Defense Department Town Hall Meeting: As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, the Pentagon Auditorium, Washington, DC, Friday, December 08, 2006

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Thank you, folks. (Applause continues.) Thank you very much.

Pete, thank you. It has really been a privilege to be able to work with this outstanding human being, the first Marine ever to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I have valued your counsel. I have valued your candor and I've enjoyed your sense of humor. And the American people are well served by having this enormously talented individual willing to make a career in the military. So thank you very much, Pete. (Applause.)

I'm told that we not only have the folks in this room, but we have a bunch of folks out in different locations with monitors, plus we have the Pentagon Channel that is carrying this town hall, I suppose most--way around the world. Is that about right, Allison?

I'm also told that this is my 42nd town hall since I began this second tour as Secretary of Defense about six years ago. Thirteen of them have been here in the Pentagon, and some 28 have been with troops stationed in countries all across the world.

These sessions, I suspect, are among the very few occasions when everybody--civilian, military, contractor, folks from all branches of the services, from all levels--can gather with the senior leadership of the department, with a microphone in your hand, and ask a question and speak your mind. I--it is a chance for everyone to be heard, to ask questions.

And goodness knows there have been a great many questions asked over these 42 town halls. I certainly remember the fellow who used to sit in the back over here somewhere and ask about whether we're going to move the Metro entrance. (Laughter.) Are you here today? (Laughter.) Stand up and be recognized. (Laughter.) Well, Merry Christmas, wherever you are.

As we've seen, when you're willing to have an open exchange like this, every once in a while a question gets asked or an answer is given that generates a bit of a fuss, depending on how it's reported. That's happened. So be it. I think each of you--and indeed all of the uniform and civilian folks in the Department of Defense deserve this opportunity. So I've done it an unprecedented 42 times. And I can tell you I have benefited from hearing your questions and hearing your views, and I thank you for engaging as you have.

I suspect this will be among my last public remarks as Secretary of Defense--so I'd like to take a few minutes to talk a bit about our time together these past years.

Every day, in one way or another, I've seen the strength of men and women in uniform, and the dedication of the many thousands who serve here--military and civilian--who do their jobs knowing that theirs is the essential business of protecting a nation and protecting a people. You do so knowing that you contribute directly to the safety of millions of Americans--people you'll never meet, whose names you'll never know.

And I leave office very proud to have served with you. Inspired by your dedication, by your patriotism, and by your sacrifice, and we recognize that sacrifice.

And I also leave office proud to have served with you, and of the accomplishments that this institution has been able to achieve. I can't think of a more challenging period--I'm sure there must have been--but in the 59-year history of this department than these past years.

I have a few words to say about the Pentagon Press Corps. (Laughter.) No, it's not what you think! (Laughter.) As a group, they may well be, year to year, the most professional press corps in the Washington, D.C., area. Now considering the competition--(laughter)--I'll leave it to you to determine exactly what kind of a compliment that is. (Laughter.)

But the Defense Department Press Corps is an important part of the fabric of this institution. Some braved the smoke and fire of September 11th. Some came back to work later that night and the next morning in a still-burning building. And a number have risked their lives to report from war zones, and to them I say thank you for that. …