Secretary Rumsfeld visits base in Italy

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Julie A. Weckerlein
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told servicemembers during a town hall meeting here Feb. 7 that they "stand between fear and freedom, and America is counting on its military."

Rumsfeld visited the Air Force's only fighter wing south of the Alps for a few hours as part of a trip to gain European support for the global war on terrorism and future contingencies.

However, patriotism and enthusiasm were not lacking at the meeting, held in a hangar packed with more than 1,500 people. In the shadow of a large American flag and an F-16 Fighting Falcon, Rumsfeld played up to the charged atmosphere.

"You are all representatives of folks stationed all across the globe, standing on the frontiers of freedom," he said. "We are grateful. The American people are grateful, and you must know that. On the other hand, I look around this base, at the skyline, the snow on the mountains -- I must admit, you're pretty lucky to be here. I can see why the folks here like it so much."

He spoke of his appreciation for all those who volunteered to join the military, the significance of their sacrifices and dedication, and even recognized the importance of military family members, who were also part of the crowd.

"Military families often have to endure separation, and those left behind are forced to cope with all the daily problems without their loved one there. These families are serving the country, too, and we thank you, as well," he said.

After his speech, Rumsfeld took questions from the servicemembers. Most questions focused on possible military actions in Iraq.

"It is highly unlikely we go to a full mobilization," he said, in response to a question about extending current air and space expeditionary force deployment rotations. "The way we were organized was really for an industrial age, and not an information age. And the way we were prepared to deploy was going from no deployments to a full deployment.

"Yet, activated people are generally proud to serve, but they want to do something real and worthwhile, and they don't want to be just called up and used for something they know doesn't need to be done. So, we're refashioning the whole process to do things a little better, which I expect to be in place in the next six months," he said.

Rumsfeld also answered questions about European and Middle Eastern support for a possible attack on Iraq.

"We are satisfied with the support we're getting from countries in the Middle East. Any shift of support and opinion won't happen in the Middle East, though. It'll come from those countries (that) aren't close to Iraq and haven't been exposed to the brutality of that regime," he said. "Those countries in the Middle East already know how repressive the Iraqi regime is, and they know they'll all be better off without Saddam Hussein."

Rumsfeld also expressed his confidence that more European countries will step forward and pledge their support.

The secretary of defense's visit, which included personally meeting with airmen and senior leaders, seemed to impress the crowd, who responded to his statements with cheers, applause and whistles.

"I could sense his great dedication to the military and issues at hand. I feel he's generally concerned with the world issues and takes in consideration our well-being and morale," said Senior Airman Corey Grossman from the 31st Security Forces Squadron here. (Courtesy of U.S. Air Forces in Europe News Service)