EL PASO, Texas - As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld prepares to leave the office he's held for almost six years, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said the Defense Department and nation are losing "a heck of a leader" who led the department through a difficult and challenging period.
Speaking with American Forces Press Service today during a week-long visit to the border states to observe National Guard operations in support of the U.S. Border Patrol, Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum said he'll personally miss Rumsfeld and the strong leadership style he brought DoD. "We're a nation at war, and we don't want a pushover as secretary of defense," he said.
"We're prosecuting this war, and we still don't know exactly what we're dealing with," Blum continued. "It's easy (for people) to criticize, but this is not business as usual."
Blum said he's particularly impressed that Rumsfeld held on to his conviction to transform the military even after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"Rumsfeld took on the transformation and modernization of the Pentagon and that whole structure, and then 9-11 got thrown in," he said. Rather than "pushing transformation aside" to focus on the global war on terror -- something Blum said would have been a lot easier than overseeing both simultaneously -- Rumsfeld used the terror war as a "forcing mechanism" to speed up the transformation process.
Blum also credited Rumsfeld with recognizing early on that the military, despite its strengths, can't carry the entire share of the load in conducting the terror war. Other agencies and organizations must step up to the plate and contribute their capabilities as well, the general said.
"We can't put the entire burden on the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines," he said. "DoD can't be a one-dog sled that covers everything."
Blum expressed appreciation that Rumsfeld was willing to do what was necessary to serve the Defense Department at such a critical period in the country's history. "Here he is, in his golden years, and who else at that point of their life is going to push himself and work that hard?" he said. "He's a pretty selfless guy and a real patriot."