USA — Rumsfeld Says America is Servicemembers’ Gift to Future

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2010 — Amer­i­ca is U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers’ gift to future gen­er­a­tions, for­mer Defense Sec­re­tary Don­ald H. Rums­feld said here today dur­ing the unveil­ing of his por­trait at the Pen­ta­gon.

Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates, right, address­es the audi­ence while for­mer Defense Sec­re­tary Don­ald H. Rums­feld looks on dur­ing Rumsfeld’s por­trait unveil­ing cer­e­mo­ny at the Pen­ta­gon, June 25, 2010.
DoD pho­to by Cherie Cullen
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“This coun­try – which has treat­ed me so well – exists and pros­pers because the mem­bers of the Unit­ed States armed forces have vol­un­teered to step for­ward and pro­tect it,” Rums­feld said dur­ing a cer­e­mo­ny host­ed by Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates. “In a very real sense, Amer­i­ca is their gift to the future.”

Gates said the Defense Depart­ment is one place in Wash­ing­ton where there is a degree of con­sis­ten­cy and con­ti­nu­ity, even as admin­is­tra­tions and polit­i­cal par­ties change. The men who have served as defense sec­re­tary have expe­ri­ences in com­mon includ­ing “the chal­lenges we face; the obsta­cles we have to over­come with­in this build­ing and across the riv­er; the changes we pur­sue to bet­ter-pro­tect this coun­try and do right by its men and women in uni­form,” Gates said.

Gates said Rums­feld began his sec­ond stint as defense sec­re­tary on Jan. 20, 2001, with a man­date to trans­form the U.S. defense estab­lish­ment from its Cold War pos­ture, atti­tudes and moor­ings to a force ready to con­front the threats of the 21st cen­tu­ry.

“On a bright Tues­day morn­ing in Sep­tem­ber, eight months into Pres­i­dent [George W.] Bush’s first term, a decade of slum­ber in a hol­i­day from his­to­ry came to a crash­ing halt,” Gates said. “This coun­try and this mil­i­tary learned how dan­ger­ous and unpre­dictable this new era could be, and saw in the stark­est terms how nec­es­sary was the task of trans­form­ing this depart­ment to meet these chal­lenges.”

Rums­feld inspired, edu­cat­ed and often charmed a wound­ed nation, the sec­re­tary said. Rumsfeld’s first action on 9/11 was to rush to the aid of those killed and wound­ed in the attack. In the days and months after the attack, Amer­i­cans heard straight talk from the podi­um about how the mil­i­tary real­ly was going to “kill” America’s ene­mies – “jar­ring stuff for a coun­try grown accus­tomed to euphemisms and polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness,” Gates said.

And the world saw the rapid removal of two odi­ous regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In addi­tion to fight­ing America’s ene­mies, Rums­feld “simul­ta­ne­ous­ly and dogged­ly pur­sued an agen­da of insti­tu­tion­al trans­for­ma­tion and reform – grap­pling with iner­tia and vest­ed inter­ests like the cham­pi­on wrestler he once was,” Gates said. “The result is an Amer­i­can mil­i­tary that has become more agile, lethal, and pre­pared to deal with the full spec­trum of con­flict.”

Rums­feld famous­ly brought his own unique and brac­ing style of per­son­al man­age­ment to the Pen­ta­gon bureau­cra­cy, Gates said, cit­ing Rumsfeld’s habit of send­ing hand­writ­ten mem­os to his aides, who called them “snowflakes.”

Mil­i­tary and civil­ian employ­ees “soon dis­cov­ered that snowflakes real­ly could fall from above in the mid­dle of August,” Gates said. “Self-described as ‘genet­i­cal­ly impa­tient,’ [Rums­feld] did not brook much non­sense or suf­fer fools glad­ly – as many an unpre­pared briefer would find out the hard way.”

Rums­feld served as the 13th defense sec­re­tary from 1975 to 1977 and as the 21st sec­re­tary from 2001 to 2006. He is both the youngest and old­est man to serve as defense sec­re­tary. Both of his offi­cial por­traits will hang in the Pen­ta­gon. The newest, paint­ed by Steven Pol­son, shows Rums­feld at his stand-up desk with a pic­ture of first-respon­ders and sol­diers unfurl­ing the flag over the still-burn­ing Pen­ta­gon on Sep­tem­ber 12, 2001.

The sec­re­tary, who will be 78 next week, joked that he has been alive for almost a third of the exis­tence of the repub­lic.

“I’ve seen our coun­try in times of depres­sion, pros­per­i­ty, peace and tur­moil, [through] exhil­a­rat­ing tri­umphs and ago­niz­ing wars,” Rums­feld said. “In my life­time, our nation­al lead­ers have had to tack­le the worst eco­nom­ic depres­sion, order troops into com­bat against the longest of odds on islands in the Pacif­ic and bat­tle­fields in Europe, win leg­isla­tive strug­gles that belat­ed­ly but final­ly brought equal­i­ty to mil­lions of Amer­i­cans, right our bat­tered ship of state after the Viet­nam War and Water­gate and win a 50-year strug­gle against a com­mu­nist empire of bound­less ambi­tion an ide­ol­o­gy of dis­cred­it­ed lies.

“And we’ve seen this great nation take the offense after a dev­as­tat­ing ter­ror­ist attack – one that shook the foun­da­tion of this build­ing now almost nine years ago,” he added. Amer­i­ca has sur­vived all these crises “because we are a free peo­ple, blessed with a free eco­nom­ic sys­tem, a free polit­i­cal sys­tem,” Rums­feld said. “We’re free to think and to act, to believe and to protest, to vote and peti­tion, and yes, free to suc­ceed, free to fail and free to start again.”

The for­mer defense sec­re­tary spoke about his favorite pho­to that bright­ly illus­trates what free­dom can accom­plish: it is a satel­lite pho­to of the Kore­an penin­su­la tak­en at night. The free South Korea is bathed in light. In the com­mu­nist North, a small glim­mer of light is seen around the cap­i­tal city of Pyongyang – oth­er­wise the coun­try is dark. “They are exact­ly the same peo­ple north and south, exact­ly the same resources north and south, but those mil­lions of Kore­ans who labor in the north work not for their fam­i­lies, but for a regime that enslaves them,” Rums­feld said.

The Unit­ed States is free and the peo­ple of Amer­i­ca are free to make their own choic­es, he point­ed out.

“We can choose to engage the world and strength­en alliances with our friends and our trad­ing rela­tions, deter poten­tial foes and to take the fight to them when nec­es­sary,” Rums­feld said. “Or we can retreat and make the trag­ic mis­take of mod­el­ing our coun­try after fail­ing sys­tems. If we choose the lat­ter, let there be no doubt, we are cer­tain to fail the gen­er­a­tions that fol­low.”

Rums­feld said it was impor­tant to him and his wife, Joyce, that his sec­ond offi­cial por­trait includes the pho­to of the Pen­ta­gon work­ers unfurl­ing the Amer­i­can flag.

“It shows that the traits of resilience and per­se­ver­ance – while remark­able – are not uncom­mon in those in this depart­ment,” he said. “Those traits are what sus­tained this coun­try, and what I saw every day in the men and women I served along­side months and years after the worst ter­ror­ist attack in our country’s his­to­ry.”

It was a ver­i­ta­ble who’s who at the cer­e­mo­ny. For­mer defense sec­re­taries William Cohen and Frank Car­luc­ci attend­ed. Retired Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers and retired Marine Gen. Peter Pace – who served as chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff along­side Rums­feld — were there with their wives. For­mer deputy sec­re­taries Paul Wol­fowitz and Gor­don Eng­land, retired Air Force Gen. Joe Ral­ston, retired Navy Adm. Vern Clark, retired Navy Adm. Ed Giambas­tiani, for­mer senior Pen­ta­gon cor­re­spon­dent Char­lie Aldinger, and many, many more friends attend­ed the event.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)