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Media Spin vs. Reality

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Here’s the mainstream media spin on Donald Rumsfeld’s visit to Kuwait: Troops put tough questions to Rumsfeld.

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait - After delivering a pep talk designed to energize troops preparing to head for Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld got a little “talking to” himself from disgruntled soldiers. But a Pentagon spokesman characterized the exchange, about a shortage of armed vehicles, as “upbeat.”

In his prepared remarks, Rumsfeld urged the troops — mostly National Guard and Reserve soldiers — to discount critics of the war in Iraq and to help “win the test of wills” with the insurgents.

Some of the soldiers, however, had criticisms of their own — not of the war itself but of how it is being fought.

Army Spc. Thomas Wilson, for example, of the 278th Regimental Combat Team that is comprised mainly of citizen soldiers of the Tennessee Army National Guard, asked Rumsfeld in a question-and-answer session why vehicle armor is still in short supply, nearly two years after the beginning of the war in Iraq.

“Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” Wilson asked. A big cheer arose from the approximately 2,300 soldiers in the cavernous hangar who assembled to see and hear the secretary of defense.

Rumsfeld hesitated and asked Wilson to repeat his question.

“We do not have proper armored vehicles to carry with us north,” Wilson said after asking again. Wilson’s unit is about to drive into Iraq for a one-year tour of duty.

Rumsfeld replied that, “You go to war with the Army you have,” not the one you might want, and that any rate the Army was pushing manufacturers of vehicle armor to produce it as fast as humanly possible.

And here’s the perspective of a soldier who was there: Sgt. Missick, A Line In The Sand.

Today was one of the days throughout this deployment that I will remember the rest of my life.  It was an opportunity to meet one of the key architects in the War on Terror, and a man whom I personally admire.  Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stood before about 2,300 soldiers today on what was a fairly cool and overcast morning, and spoke to us about our place in history, the difficult job we have before us, and the thankfulness that the American people hold in their hearts for everyone deployed in the Global War on Terror.

We found out last week that the Secretary of Defense would be coming to one of the area’s camps, and that we might have the opportunity to attend the address he would make.  Fortunately, my contingent took volunteers and five of us boarded a bus and headed to the location where we would have the opportunity to listen to and even meet Mr. Rumsfeld.  It was indeed a great speech, and like Victorino Matus in the Wall Street Journal Opinion pages today, drew parallels to what occurred on December 8, 1941 as America entered WWII.  The Secretary spoke about how the Germans and the Japanese underestimated the resolve of America’s finest, but that the men and women in uniform performed magnificently.  Mr. Matus too, made the same parallels stating:

It all has a familiar ring to it. The enemy believes that it takes only a taste of real war, followed by a few casualties, to send Americans running home with their tails between their legs. The American president, weighed down by public opinion, will then be forced to make concessions and abandon the field.

Sixty years ago, Adolf Hitler had exactly such thoughts. He launched a devastating offensive in Western Europe in the hope that he could weaken America’s willingness to fight and thus splinter the Allies, leaving him free to deal with the Soviet Union…

The Nazis at first perceived the American soldier to be “a gum-chewing spoiled brat.” Instead they faced an adversary willing to stand his ground. The 394th’s I&R platoon played a pivotal role in slowing the German advance—a delay that would prove costly. “We knew it weren’t no little thing,” said Sgt. George Redmond. “But I figured if I’d gotten that far, I’d get the rest of the way. You only have to go when your time comes.” America’s enemies would do well not to underestimate this sense of courage and duty.

Mr. Rumsfeld gave a very good speech to “Rally the Troops” and it was heartening to sit there in that aircraft hangar, only feet away from the man who holds the power of America’s armed forces in his hand.  After his formal speech, he opened the floor to questions.  I was impressed once again with our nation, when a 20 year old Specialist has the opportunity to stand before the Secretary of Defense and ask him a direct and difficult question.  Mr. Rumsfeld did receive such questions today, and handled them fairly well.  Certainly, in areas such as stop loss, the answer was not one that some soldiers wanted to hear, but honestly, even that was slightly comforting.  His answers were usually direct and blunt, telling the audience the realities of a situation rather than an overly sugar-coated prepared sound-byte.  I will admit, I am partial to the Secretary and believe he puts America’s and the military’s best interests first, but even from the most un-biased position I could conjure up, I was impressed at both his speech and the fact that he visited today.

You can find the AP Newswire link here, as carried in the Fresno Bee.  There is also this article that appeared in the Middle East Online.  Although the AP article captured the sentiments a little more accurately, I must say that the mood in the hangar was much more of goodwill, with soldiers packing around the Secretary as if he was a movie star to shake his hand or get a picture at the end.  There was a great deal of frustration in the voice of the soldier who asked questions regarding vehicles being up-armored, and the hangar did erupt in applause after he spoke, but I wouldn’t translate one very tough question into a grill session by American forces.  The questions were direct, and dealt with everything from exit strategies to one Chaplain asking Mr. Rumsfeld to take his soldier to Disneyland on the Secretaries private plane to boost morale.  For the most part, the mood was not one of anger and disgust, just concern over serious issues that impact all of our lives.  For me, the Q&A represented the intelligence and professionalism that is the US Armed Forces.

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