AL ASAD, Iraq -- The Honorable Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, visited with Marines, Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen at Al Asad for the first time here today to meet the troops in Iraq first-hand.
After meeting with senior Marine generals, including Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, commanding general, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Rumsfeld later delivered a 15-minute speech dealing with terrorism, national security and Iraq.
"Because of your efforts we now have a government in Iraq that will not invade other countries, will not fire missiles at its neighbors, will not seek weapons of mass destruction, will not harbor terrorists, will not slaughter its own people and will not behead people," said Rumsfeld during his latest visit to Iraq since U.S. forces drove Saddam Hussein from power in 2003."You can be enormously proud of the contributions you are making."
Comparing the current global war on terror to the Cold War era, Rumsfeld noted that 50-year period, too, was a chapter of American history filled with uncertainty, division, self-doubt, setbacks and failures.
"Few things in life are a smooth upward path to victory," Rumsfeld said. "But our country showed perseverance, resolve, year after year, decade after decade, our leaders dared to aggressively fight what many thought was an unbeatable foe. That is a lesson every generation has to learn for itself. The lesson is weakness is provocative and that victory only comes to those who are resolute and steadfast."
With Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim Shaalan al-Khuzaei at his side, Rumsfeld then entertained questions from the crowd of more than 1,500 servicemembers packed anxiously in a fortified hangar here.
Responding to a question from 24-year-old Denver native Sgt. Brandon S. Widener, switch chief, Marine Air Control Squadron 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, regarding possible separate campaign medals for Iraq and Afghanistan, the 21st secretary of defense said that the matter is still under proposal.
In response to another question from a Marine with Marine Wing Support Squadron 472 about the apparent failure of civilian news media to cover positive news about Iraq, Rumsfeld said it is extremely important for the news media to report as accurately as possible what is actually happening here in Iraq.
"It seems today that there is no news unless its bad news," said Rumsfeld. "No one seems to notice that Afghanistan is about to hold elections which is a breathtaking accomplishment."
Another Marine, 38-year-old Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Ballor, heavy equipment operator, Marine Wing Support Group 37, from Mount Clemens, Mich., asked Rumsfeld for his thoughts on current troop rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The situation on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan determines what we have to do in the way of deployments and mobilization of (national) guard and (military reserve units)," the secretary said. "It is constantly under review, although the current rotation schedule will likely stay the way it is. We will stay as long as necessary and no longer, as we build up Iraqi forces, but it depends on the security situation here in Iraq."
Rumsfeld also made a point to note the importance of the National Guard and Reserve forces and thanked them for what they do for the country.
When asked a question regarding his opinion on the upcoming presidential election between President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry (D-Mass), Rumsfeld indicated his non-involvement.
"The President looked (Secretary of State) Colin Powell and me in the eye and said ...'the national security of this country and foreign policy of this country is too important to get messed up in politics and I want the two of you to stay out of it'," Rumsfeld said. "So I have stayed out of it."
Concluding his formal remarks at Al Asad, Rumsfeld was besieged with praise and thanks from servicemembers during his departure.
Thanking the many Marines, Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen in attendance, Rumsfeld left behind a central message for servicemembers.
"The road ahead is going to require courage, strength and determination and thankfully those are the characteristics of the servicemembers that serve our country. We are so fortunate that we can count on you in this time of peril," said Rumsfeld.
After Rumsfeld departed, Marines returned to their units and continued their duties in Iraq, but took a burgeoned sense of encouragement with them.
"Coming here and entertaining questions from Marines of all ranks is really a good thing and it shows that he truly cares about all of us," said 28 year-old 1st Lt. Steven Salyer, assistant aviation supply officer, Marine Aircraft Logistics Squadron 16, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd MAW, from Knoxville, Tenn. "The Marines really appreciate that and are proud to have someone like him as secretary of defense."