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Troops put Rumsfeld in the hot seat

From the "Wolf Blitzer Reports" staff

Wolf Blitzer Reports
Donald H. Rumsfeld

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was in Kuwait to give U.S. troops a pep talk Wednesday, but was peppered with some very pointed questions.

"Settle down, settle down," said the somewhat overwhelmed Rumsfeld. "I'm an old man and it's early in the morning. I'm gathering my thoughts here."

Rumsfeld fielded a question from Army Spc. Thomas Wilson of the 278th Regimental Combat Team who complained that military vehicles are not properly armored:

"Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up armor our vehicles, and why don't we have those resources readily available to us?"

Rumsfeld replied, "As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time. Since the Iraq conflict began, the Army has been pressing ahead to produce the armor necessary at a rate that they believe -- it's a greatly expanded rate from what existed previously, but a rate that they believe is the rate that is all that can be accomplished at this moment."

Rumsfeld also responded to a charge the regular army gets better equipment than National Guard and reserve units:

"In any organization you're going to have equipment and materials of different ages and I am told -- there's no way to prove it -- but I am told that [the] Army is breaking its neck to see that there is not a differentiation as to who gets what aged materials in the military and army as between active and reserve."

Another soldier asked about the "stop-loss" policy, which has allowed the Pentagon to indefinitely extend troops' tours of duty:

"My husband and myself both joined a volunteer army. Currently I'm serving under the stop loss program. I would like to know how much longer you forsee the Army using this program."

"Stop loss has been used by the military for years and years and years. It's all well understood when someone volunteers to join the service. It's something you prefer not to have to use in a perfect world. But if you think about it, it's based on unit cohesion. The principle is that in the event there is something that requires a unit to be involved in, and people are in a personal situation where their time was ending they put a stop loss on it so cohesion is maintained," said Rumsfeld.

Despite the tough questions, Secretary Rumsfeld said he was pleased he could visit with the troops, and he received a standing ovation as he finished.

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