(Town Hall Meeting at Ft. Carson, Co.)
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Applause.) Thank you very much. Good to see you all. Appreciate that. Please be seated.
General Wilson, thank you so very much. General Lord, it's nice to see you here. Colonel Rusty. I guess Mayor Rivera may be here. Where are you?
MAYOR LIONEL RIVERA (Colorado Springs, Colorado): Right here.
SEC. RUMSFELD: There you are. Good to see you.
I understand there's some good neighbors here, too, who help out with these folks, and we do appreciate that a great deal. I know this community gives wonderful support to the men and women in uniform. And families -- I'm told there are close to 300 or 400 of you all here. And it's wonderful to see you.
I must say it's a great privilege for me to be able to visit the men and women of what is, without question, the finest armed force on the face of the Earth.
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Hoo-ah. (Applause.)
SEC. RUMSFELD: I'm told we have folks here today from a number of installations. Thank you for coming. Thank you for all the help we're receiving from your units for this meeting of the NATO ministers that is scheduled to start this evening and go for the next two days. We've got the ministers of defense; the chiefs of the military staffs and the ambassadors to NATO from the 19 NATO nations that are gathered here in Colorado Springs; plus the seven countries that have been invited to join NATO; plus, in addition, Russia, which will be participating. So we'll have some 27 different nations represented.
This, of course, is a spectacular part of our great nation and it reflects the American spirit, so I'm pleased that ministers from 27 nations will be able to see and experience this part of our country for themselves.
Fort Carson, of course, is named for one of the most celebrated heroes of the American West, Christopher Kit Carson, the mountain man, agent to the local population, a hunter, soldier, a volunteer, a guide. He was bold, he was courageous, he was innovative, and that sounds to me like a lot of you folks here today.
In the global war on terror, U.S. forces, including thousands from this base, have lived up to the legend of Kit Carson: fighting terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan, hunting the remnants of the deadly regime in Iraq, working with local populations to help secure victory, and every one of you, like Kit Carson, a volunteer.
One author said of Kit Carson that few men have been chosen by destiny to serve their country as Kit Carson served and fewer still have risen to the challenge. Each of you has been chosen by destiny to serve in this unique time in the history of our country. It is a time of change, it is a time of challenge, and you have risen to that challenge and made America proud.
On Sunday, as General Wilson indicated, we had a chance to visit some of your fellow soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital -- Army hospital in Washington. Their spirits are high, they're proud of what they've done, and they feel fortunate to be Americans. And like so many of their comrades recovering from injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, their spirits are good because they know they are part of something important: important to our country, important to Iraq, to be sure, but important to the entire region of the world and the global war on terror.
Think of it. With our coalition partners -- and there are some 90 nations, probably the largest coalition in the history of mankind -- in the global war on terror, we have defeated two terrorist regimes, freed some 46 million people from years of fear and oppression. And we're now working to lay the foundations of freedom and building the pillars upon which liberty and democracy will rest.
So this is important work, not just for us, but for the world. And we are grateful for your service, each of you. Let there be no doubt.
Today, NATO is playing a key role in the global war on terror. I keep hearing in the press that the United States is going it alone. What a funny thing to say. We have 32 countries working with us in Iraq. We have 11 of our 19 NATO nations have forces in Iraq today. NATO is assisting Poland as it prepared to lead a multinational division in south-central Iraq comprised of forces from 17 different nations in that one division.
In Afghanistan, NATO has recently taken over from the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul. It's the first mission of NATO outside of Europe in its entire history.
In the past two years, we have helped liberate these 46 million people. And the days that have passed since the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq have been days of progress. And those now free people are emerging from the shadow of evil into the light of liberty. Many have risked their lives -- Iraqis, in the case of Iraq; Afghans, in the case of Afghanistan -- and they have paid the ultimate price, as have coalition soldiers, and sailors, and Marines, and airmen, to bring liberty to those whose freedom was denied.
Some of those who have lost their lives were your comrades and friends. Each is something more; they are truly heroes, patriots, and they are important. To all of you, and to the spouses and children of those who were lost, and to those of us here today, I offer profound thanks of a nation and, indeed, the thanks of the Afghan and Iraqi people as well. And I make you this promise: We will not forget.
You know, during the past two years, in the global war on terror, America's armed forces have been tested again and again. And as the president has said, in every case, on every mission, they have brought credit to their uniforms, to our flag and to our country. And wherever and whenever we have needed you, the president said, you have never let us down.
So I thank you for that, and I thank your families as well, for they all sacrifice so that you can do your job for our country and for the world. So thank you, God bless you, and God bless this beautiful land.
And now I would be delighted to respond to some questions from anyone except the press. (Laughter, applause, whoops.)
(Chuckles.) And I'm going to do that later with them separately.
I guess you have some microphones. There's a hand.
Q My name is Sylvia Maurer, and I'm a spouse of a 3rd BCT soldier. Mr. Secretary, the flow of information between the theater and the families is worsening. What are your plans to improve the situation? Thank you.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I've talked to General Dick Myers and the chiefs about this at least twice in the last three weeks since I returned from Afghanistan and Iraq. They are working on all elements of it -- mail, telephones and other means of communications, e-mail centers, where things can be done. They feel they're making progress. They -- needless to say, they don't make progress in every portion of Afghanistan and Iraq simultaneously. It's something that they focus on. They then deal with the commanders and then start working through the system.
Unfortunately, that takes a little time. But I know that the senior military officials in Washington are interested, attentive and recognize how enormously important that link between, well, wherever - Iraq or Afghanistan and their families back home - is to each of you and to them as well.
So -- I know that the commanders that have the essential responsibility for seeing that those linkages are knitted together are aware that the folks in Washington stand ready to give them all the support they possibly can. Thank you.
Q Mr. Secretary, I'm Ed Whitcraft , work for the DPW here at Fort Carson, the Director of Public Works. Sir, what can you tell us about the disposition of forces which may be displaced from Germany and the possibility of any of those being stationed here at Fort Carson? It's critical to our master planning for the future here. (Scattered laughter.)
SEC. RUMSFELD: No special pleading. (Laughter.) What can I tell you?
Two years ago the president asked me if I wouldn't take a look at our footprint around the world and our engagement strategy and how we're linked with the rest of the globe. He had it in his mind correctly that we were pretty much arranged for the 20th century, not the 21st century. Clearly, after September 11th that came home to everyone. And the work that's been going on in the various combatant commanders' areas of responsibility is pretty much completed. Each of them looked at their circumstance, and then we took it in Washington and began to eliminate the seams between their geographical areas and look at the totality of the world. We think we have a fairly good rough sense of how we would best be arranged in the world to get ourselves into the 21st century. We took it to the interagency committees last week. We're now at the stage where we can begin to be talking to our allies and work through some of those things with them and hear their views, because we're a part of some enormously important alliances. And, of course, everything we do can affect them as well. So we have to do it in a way that takes some time. We have to work with the Congress. And then we'll have to come to some final conclusions, and then look at budgets and begin to phase them in a way that it doesn't lead to some big lumps moving through our system. I think that it'll probably play out over a period of years, ultimately, and I think we'll see some adjustments in many, if not most parts, of the world. But we're kind of about a third of the way through the process. A lot of the tough work's done, and now a great deal of the consultation and -- and frankly, we'll learn a lot through that consultation with our allies and consultation with the Congress and -- and in the interagency process.
So I'm afraid that it would always be wonderful if we knew what the final outcome were going to be to help you with your planning, but I'm afraid that's as much light as I can shed on it today. Thank you, Ed.
Q Charlotte Knowles, spouse of a 3rd BCT soldier. Mr. Secretary, what are your immediate plans to ensure that mid-tour leave is fair and equitable across the board to ensure that senior leaders are allowed to take advantage of this program?
SEC. RUMSFELD: The leave program, mid-deployment leave program? That has been delegated down to the commanders at each level. And they will be the ones working -- they're each allocated a certain number of people, slots, that they can then select, and at each level down the chain of command, it's been delegated, I believe, down to a fairly low level. Those decisions are then being made and people are being offered that opportunity and taking it. It's not something that anyone could fashion a master template for in Washington, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. It's something that, I am sure, will be handled up the leadership chain of command in a responsible and fair and equitable way.
Anyone in uniform have a question? Look at this. Everyone -- way in the back there. There's a big hand. Look at the size of that hand. (Laughter.) Good grief a-mighty! Is there someone with a hand up behind me?
Q Mr. Secretary, my name is Sergeant Smith from 759th Infantry Battalion.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Where are you? Way back there. Good.
Q I don't know if you're aware, sir, but day care for soldier family members are very high, and they're directed by the Department of Defense. And I was wondering --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Wait a second, I missed the first sentence.
Q (Laughs.) Day care --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Day care.
Q -- for soldier family members. They are very high. And it's directed by the Department of Defense. And I was wondering if it was region-wide.
SEC. RUMSFELD: You mean the cost of day care?
Q Yes, sir.
SEC. RUMSFELD: What does it cost?
Q Well, sir, for my instance, my situation, for instance, I have two kids. I have one that's two years old and I have another one that's 10 months, and I pay $300 a month for one child and only 10 percent off the next one. So that's like almost $700-something a month.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah, that is a good slug. I have no idea. I should know, but I don't know. I think -- I can't -- I have trouble believing that it is a federally imposed regulation.
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Yes.
SEC. RUMSFELD: It is?
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Yes.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Talk about micro-management. (Laughter, applause.) What does someone in Washington knew -- know about what the fair rate ought to be for day care on a single post? (Cheers, applause.) Unless, of course, it was the Congress, in which case, in their ultimate wisdom, I'm sure they were right. (Laughter.)
I'll try and find out. I mean, the truth is, my kids are 48, 44 and 35! So -- (laughs; laughter). But -- but I appreciate being put on notice. That does sound like a pile of money to me, too. Thank you.
Now, there was one right here.
Q Mr. Secretary, welcome.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you.
Q My name is Master Sergeant Hatfield. I am an observer/controller/trainer with the 2nd Brigade, 91st Division, the finest fighting training force in the United States Army! Hoo-ah!
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Hoo-ah! (Applause.)
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Laughs.)
Q Sir, I have a question about Army Reserve and National Guard benefits when we leave active duty. There are many soldiers who believe and feel that there is a huge disparity between the benefits -- medical, dental and retirement -- that the Army Reserve receives, as opposed to the active duty component. I would like to know if there is any activity in Washington to close the gap for the 21st century?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Which way does the gap go? (Laughter.)
I tell you, there's a fellow named Dr. David Chu, who is a -- really a fine, talented public servant who is in charge of personnel and readiness matters in the department. And I will raise it with him.
We are looking at the entire force -- active, guard and reserve -- because we have to. As the people here know, that is what we are; we are a total force. And either we manage that force in a way that's respectful to families, respectful to employees; avoiding, to the extent we can, back-to-back deployments on active force, and do it in a way that we can continue to attract and retain this wonderful, high- quality force that we have, or we lose something that's just central to our success.
So, what he does, and what we do, is constantly look at that balance, and ask the question: Are we treating the retirees, the guard and the reserve and the active force, in a way that is fair to them. Because people that you're trying to attract into the force care about how we treat retirees, they care about how we treat the guard and reserve, and they look at equities as between different elements.
So, it is something, unfortunately, that quite often ends up getting amended at the end of a bill, without hearings, in a way that is helpful to one element, but it did not have the benefit of hearings and it didn't have the benefit of a look across the totality of the situation of the force. And it then creates, sometimes, what people perceive to be an imbalance, and then we have to go back and try to correct those things the next year in legislation.
But I will, again, talk to David Chu about it. And to the extent there are equities (sic), we don't want them, and we shouldn't have them. We should have a -- it should be perceived, and in fact be, equitable and balanced among the various elements of the force.
Question. Someone behind me? Yes, sir.
I've got an old wrestler's neck, and instead of turning like this, I have to go all the way around.
Q Sir, First Class Baker, 307 Quartermaster Battalion. My question is, sir, what is your plan for changing the force? And where does the Army Reserves and National Guard fit into that plan?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, they're going to fit right into it, I'll tell you. We've got General Schoomaker, the new Chief of Staff of the Army, looking at -- at the present time, looking at the skill sets in the Guard, the Reserve and the active force. And what he tells me is he is persuaded that we're going to have to take some of the skill sets that are in short supply on the active force and get additional individuals with those skill sets in the active force, so that we can avoid having to keep calling up people in the Guard and Reserve who have those particular skills. Because if they'd wanted to be in the active force, they would have been in it, instead of in the Guard or the Reserve. (Faint cheers.) I think there's someone here who fits that category. (Laughter.)
And by the same token, we would then take some skill sets that we have in the active force and have them be in the Guard and Reserve to the extent they are skill sets that are called up to a lesser extent. And that process is underway. It's underway separately within the separate services, and it is underway across the services, in the joint staff.
And I have a feeling that in the case -- particularly in the case of the Army, we'll find General Schoomaker moving rather rapidly in that area, because it's -- the imbalances are so glaring. Because of the sequence of Afghanistan and Iraq, they are just front and center, and we can't ignore them. We've got to address them and we've got to get them fixed and do a better job in how we treat the force.
Q I'm Heather Harlin from 3rd ACR. Last night, you stated on the 11 News interview that you would let the family members know when their spouses would be home. However, we're hearing conflicting time frames on when they will be home. Do you have any idea, or can you give us an idea, when the 3rd ACR will be home?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I can't. That is something that the -- first of all, let me talk about the conflicting things.
You're right. The single most important thing from a standpoint of a family member and a soldier is certainty. You can -- you can live with different answers, but you want one answer, and you'd like it to stay that answer. And unless it's going to get better, you sure don't want it to get worse. But let me tell you how the process works.
The Army has people who have the responsibility for planning force rotations. And they are good people, and they're honorable people, and they try to do a good job. And to do a good job, they have to talk to other people. So they begin talking to other people. And they begin talking down the chain of command to the various leaders at the different levels about this and that and how long will it take you to do this, and how long will it take you to do that, and if we did this will your folks have the right training, because we want to rotate in and replace these folks that are there. And what happens then, people start getting chatty, and they start visiting with each other. And out in the press comes some person who thinks he knows something, and he says -- he or she -- "Well, it's going to be this date." And then someone grabs hold of that and locks it in their head and said, "It's going to be that date." And in fact, it wasn't an announcement, it was simply a -- someone being chatty and trying to be helpful, trying to answer a question. Someone says, "Gee, when do you think it'll be?" And it would be a lot better if people didn't get quite so chatty and simply did their work; recognized they don't know, not be embarrassed when someone asked them a question and say, "Gee, when's this unit coming home?" It's -- the first thing they ought to say is, "Gee, I don't know." Because they can't know until it comes down the chain, having been worked out at the other end in Iraq and the other end here. And I -- I guess -- I keep thinking it would be so wonderful if we would not be jerking people around where they hear this date one day and that date another day.
I feel that the -- that message that I've just given you is out in the chain of command. I don't know that it'll work. But I have a feeling it's being heard, and that people are going to be more careful about what they say because the effect of what they say is to disappoint people and raise concerns and raise questions.
The single statement I'd heard -- have heard from the Army that I believe to be definitive is that boots on the ground in Iraq will be up to one year. Then the question is, well, when -- we all know when one year is from boots on the ground. The question is, if it's up to, when might it be earlier? I think the likelihood of it being later, absent some major event that's unanticipated -- I think the likelihood of it being longer than one year is so modest that if it were to have to be longer, everyone would be aware of the reason and understand it.
What about back there somewhere? Look at the whole row of hands! That looks like Murderers' Row. That scares me to death. (Laughter)
All right. Right here. Good.
Q Mr. Secretary --
Q Good morning, Mr. Secretary. My name is Kerry Gherke. My husband is currently serving in Iraq with the 64th Forward Support Battalion.
SEC. RUMSFELD: God bless him. Tell him thank you.
Q Will do.
My question is, how can we regulate AT&T costs on their prepaid phone cards? (Applause.) Throughout the country, they are being charged anywhere from six units per minute to 26 units per minute in Balad. At 26 units per minute where my husband is, that works out to $43 for three of his 20-minute phone calls. As enlisted soldiers, we can't afford this. (Applause.)
SEC. RUMSFELD: General Wilson, why don't you get it fixed? (Laughter.)
GEN. WILSON : Sir, I got it . Need help.
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Chuckles.)
(Pause.) (Laughter.) Get a different phone company. Is that what you said? (Scattered laughter.)
Q (Off mike) We're contracted with AT&T. None of the other phone cards will work over there. And I mean, it's just ridiculous that some places they're being charged six units, some places they're being charged 26 (units), and of course, as an E-4, we're being charged 26 (units). (Laughter)
SEC. RUMSFELD: And you think it's a contract with AT&T?
Q That's what I've been told -- that the military has contracted with AT&T; nobody else can be used over there.
SEC. RUMSFELD: AT&T and I have always believed in competition. (Laughter.)
Let me look into that. Thank you.
Q Mr. Secretary, welcome. I'm Major Madsen, Space and Missile Defense Command. Though I --
SCATTERED AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Hoo-ah!
Though I know we are the right ones for the job, there's no doubt in my mind about that, but given the international community and the global perception that America really doesn't need to have their face on the front of this, when do you foresee that the U.N., or the global community's face, can take over, even if we stay as their muscle?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I learned to say, "I don't know," as a very young man -- (laughter) -- and that's one of the reasons I've lived to be a very old man. (Laughter.)
The -- it isn't knowable. And as much as people reach out and try to give an answer to be helpful to something like that, they end up guessing wrong. And I'm afraid that it's not useful to try to do so. So, I -- that's the best I can do for you.
Q Good morning, Mr. Secretary. My name is Manday Lee , and my husband is assigned to Delta Company, 3rd, of the 158th Aviation Brigade out of Giebelstadt, Germany, currently assigned or deployed to Balad in Iraq. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and the rest of the administration, and especially all the military and civilian personnel who work in the defense of our nation and our freedoms. So, thank you, sir. And thank you all very much. (Cheers, applause.)
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you. (Applauds.) Thank you very much.
Q Sir, Chief Spraig, Space and Missile Defense Command. My question for you is, how do you think space capabilities -- your opinion on space capabilities being brought to the war fighter?
SEC. RUMSFELD: We've got the expert sitting right here, Lance Lord, so I've got to be careful what I say.
But I am continually impressed with the advantage(s) that are offered to our warriors by capabilities that are part of the Space Command's capabilities. It is a -- it is something that is, amazingly, these many years later, still new in a sense, and in those cases, I have to say probably not -- still not fully integrated into all aspects of everything we do. But it is -- it is truly impressive, the work that's being done and the capabilities that are being developed and the professionalism of the folks doing that work.
I was chairman of a commission that looked into the organization of our space activities and had a chance to kind of immerse myself before I became secretary of Defense in those issues. And many of those recommendations have now been implemented, and my impression is that there are still additional steps that need to be taken. But thank you.
Yes. Way over here. Yes, sir. Whoops. I can't --
Q Mr. Secretary -- Mr. Secretary, I'm Specialist Chadwick of the United State Army Dental Activity at Fort Carson. My question is, considering that we still have troops in every area that we have conducted operations during the Clinton administration, why is this operation in Iraq viewed negatively in the press as a Vietnam- style quagmire? (Applause.)
SEC. RUMSFELD: Give that man an "A". (Laughter, applause.)
I'll tell you, it's beyond me. I -- I just had a hearing before the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee on a(n) emergency supplemental budget. And that very day, 17 members of the United States Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, had just arrived back from Iraq. And six of them were on that committee. And they went right down the line, every single one of them, saying that what they see and read about Iraq in the United States and in the region does not compare with what they personally saw and experienced with their own eyes. And -- and -- (applause). These people went right down -- they were stunned by the difference between what they experienced in that country and what they saw and what they were being told in the press.
Now, it should not surprise you that the next day there was not a single word in the press about that hearing. Not one of those first eyewitness comments by seven members -- six or seven members of the United States House of Representatives of both parties -- not a single word of what they said about what was taking place in Iraq appeared, to my knowledge, in -- at least in the Washington press.
Why is that? I guess I don't know quite why it is. I do remember that when we went to Afghanistan with our forces, we'd been operating there, oh, I don't know, a week, 10 days, 15 days, and it was characterized on the front page of newspapers as a quagmire, that we were bogged down. And of course, it was only a matter of days thereafter that Mazar-e Sharif fell and Kandahar and Kabul fell. And it wasn't a quagmire. In Iraq, you'll remember, there was a pause as the forces were moving up from Kuwait into the southern portion of the country, towards Baghdad, and south of Baghdad there were some two or three days of bad dust storms, and once again the phrase "quagmire" came up.
I guess it's because bad news is news. It's something that everyone feels they have to put in the newspaper, put on television, and it gets drumbeat. And with 24-hour news in our country, it isn't like it's one problem, it's like that it's 24 problems, one every hour, even though it's the same one. (Laughter)
And I must say, however, that my sense is that the American people have a very good center of gravity and they're well-moored or well-rooted, and that, notwithstanding your very valid point, that they have a sense and an understanding that things don't happen in five minutes in life.
We've been in there for five months since the end of major combat operations. It was May 1st. That's May, June, July, August, September and seven days, five months and seven days. And what have they done? Those folks, men and women in uniform, civilians, our coalition partners, they have proceeded to do thousands of projects. Every school in the country is ready to open. All the hospitals and clinics are operating. They have a new central bank. They have a new currency. (Applause) Out across that country, the electrical power hit the magic number of pre-war, I believe yesterday or the day before. The oil wells are operating. There was not a humanitarian crisis. There were not tens of thousands of internally displaced people. There were not refugees pouring across the border into other countries.
The folks that went in there had a plan. They did a terrific job, and by golly, they deserve a lot of credit. And the idea of calling it a quagmire is flat wrong. (Applause, cheers.)
I'm told there's time for two more questions, but I'm inclined to quit on that one.
Thank you very much. Good to see you all! (Applause.)
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