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Monday, April 28

Rumsfeld and Franks praise, thank coalition troops

By Alex Neill | Army Times

DOHA, Qatar - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Army Gen. Tommy Franks thanked the troops at the war command headquarters Monday and praised them for the speed and precision of the U.S. military campaign.

The hundreds of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines shouted "Hoo-ah!'' in unison to their leaders' comments and their cheers reverberated off the rafters of the low-slung, block-long warehouse in which they were gathered.

Still, the first question during a brief "town hall meeting'' didn't seem to fit the day's theme of highlighting the U.S.-led coalition's success in Iraq.

A major, who could not be further identified, asked Rumsfeld a question about lowering the retirement age for military reserves - especially given the significant role they play in the armed forces.

The curveball won a fair round of applause from the crowd and a bemused look from Rumsfeld, whose dark suit and tie stood out in stark contrast to the sea of camouflage fatigues that surrounded him.

Reservists are lobbying for retirement benefits that more closely mirror those awarded to active-duty troops. One of Rumsfeld's pet peeves, however, is that the military retirement system allows troops to hang up their uniforms at a relatively young age, just when they are arguably of greatest value to their military branches, with two decades or more of experience and knowledge.

"C'mon,'' Rumsfeld shot back to the major, with a smile. "How the heck could you ask a 70-year-old to lower the retirement age?''

That response got Rumsfeld some laughs - and the opportunity to change the subject.

Rumsfeld took only four more questions during a session that lasted less than 10 minutes. Those questions gave the defense secretary opportunities to extend his gratitude to the troops and emphasize his belief that bold, swift action, precision airstrikes and joint-service operations - the hallmarks of the coalition's success in Iraq - would serve as a blueprint for future military funding and training and as a doctrine for U.S. forces.

Franks, head of U.S. Central Command and commander of the war in Iraq, was not asked a question during the town hall meeting, but did address the troops briefly. He thanked them for their service and said they played an important role in bringing freedom to Iraq.

"To be sure, the Iraqis will have a new government; it will be a government of their choosing, because of you and because of every member of this coalition,'' he told the crowd, which included troops from Britain and Australia.

Franks and Rumsfeld closed out their visit by working their way through the crowd, shaking hands, signing autographs and posing for pictures.

"He's the combatant commander and it's just a privilege to meet him,'' said Army Capt. Steve Cornelius, 35, a personnel specialist and native of Spencer, N.C., after having his picture taken with Franks.

Marine Capt. Sonny Hussey, a Sacramento, Calif., native attached to the Central Command intelligence directorate, said "it's always a big thing for us'' when top brass comes to visit.

Airman Thomas Jones of Dallas said it was "pretty cool'' to see Rumsfeld.

Jones, a 20-year-old computer specialist with the 509th Communications Squadron based at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, said the visit by the top brass enlivened his routine of 12-hour days in a hot, desolate environment that he said could be "challenging.''

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kimberly Mosely, originally from Alberta, Ala., said the visit broke up the duty for a sailor deployed to the desert. In a past deployment with the San Diego-based destroyer USS Kinkaid, she made port visits to Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Said the 23-year-old, "That's what I miss about being here.''