By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2006 – The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, gave a sense of urgency to the Defense Department's transformation to meet the threats of the 21st century. Since then, historic changes have been made that have prevented terrorist attacks and improved America's military, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here today. "I know that at times it's difficult for all of us to see the larger picture, but I'm convinced that with the distance of a few years, we'll all be able to look back at this time and see that, while a number of things that have been accomplished have been controversial, ... we are becoming a stronger, a better equipped, a more flexible, and a considerably more capable force," Rumsfeld said to a group of military and civilian employees at a Pentagon town hall meeting.
DoD's transformation to a more agile, flexible force began before Sept. 11, and many people thought it couldn't continue once the U.S. got involved in the war on terror. But the department has risen to the challenge and made important changes, Rumsfeld said. DoD has been adjusting its global posture to better meet the asymmetrical threats of terrorism and also adjusting its posture in the U.S. with the Base Realignment and Closure process, Rumsfeld said.
The BRAC process will save taxpayers billions of dollars and will ensure the military services become truly joint and can operate as one fighting force, Rumsfeld said.
"At the same time, people in the department have been involved in fighting two wars in the central front in the global war on terror, making adjustments and altering approaches along the way," he said. "Key changes in the department have contributed to the successes that the troops have felt on the battlefield."
U.S. troops have removed an al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan, eliminated an ally of terrorists and a threat to regional stability in Iraq, and today are helping Iraqi and Afghan security forces to stand up so they can ensure the democratic process moves forward, Rumsfeld said.
In addition to combat operations, the U.S. military has conducted numerous humanitarian assistance operations around the world, Rumsfeld said. The USNS Mercy recently returned from a medical assistance mission in East Asia in which more than 60,000 patients were cared for; U.S. European Command and Central Command worked together to evacuate more than 15,000 American citizens from Lebanon; and, in the Horn of Africa, American troops provided disaster relief to thousands of people who were displaced as a result of flooding in Ethiopia in August.
"Each of these operations required thousands of DoD personnel -- men and women on the front lines, to be sure, but many, many more here in the United States and elsewhere in the regions to support them," he said. "There's no other military on the face of the earth that could have succeeded in these humanitarian efforts so quickly and so professionally."
Changing an organization as big as DoD will involve challenges and opposition, but many dedicated employees are overcoming those challenges, Rumsfeld said. In addition, America stands firmly behind the military and DoD, consistently showing in the polls that they are highly respected among other institutions in the country, he said.
"It seems to me that what it says is that there is an understanding about the men and women in the Department of Defense and the men and women in uniform that the work they do is historic, it's important, it's central to the success of our country, and it is helping to make the world more free," he said.
Speaking at the same town hall, Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thanked DoD employees for their service. "Your work ethic, your drive and your determination makes the difference every single day," he said.
DoD employees in the U.S. may feel guilty for working in air conditioning and comfort while servicemembers are deployed around the world, but those troops need support, and the work DoD personnel do here is always appreciated, Pace said.
"I guarantee you that they depend on each one of us back here to provide the support that they need, and you do that magnificently well," he said. "Your families deserve enormous thanks as well, because each of our families serves this country as well as any of us who've ever had the privilege of wearing the uniform or serving in the civil side of this department."