children.


            If you think about it, our world is embarking on an era of unprecedented technological and social change. Think of all that's within our grasp: better health care for our people; longer lives; breathtaking advances in science, transportation and communications; and greater prosperity and opportunity. And standing in the way of those advances, in our home as well as here, are the enemies of civilized society, those who hope to destabilize and -- (inaudible) the state system -- using terrorism as their weapon of choice.


            Yet while the enemy we fight is new and different in many ways, they are in a sense merely the latest in a long line of despots and zealots who seek to destroy free, democratic systems to replace the law of the people with the rule of terrorists and the dictator. We've seen them launch attacks against innocent men, women and children all across this globe. They're trying to block progress today in Afghanistan and Iraq. They hope, and are making efforts, to destabilize the moderate Muslim countries everywhere across the globe. As have so many brave generations in the past, you will face them. Because of who you are and what our armed forces stand for, I have no doubt of your success.


            This weekend, we commemorate the 60th anniversary of the truly heroic landing at Normandy. They too went overseas to defend our freedom and to fight the designs of tyrants. They believed in freedom, and they knew it was worth fighting for, even dying for.


            And today, your call to defend freedom is again clear, and that duty falls to each of you. And to carry out this mission, you will endure tough moments, long days at sea. You have stepped forward and volunteered -- each of you are volunteers for a cause larger than yourselves and a duty that history will remember. For your commitment, for your courage and your resolve, our country, our president, and certainly this one American is deeply grateful to each of you.


            Thank you, and God bless you all.




            Now, I'm told you have some microphones. And I'm told that some of you folks might have some questions. And I'm -- (audio break.)


            Q (Inaudible.) I'm sure I speak on behalf of all the Marines on this ship and all the Marines of 3rd Marine Division -- is there any word that we might start rotating out with our brothers in Iraq and Afghanistan?


            SEC. RUMSFELD: I take it you'd like to get over there.


            Q Yes, sir.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: I tell you, we've been having discussions with the commandant and the members of the Joint Staff and the Joint Forces Command looking at rotations, and there is no question but that the Marines have a rotation system that is different from the Army. The demand is considerable for ground forces, capable ground forces, the kind that you represent. And at the moment, the Marines are on a rhythm, I believe, of a seven-month service over there. And I suppose the answer to your question depends on how long we're there, as to what extent each Marine will or will not get into that rotation. But when I get back to Washington, I'll talk to General Hagee and tell him you volunteered.


            Q Thank you, sir.


            SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you. Appreciate it.


            I'll tell you about -- those folks over there are doing an amazing job. They really are. I just -- I go over there every few months, and I never fail to come back and note the disparity between what I hear from our commanders, what I hear from our troops, the pride in what they're doing, the success they're having, the progress they're making in terms of providing security, in terms of building hospitals and schools and putting out textbooks and assisting people with repairing essential services. I come back to the United States, and I see in the press the difficulties, only the difficulties, the hardships, the ugliness -- and goodness knows, it's there -- and the reality that people do get killed and do get wounded. And yet this gap between what you see out there and what you feel, the confidence that is being made by those folks in Iraq and the job they're doing, and the concern about the difficulties back here in the United States and elsewhere in the world, I don't know how -- quite how to explain that disparity other than to say, I suppose, that for whatever reason, people seem to think that news isn't news unless it's bad news, because that's essentially what's getting reported.


            Now, I have often wondered, as we approached Normandy and D-Day, how that might have been reported if we had had 24-hour news, seven days a week, and the folks were being killed as they approached the beach, and the gliders were being spewed across the countryside, many missing their landing targets, and our forces were trapped below Pointe d'Hawke (ph) and not able to get up. I supposed they would have been calling General Eisenhower back for congressional hearings, is probably what would have been the case.



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