Secretary of Defense praises sailors at Fallon air base
FALLON – U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told sailors and civilians Monday at the Fallon Naval Air Station that the base has been crucial in the global war on terrorism.
Rumsfeld visited the sprawling naval air facility to discuss the ongoing war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the current and future role of the military. He flew to Nevada to speak at the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ convention in Reno Monday night.
“The work that is important is here. Training aviators for battle is crucial,” he told a crowd estimated at more than 300.
He cited the role NAS Fallon has played since Sept. 11, 2001. Rumsfeld said instructors from the facility provided communications to personnel aboard aircraft carriers during bombing missions on Afghanistan. He praised the role of those Navy pilots who received their training flying over the Nevada desert.
“The skills learned here also toppled a dangerous regime in Iraq,” Rumsfeld said.
The 74-year-old Rumsfeld felt at home at the Naval Strike Air Warfare Center, the Navy’s premier pilot “Top Gun” training base.
“I was pleased to see the modern aircraft,” Rumsfeld said. “The only planes I flew in the Navy are now in the museums. I came not to go flying but that would be a delight. I am here to thank you for your service.”
Rumsfeld, a retired Navy reserve captain, served from 1954 to 1957 as a Naval aviator and flight instructor. He retired from the Navy Reserve in 1989.
Capt. Scott Ryder, base commander, said he hoped Rumsfeld leaves Fallon knowing how important the base, the warfare center and range complexes are to naval training.
“We were excited about having the secretary of defense here in Nevada,” Ryder said.
Cmdr. Luther Hook, said the defense secretary should be impressed with NAS Fallon.
“We’re the heart and soul of training for the guys and girls going out to fight the war on terrorism,” said the operations officer.
Rumsfeld joked with the crowd when he told them he flew over the desert to see sailors, but then the tone of his prepared remarks grew more serious.
He said the Army has seen more fighting in Iraq than the other services, but the other services have been helpful.
“Navy people are supportive of the ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Rumsfeld said, describing how the Navy and Air Force have been providing individuals and units to perform tasks dealing with communications, construction and security.
Rumsfeld reminded the sailors of the United States’ involvement in two theaters of war.
“It’s a long struggle we face against an enemy that is ruthless,” he said.
He also reminded his audience of the terrorists’ determination against the U.S.
“Since 9/11, we need to feel like we did on Sept. 12 … a sense of urgency,” he added.
He discussed how Iran is trying to threaten the stability of the region and how countries are testing this country’s will to persevere in Iraq.
“We are a nation that has liberated rather than conquered,” he said. “The men and women in the service – 5, 10, 20 years from now – will see a world where the terrorists have been shut down.”
Rumsfeld also conducted a townhall meeting with the sailors and fielded approximately a dozen questions ranging from health care and education to the modernization of the Navy.
He said the Navy has gone from 12 to 11 aircraft carrier battle groups, but the number of groups being deployed at the same time has increased from two to five. Approximately four to six carrier groups train at NAS Fallon each year.
Rumsfeld said the Navy is finding ways to maintain the ships with a high level of readiness.
“The taxpayers are getting their money out of the Navy. The department is doing a darn good job of moving toward the 21st century,” he said.
Personnel assigned to NAS Fallon said they were pleased Rumsfeld stopped at the base.
“He’s very positive and supportive of the troops. We know he’s behind the troops,” said IT2 Jessica Law.
Cpl. Raymond Gillett is assigned to Miramar Marine Corps Air Station near San Diego, but he has been attached to the Strike Fighter Warfare Det., for six weeks.
“It was interesting to hear his views and how he brought everything back to the war in Iraq. He also reminded us of the service members in Afghanistan,” Gillett said.
Rumsfeld also used some of his time to mingle with the sailors and either shake hands or be photographed with them.
AME (airman) Mills McLane became one of the few to receive the secretary of defense’s coin for a job well done.
“I was surprised. I bet he felt bad for me because of my black eye,” McLane said with a sheepish grin. “I guess it was worth it to have a black eye.”