MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. (AFPN) -- An audience of more than 800 Airmen and Soldiers took part in a unique question-and-answer session with one of the nation’s top military leaders here July 23.
Dr. Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense, held a town hall meeting with Airmen from here, Soldiers from neighboring Fort Lewis, and their families. He visited, he said, for a simple reason: to say thanks.
“I don’t know how to thank you enough, but that’s what I came here to do,” Dr. Wolfowitz said.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Wolfowitz spoke about the importance of the airdrop of the 173rd Airborne Brigade by C-17 Globemaster IIIs into northern Iraq during the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was a mission flown by McChord’s 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings, along with the 437th Airlift Wing at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C.
"I know that you were the ones who dropped the 173rd into northern Iraq," he said. "We were back in Washingtion watching. A critical part of Iraq was now under control."
Opening the northern front was important to liberating Iraq, the deputy secretary said, and now the key to success there is to put Iraqis on the front lines.
Iraqi soldiers and police forces are 30 to 50 percent ready to assume full control, Dr. Wolfowitz said. He expects a huge increase in the Iraqis’ ability to perform that task by this fall, and another significant jump in their abilities in a year from now.
Even though news reports highlighted the Iraqi forces that fled in Fallujah, they forgot to mention the ones who held their ground in other parts of Iraq, Dr. Wolfowitz said.
"Some of the Iraqi forces performed heroically in Mosul, right next to their friends from Fort Lewis," he said.
During the question-and-answer session, one Airman asked Dr. Wolfowitz if the military would turn to a draft in the near future.
"Absolutely not,” he replied. “We have an incredible force that works spectacularly because it is a voluntary force.”
Dr. Wolfowitz also took the time to discuss how the nation’s airlift capabilities give it an enormous reach and allow the United States to deploy people wherever and whenever the need arises.
He also touched on the long activations and deployments of reservists, and the effect both have on their civilian jobs back home.
“The toughest cases are the ones involving small businesses, sometimes owned by reservists, and we keep looking at ways that we can try to improve [support to them],” he said. “I think employers have really stepped up in a very patriotic way, and we appreciate it a lot.”