AL ASAD, Iraq -- In a trip designed to bring motivation and encouragement, the Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, visited the Marines of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force here Oct. 10.
Immediately upon landing, Rumsfeld met with the Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, commanding general, I Marine Expeditionary Force, as well as the CGs of the various Marine commands within I MEF.
Focusing on mission readiness, troop welfare, and the needs of the Corps, Sattler gave the Defense Secretary an intelligence brief concerning current operations here throughout I MEF.
His first trip to Iraq since the Iraqi interim government was put into place, Rumsfeld traveled to Al Asad with Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim Shaalan al-Khuzaei.
During the short trip, Rumsfeld took time to speak to a crowd of more than 1,500 servicemembers inside of an aircraft hangar aboard the air base.
Thanking them for their service, Rumsfeld encouraged the troops to stay strong and keep up the good work.
“Thank you for contributing to a more peaceful and safer Iraq,” he said, “and also to a more peaceful and safer world.”
In the midst of his speech, Rumsfeld mentioned several objectives that have been accomplished in Iraq due to the hard work of U.S.-led coalition forces.
“Despite the terror, despite the intimidation, tens of thousands of Iraqis have volunteered (for security forces) and they continue to volunteer,” he said. “There are close to a hundred thousand members of the Iraqi security force. They’re not hiding in their barracks’. They’re out there serving their country.”
Many of the military personnel in the crowd agreed with the Secretary’s assessment of the newly formed fighting force.
“I’ve been really impressed with the Iraqi’s serving out there,” said 21-year-old Cpl. Timothy J. Connors, infantryman, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, 1st Marine Division. “Back in (the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom) the Iraqi security forces were nervous, and it was hard to get them to stay at their posts. Now, they are incredibly professional, and we don’t have to worry about them at all.”
Rumsfeld assured the troops that they don’t hold the entire responsibility of protecting and reconstructing Iraq.
“It will be Iraqis who will have to build this country. It will be Iraqis who have to defend this country,” he said. “This coalition’s task is to create an environment where they can do that. You can be enormously proud of the contribution you are making to that important progress”
“Hearing all of those accomplishments reminded me of why we’re out here,” said 22-year-old Dallas native Sgt. Ricardo Padron, Marine Air-Ground Task Force planner, Marine Support Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. “We’re not wasting our time and being away from our families for no reason.”
During the course of his speech in the combat zone, Rumsfeld didn’t make any promises about how easy the mission in Iraq would be.
“It’s a tough business. There’s no magic wand to solve the problem,” he stated, “but victory ultimately only comes to those who are resolute and steadfast, and this is where you need some of America’s most skilled warriors.”
Conveying a sense of trust, Rumsfeld expressed the belief he has in the performance of the troops.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in the American people,” said Rumsfeld. “For over two hundred years, our country has turned to the Marines for some of the most difficult and dangerous missions.”
Many Marines commented on their unique experience of having the Secretary of Defense speak directly to them.
“It was really interesting to see how much he cared about us,” said 20-year-old Champaign, Ill., native Lance Cpl. Michael C. Larsen, combat engineer, Company C, Combat Service Support Battalion 7, 1st Force Service Support Group. “As a reservist, I appreciated knowing that he also had our interest in mind.”
Describing the arduous task ahead of America, Rumsfeld concluded his message with a declaration of gratitude.
“The road ahead is going to require courage, strength and determination,” he said. “Thankfully, those are exactly the characteristics of the men of woman in uniform who serve our country. We are so fortunate to be able to count on you in this time of peril for out nation.”