A series of tough questions from U.S. troops in Kuwait about lengthy tours and missing armor had Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld casting a critical eye—not at his field commanders, his Pentagon war planners, or Iraq policy in general, but at a favorite target: the media.
As the New York Times reported on the front page Thursday, Rumsfeld was challenged by several soldiers Wednesday at a “town-hall-style” Q&A session at Camp Buehring in northern Kuwait. The Times reported that after one tough question “Mr. Rumsfeld seemed taken aback” and told the murmuring troops: “Now, settle down, settle down. Hell, I’m an old man, it’s early in the morning and I’m gathering my thoughts here.”
The Boston Globe said the session “turned into an extraordinary public confrontation between the defense secretary and troops in uniform.” And USA Today noted: “Ordinarily, such events serve as pep rallies and as opportunities for Rumsfeld to fire up the troops. But resentment over the state of military equipment and other concerns quickly surfaced.”
According to the Armed Forces Information Service (AFIS), however, the back-and-forth was no big deal for the Rumster.
“Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he is not surprised that soldiers at a town-hall meeting in Kuwait Dec. 8 asked him tough questions,” the Pentagon press service reported. “He is surprised, however, that the media has chosen to focus on the concerns of a few and ignore the overall positive tone of the event.”
AFIS reported that “one soldier caused a stir when he asked Rumsfeld why his unit was having to get scrap armor and ballistic glass from refuse piles in Kuwait to armor up their Humvees. Another soldier expressed concern that she and her husband joined a volunteer army but that soldiers are now being held past their contracts involuntarily.” A separate AFIS article mentions another tough question, about the military’s stop-loss policy preventing soldiers in Iraq from departing when their enlistment periods are up.
But there were other tough ones too, as well as some softballs. What follows is a list of the questions Rumsfeld was asked, taken from the transcript of the session provided by the Pentagon (these excepts reflect only the meat of the questions asked, omitting soldiers’ names and questions that were repeated because of mic problems):
Q: My question is with numerous troops deploying and numerous troops preparing to deploy, what is your plan to maintain a balance between units deploying overseas and units back at home to maintain an adequate fighting force in case of possible terror attacks?
Q: My question is after the January 30th elections and the Iraqi government in place, what is the plan for the U.S. forces in a post-democratic Iraq?
Q: We’ve had troops in Iraq for coming up on three years and we’ve always staged here out of Kuwait. Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromise ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles and why don’t we have those resources readily available to us?
Q: With the recent success of the elections in Afghanistan, what message will you take back to the States to the people that say we couldn’t get it done?
Q: I was wanting to know why I cannot enlist as a single parent in the regular army, but I can enlist in the National Guard and be deployed?
Q: My question is what is the Department of Defense, more specifically, the army side of the house, doing to address shortages and antiquated equipment that National Guard soldiers, such as the 116th Cavalry Brigade and the 278th ACR are going to roll into Iraq with?
Q: Would you be kind enough, sir, to put us on your aircraft today and take us to Disneyland?
Q: There’s a lot of soldiers here from western Pennsylvania and we were wondering if we were going to be given the opportunity to watch the Steelers win the Super Bowl this year?
Q: We’re helping—or trying to help—about 150 soldiers get their contingency travel pay. . . . These soldiers have gone—some since July—without getting travel pay. Thousands of dollars, they’re having creditors call them at home, call their spouses at home, threatening collection action. . . . Can you help us to understand that problem, Mr. Secretary, or even better, can you point us to a resource that will help us get these soldiers paid?
Q: My question is with the current mission of the National Guard and reserves being the same as our active duty counterparts, when are more of our benefits going to line up to the same as theirs, for example, retirement?
Q: Mr. Secretary, with the recent re-election of our commander in chief to another term in office, the U.S. people sent a message to the world that we are committed to fight this war on terrorism. Specifically, in regards to non-NATO countries, how has this message affected their posture or willingness to renegotiate their relationship with the United States?
Q: My husband and myself, we both joined a volunteer Army. Currently, I’m serving under the stop-loss program. I would like to know how much longer do you foresee the military using this program?