REPRESENTATIVE HUNTER: Folks, I think everybody got a chance to take a look at the hearing. As you can see, the Members covered the full gamut, from the warfighting theaters in Afghanistan and Iraq to weapon systems to readiness to people. If you've got any questions that are dynamite questions that the Members didn't get to, we've got time for a couple of them here.
PRESS: I wonder if you could speak to the military pay raises. [Inaudible] 12 years, given [inaudible] the last three years, can you [inaudible]?
REPRESENTATIVE HUNTER: My position on the thing is that the pay raise is higher than the current rate of inflation and the pay raise that we've executed for the last four years are at this point I believe 29 percent increase [over five years]. Very substantial increase.
So I think it's solid, especially when you add to that the housing situation. I can tell you as a Marine father I've seen housing upgrades at our Marine, Army, Air Force, Navy bases with the new privatization, and coupled with the retention tools and with the bonuses and with the increased hardship duty pay and increased separation pay. If you look at the full package, we actually have some folks coming over from GAO complaining that we're putting too much into these personnel packages. But 29 percent over five years is good.
PRESS: The last few days you've gotten a lot of questions about National Guard reconstructing. There’s been a recent disconnect between [inaudible] and Members of Congress, [inaudible] exactly what it is you intend to do. [Inaudible]?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I think it just takes hard work. We've seen the Chief of Staff of the Army in the last several days, he's been on the phone with the Adjutant Generals from around the country. We've met with a number of Governors.
There's a lot of misinformation circulating around suggesting things that simply aren't correct, so General Schoomaker has to stand up there and say no, that's wrong. That's not correct. Eventually the truth wins out and over time: the fact that the Guard and the Reserves are going to be fully funded and they're going to be fully manned and fully equipped, it seems to me will speak for itself.
I think the interesting thing is we've been focusing on the least important things in this debate or discussion that's been taking place. What's really important from the standpoint of the Governors is that by rebalancing the skill set in the National Guard, the National Guard can end up a vastly more capable force for the use of the Governors in terms of a national disaster, in terms of some sort of a domestic attack, in terms of fires or kinds of things, the hurricanes, the kinds of things that they have to deal with. These forces, what good is the air defense? What good is artillery? What good is a tank unit in those kinds of situations? And we're going to have reset those skill sets in a way that they will be vastly better for the Governors.
I think if we just keep telling the truth eventually they'll get it and understand it and accept it.
PRESS: Is it an uphill battle fighting this disinformation as you call it?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: No, it's life in the big city.
PRESS: Yesterday, if I understand correctly, General Pace testified that there would be one Iraqi brigade that [inaudible]. When will we see more independent Iraqi brigades? Some people are asking why don't we see 100 right now?
REPRESENTATIVE HUNTER: We had 448 independent military operations in November. That number went up in December and January. You've got, I believe, some 34 Iraqi battalions, at least as of a couple of days ago, operating, running independent operations and also occupying their own battlespace.
So what we saw on the ground, I compared the Marines testifying to the fact that Iraqis were standing and holding in firefights in Fallujah compared to a couple of years ago when we tried too early to move green troops into battle and it didn't work.
So you have a lot of independent operations.
Now the number was 448 independent military operations in November.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: This is a little like the National Guard issue. It took you [inaudible] these talking points, and it was repeated often enough, people start mouthing it back.
The Marine Corps can't operate independently. The Army does the combat support for them. Our NATO allies don't operate. We provide, any number of them, we provide enablers -- airlift, intelligence, quick reaction forces. The idea that a police unit in some city in Iraq should be fully capable of conducting totally independent operations anywhere in the country is utter nonsense. This only one unit is a red herring. It is simply a misrepresentation of what's taking place. The Iraqi security forces are getting better every day, every week, every month, and they're doing a very good job, and --
I think I'll characterize it as a question that you pose, is really an assertion that's being made to try to leave people with the impression that the Iraqi security forces aren't capable, and it's false.
REPRESENTATIVE HUNTER: There's been a mistake in terms of interpretation also. Fully independent means in part, you have independent aircraft medevac capability. That means if somebody gets wounded can you bring a helicopter in and bring them out.
There are entire armies in the Middle East and other nations that don't have any of that. Now that doesn't mean that if an Iraqi unit takes casualties they aren't able to take them to a medical area. They medevac them in a truck or a jeep. That renders them not in this status in which they call totally independent in the way that we're independent.
Also they don't have ISR assets that the United States has. No country in the Middle East has the ISR assets.
PRESS: I was --
REPRESENTATIVE HUNTER: Communications. Communication types of assets. So the idea that you have to have, for example, helicopter medevac capability or you're not considered to be a fit for fighting unit, in many units they medevac the people with trucks. So it's unfortunate that they've come up with that metric that didn't bring with it a full definition so the people understood. So you have people on talk shows saying there's only one battalion that's capable of fighting. That's nonsense.
PRESS: General Pace --
GENERAL PACE: Number one, in December the Iraqi armed forces have more independent operations than did the coalition forces. Number two, [inaudible] battalion commander --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Repeat that. So she can write it down.
GENERAL PACE: Okay. In December, the Iraqi armed forces had more independent operations than did the coalition forces.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: That stands in stark contradiction to the myth that they're not capable of doing anything.
PRESS: Well it seems like they're not capable of doing anything. So how many more independent brigades are we aiming for? And --
REPRESENTATIVE HUNTER: You're always going to have lots of Iraqi forces that may not have the full sophisticated capabilities of American forces that we designate as being totally independent. You're going to have lots of Iraqi brigades that don't have independent helicopter medevac capabilities where if a person is wounded a helicopter comes down and lands next to him and medevacs him hundreds of miles away in a short period of time.
But you will have, obviously, medevac capability. But it will be on roads. But if you don't have the helicopter medevac capability that will take them out of this category.
So the point isn't that they're not effective warfighters. It's that they don't have the sophistication of American military units. That is not the metric that we should measure them. Otherwise we're never going to -- You're always going to be able to say we don't have the 101st Airborne, and that's going to be accurate. But you will have units that can stand and fight and protect --
GENERAL PACE: To put it in context for you, I was a Marine battalion commander for two years. I had 750 guys. I would have taken that Marine battalion anywhere in the world and done whatever you wanted me to do. If I had graded my battalion on that grading scale of level one, level two, I would have to grade myself level two. Why? Because to get to the fight I'd need the Navy or the Air Force to get me there. To sustain myself in the fight I would need some help from the Army. To medevac myself in the fight I would need some Air Force, Navy and perhaps Army assistance.
So that's the way we look at level one, level two. It's not overall capacity. We've got over 60 Iraqi army battalions today at level two, the level that my battalion was at when I was a battalion commander. I'd go anywhere with that level two battalion.
PRESS: Mr. Secretary, what are your thoughts --
REPRESENTATIVE HUNTER: Strong letter to follow. [Laughter].
PRESS: What are your thoughts --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: There has been a major effort to try to denigrate the Iraqi security forces over a period of a year and a half and it's inaccurate and unfortunate. There have been lots of people out trying to diminish their capability in the public mind, and it's unfortunate.
PRESS: What are your thoughts about the escalating crisis over the cartoons that [inaudible] Mohammed?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I don't have anything to say about it. It's unfortunate that people are being killed and damage is resulting from --
PRESS: What do you think about --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I have nothing to say about it.
PRESS: Mr. Secretary [inaudible] QDR and last year's [inaudible] assessment raised some concerns about the military buildup in China. I'm wondering what you think about that. And as a follow-up, are you concerned about sensitive technology that is available there?
REPRESENTATIVE HUNTER: The Secretary is ready to roll, but we're glad that he addressed China because the QDR addresses all military powers in the world and looks at all military situations. If you don't do that, if you don't look at all areas of the world and all military powers, then you're not doing the thorough review that's required for the QDR. So that's nothing unusual, nothing special, but China has a substantial military buildup. We're glad that the Department of Defense took a careful look, and we did our own committee defense review and led with a China briefing, analysis, and hearing.
Thanks a lot, folks. We really appreciate it.