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Rumsfeld Praises Airmen for Iraqi Freedom

Rumsfeld Praises Airmen for Contributions to Iraqi Freedom

PRINCE SULTAN AIR BASE, Saudi Arabia, April 29, 2003 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told airmen here that what they accomplished for the Iraqi people, for the region and for the world is truly remarkable.

Rumsfeld met with the airmen as part of his trip to the region. Some men and women in the crowd of U.S., British and Australian airmen flew the skies over Baghdad. Others maintained the aircraft; still others helped plan the air war. He congratulated them for the job they had done and asked them to compare and contrast the situation in Iraq six weeks ago to today.

"Six weeks ago the Iraqi people lived in fear and desperation," he said. "The freedoms we all enjoy in our countries were for them a distant dream." He reminded the troops that six weeks ago death squads roamed the streets of Iraq, and innocent civilians were beheaded in public squares and tortured in prisons.

"The regime denied its people food and medicine (in order) to build weapons to threaten the world," he said. Today, Saddam Hussein's regime is gone.

"The regime is no longer in power, the prisons are emptied, executions in public squares have stopped, and statues of Saddam Hussein have been pull downed," he said. Terrorists in Iraq and around the world are on the run, the secretary added, pointing out that coalition forces are rounding up Iraqi's senior leaders, and the Iraqi people are free.

"That was a remarkable transformation," he said. "And what made it possible is the same thing that made success possible in every other war: the courage, the determination and the dedication of the men and women in uniform of our coalition countries."

Rumsfeld thanked the families of those deployed to fight the war. He said that often families who stay behind have a tough job too. Families make sacrifices so service members can protect America and its allies, he noted.

"We are certainly grateful to all of you for your efforts," he said. "But we are also grateful to your families. Your families have carried those burdens for our country and the cause of freedom. We are grateful and proud of their service as well as your service."

Many airmen at Prince Sultan Air Base are National Guardsmen and reservists called up for the conflict. Rumsfeld said their presence and expertise shows the "total force" concept works. He said the challenge the Defense Department faces is to not burn out people in low-density, high-demand specialties. He said some skills now primarily in the reserve component need to be placed in the active component.

"We need to have a better balance in the active force for those skills," he said. "What we cannot do is call people up so often and put such a great burden on the Guard and Reserve that we end up not being able to attract and retain the people we need."

Rumsfeld touched on discussions with those in the region to change the way U.S. forces are configured. He said with the closing of Operation Southern Watch, assets that normally covered southern Iraq could be used for other assignments and requirements around the world.

"We do intend to maintain a continuing healthy relationship with the Saudis," he said. "We look forward to exercises and training, working with them on their military. But we will have the opportunity to move some forces out because of the successful end of Southern Watch.

ENDS

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