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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Donald Rumsfeld Addresses West Point Graduates

Aired May 29, 2004 - 09:20   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: Now we go to the West Point, the U.S. military academy, where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will give the commencement address to the graduates of the military academy this year.
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, General Annix (ph). Thank you so very much.

Secretary Les Brownlee, Congressman Gilman (ph), Representative Kelley (ph), distinguished guests, Senator Tom Daschle, who's here in this fine audience somewhere as a member of a family, General Brooks, General Kaufman (ph), faculty and staff.

We have seen the family and friends of the class of 2004 recognized, as we should, and I say, greetings and congratulations as well. In the corps of cadets -- I guess that's you right up there 37 -- you're looking good. And most especially for Country and Corps 2004, greetings.

I thank you for this honor. It's a privilege to be here in the shadows of some of the greatest leaders of our age, and to celebrate today with the leaders who will follow in their footsteps and help shape America's future.

Now, I know that every cadet has performed exceptionally well, and I assume that none of you received a demerit or a punishment tour. But the commander in chief has nonetheless asked me to do something that probably won't apply to any of you, but on the chance it might, I hereby grant each of you complete amnesty for any minor conduct offenses.

Graduates of the class of 2004, you are among the select to finish this intense program that is the academy. I know you will carry with you many memories, beast barracks, the best summer of your life at Camp Buckner, possibly even walking the area.

Today that journey ends, and you have our admiration and our respect. And, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in hailing these who soon will be the newest second lieutenants in the greatest army on the face of the earth.

And this is a very special day for your families. They come from all across this great country and from, I'm told, American Samoa, Cameroon, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Jordan, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, and Taiwan. And you know how important their support has been, and most of all, you've benefited from their love, their confidence, their reassurance. So God bless them all.

Many years ago, there was a West Point graduate from my home state of Illinois. He marched on the same plane as you, took similar classes, and no doubt wondered about his future, as you may have from time to time. He was not an exceptional student, I'm told, nor did he seem marked for greatness. Interestingly, his name was even incorrectly transcribed on his record. That name was Ulysses S. Grant.

Somehow, history put Grant in a place at a critical time, a critical moment, and I have no doubt that West Point instilled in him those special qualities of leadership necessary to one day help preserve our union.

In the years ahead, history may well call upon you at a critical time, at a critical moment. And you will be ready.

Recently, a journalist visited West Point and became so impressed, he stayed for several years. David Lipsky was amazed to find a place in this country where students talked openly about the importance of character, the love of country, and the need to make sacrifices so that our nation could endure.

Interestingly, he found that West Point cadets were the happiest of any college students he'd studied. Now, that may surprise some of you. But he discovered something important, and that's that there's a relationship between personal fulfillment and duty, honor, country.

Mr. Lipsky took the title of his book from something President Theodore Roosevelt once said about this academy. Roosevelt said, "Of all the institutions in the country, none is more absolutely American, none more democratic. Here we care nothing for birthplace, creed, or social standing. Here, you come together as representatives of America in a higher sense than can possibly be true of any other institution."

It is these absolutely American values that have led West Point graduates throughout history to distinguish themselves in the defense of our nation.

I suspect that when you first arrived in July 2000, you imagined that your most challenging times as an Army officer might involve activities like enforcing the peace in the Balkans.

But as we've seen, life is not predictable. Just a few years ago, for example, a young man sat in one of your chairs. He was probably dreaming about his upcoming graduation leave. Some of you may remember K.C. Hughes, class of 2001.

Well, fast-forward to Iraq. A year ago last Thursday, a pickup truck charged one of his platoon's control points, firing AK-47s. As his soldiers fired back, Hughes raced from a quarter of a mile away and began evacuating six wounded.

Other enemies arrived in a follow-on attack, and directing fire and helping to pull his troops to safety, he was shot in his shoulder and upper back, yet he continued leading the counterattack, refused to be evacuated until his wounded had been rescued. He made it out and was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor.

The civilized world will win the global war against terror because of people like Lieutenant Hughes, and because of those of you here today. What the terrorists do not see is that America, our free society, needs and has multiple leadership centers from all sectors of society.

Enemies have tried many times to pull us apart, but they will not succeed. I know you understand this, because every person in this stadium has a personal connection to leadership and to leadership of a nation at war. Since you arrived here, our world has changed dramatically. That change started on September 11 of your yearling year, when terrorists converted commercial airplanes into guided missiles, striking the Twin Towers.

I was in my office when a third plane hit the Pentagon, and a fourth went down in that Pennsylvania field, thanks to some brave souls on board, one of whom left us with that battle cry, Let's roll.

And that, that is exactly what our country did. Our commander in chief moved rapidly to strengthen ties with new friends and to send forces abroad. As radicals and extremists attempted to hijack a religion and send us their worst, America sent its best.

President Bush formed an 80-nation global coalition. In less than three years, this coalition of civilized nations has overthrown two vicious regimes, liberated 50 million people, disrupted terrorist cells across the globe, and thwarted many terrorist attacks.

Yet despite those successes, the truth is that we are closer to the beginning of this struggle, this global insurgency, than to its end.

Today, civilized societies face adversaries unlike any we've known. They seek no armistice. They have no territory to defend, they have no public to answer to. They threaten us through shadowy networks not easily weeded out.

And they have a powerful advantage. A terrorist needs to succeed only occasionally, but as defenders, we need to be successful always.

Our task is further complicated by our openness, our trust, indeed, the very trust that makes us the most productive, free society in the world, but which also makes us uniquely vulnerable to those who would try to take advantage of that trust and our freedoms.

It is impossible to defend against attacks in every place, at every time, against every conceivable technique. So the only way to prevail in this struggle is to root out the terrorists before they develop still more powerful means to inflict damage on still greater numbers of innocent people.

To confront this new challenge, our nation and its military have had to adapt. Since the cold war ended, we've been about the task of refocusing our military to meet the new challenges of this 21st century. Now that effort has taken on added urgency.

Your Army has been doing a truly outstanding job under the leadership of Les Brownlee and Pete Schoonmacher (ph). It's adapting to deal with asymmetrical threats, counterterrorism, peacemaking, peacekeeping, postwar reconstruction and stability operations, and new special operation assignments. The mindset is expeditionary, emphasizing a return to that warrior ethos, the mission first, never accepting defeat, and never leaving a fallen comrade.

Let me offer an example. Almost 100 years ago, the division replaced the corps at the basic unit of combined arms. Today, Army leadership has concluded that technology can bring the needed capabilities down to the brigade level, making deploying units more modular, interchangeable, and adaptable.

We've also been rethinking our global posture. After the cold war, U.S. forces remained essentially where they were, in a static defense posture, arranged to defend against a Soviet empire that no longer exists.

Today, as we know, dangers can come from enemies that are unpredictable, who can strike around the globe with little or no warning.

So we fashioned a set of concepts to help guide America's responsibility in this new world, working in close consultation with our allies and with the Congress.

You'll be hearing more about this in the coming months. But let me set out some priorities.

Foremost is the strengthening of our partners, our existing allies, and working with new ones, developing greater flexibility to deal with the unexpected, focusing on more rapidly deployable capabilities, rather than simply presence or mass, and working within and across regions. And, I would add, having our forces where they are wanted.

Of special note to you is that this approach should translate into somewhat fewer moves over a career, with less disruptions to spouses and families. It's correctly said that we recruit soldiers, but we retain families. We are keeping that reality in mind.

In short, we will be keeping our existing commitments in this still-dangerous and untidy world, but we will better arrange our forces for an era of the unexpected.

In Iraq, we're facing a test of wills with an enemy that seeks to derail the Iraqi people's path to self-government. The extremists know that the rise of a free, self-governing Iraq at peace with its neighbors, respectful of all religions, and committed to representative government would deal them a decisive blow. They fear that one day the Middle East might shed itself of tyranny and violence and carve a new future that would not include them.

This cause is an international one. It's important to all civilized societies. And success depends on encouraging friends and allies with whom we are so interdependent to not be terrorized by threats or isolated by fears.

As have the brave generations of the past, you too will face the enemies of freedom. And because of who you are, and because of what this academy stands for, there is no doubt of your success.

And let me add a word about the young men and women you will have the privilege to lead, the American soldier, the "TIME" magazine Person of the Year. They are the sons and daughters of America, and some of the finest people you will ever meet. Take good care of them. Lead them and respect them. Your love for soldiers must be as unconditional as it is for your own families.

Use the skills you've learned here to bring out the very best in them, including respect for others. And always fall back on the moral clarity of the honor code that you've learned here. In its spirit is the ultimate system of trust I spoke of earlier, the roots of a civil society.

This afternoon, I'll be attending the dedication of the World War II memorial in Washington. The heroes of that conflict went overseas to defend freedom. They believed in freedom, and they knew it was worth fighting for.

Today, the duty to defend freedom falls to you. It will take you across the globe as well, and it will call upon you to live the lessons that you've learned here at this great academy. I know that you will answer that call with courage and the spirit that is America. We're counting on you. Serve our nation well.

And in the years to come, I hope you will remember the love you feel around you today from family and friends, from classmates and teammates, from the faculty who supported you. I speak to you on behalf of a president and on behalf of a nation that is deeply grateful to you for your service, for your dedication, and for your sacrifice.

For country and corps 2004, my congratulations. Our country's future is in capable hands. God bless you, and God bless your wonderful families, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.

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