Troops Get a Chance to Question Rumsfeld
By Fred Barbash
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 13, 2004; 5:35 PM
Moments after Donald H. Rumsfeld said how much more "fun" it was to be questioned by the troops in Baghdad than the critics in Washington, the troops in the Iraqi capital hit the defense secretary with a barrage of serious, probing and sometimes personal inquiries, some of which, he confessed, he just could not answer.
One soldier asked when they would receive improved vests and better armor for the Humvees. It's those roadside bombs, he said. "We lost some soldiers due to them."
Another asked whether it was true that the military would not pay their full air fare back home.
Yet another wanted to know why his military medical coverage wouldn't handle physical therapy for his handicapped child.
When, if ever, would the United Nations send some troops and where would they come from?
Would Defense Department employees who are civilians working with the military be permitted to carry guns, asked a civilian working with the military?
The entire town hall meeting was televised live on CNN.
And sometimes it did indeed sound to Rumsfeld like a televised news conference full of journalists back home.
"Mr. Secretary," said a member of the audience. "You have said you would like to reduce the number of troops in Iraq. Instead, more troops are being sent."
"You should be a journalist," Rumsfeld told her, smiling.
"Well, you're right," he said. "Our goal is to not have troops in Iraq, It's to have the Iraqi people take charge of their country and take charge of their security. And that's why you folks are working so hard to help recruit and train and equip and deploy and mentor the Iraqi security forces. So our goal is to pass that responsibility to them as soon as they're capable of taking it."
It was the longest answer of the day, albeit short by Rumsfeld's Washington standards.
Most of his responses were referrals, to Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , who was standing beside him, or to Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, who was behind him.
Sometimes they could not answer either, and referred the questions onward, as they did with the soldier concerned about his handicapped child, who was told to see the officer in charge of health insurance.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company