Rumsfeld meets with leadership at SouthCom
By Shannon Pettypiece
US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited US Southern Command last week during his trip to Miami-Dade County.
After speaking to the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce on Friday, he visited SouthCom to meet with senior leadership, SouthCom spokesman Raul Duany said.
Mr. Rumsfeld talked with SouthCom leadership about its role in US defense and quality-of-life issues for base personnel such as the high cost of living in South Florida and the lack of typical base infrastructure, Mr. Duany said.
"This gives us an opportunity to keep him very up-to-date," Mr. Duany said. Our personnel "don't have the infrastructure of a base that they are used to."
The Defense Department does not own SouthCom's Doral facilities, and its lease expires in 2007, making the installation vulnerable to relocation or downsizing during a scheduled round of base closures and realignments next year.
SouthCom has been in Doral since 1997, when it moved from Panama.
With Mr. Rumsfeld in town, SouthCom's future was on the minds of chamber members who listened to Mr. Rumsfeld talk about the status of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
When asked about the future of SouthCom, Mr. Rumsfeld said Congress has mandated that he stay out of the process of determining what bases will be closed or downsized. The decision will be left up to the president and legislators.
"I normally don't feel constrained, but I do on this subject," Mr. Rumsfeld told the chamber. "The Congress, fortunately and to the benefit of our country, has passed some legislation that enables us to take an orderly and transparent look at how we're arranged in this country."
He said the decision makers will determine where the US is going in the next century and military operations will be situated accordingly.
"What we're doing is looking to fashion a footprint for the 21st century that will make the most sense," Mr. Rumsfeld. He said the US is in a similar position today as it was at the end of the Cold War.
The chamber's chairman-elect, Allen Harper, put in a plug to Mr. Rumsfeld for SouthCom.
"I can't tell you how much Greater Miami appreciates (SouthCom's) presence here, both in the form of the security they provide but also the people that have come," Mr. Harper said during a question-and-answer session at the luncheon. "We really want you to know how much we cherish the Southern Command and hope it would be able to stay here."
Top officials at SouthCom have said its location in South Florida is beneficial to the type of operations it conducts in South and Centeral America.
Mr. Duany said he did not think the visit was related to a decision on base closures but it helped to show Mr. Rumsfeld its accommodations and successes in the area. He said Mr. Rumsfeld's visit to South Florida was part of a vacation.
The Department of Defense last week published its criteria that will determine restructuring of bases. Criteria included:
Mission capabilities and impact on the military's total readiness.
Availability and condition of land, facilities and airspace.
Ability to accommodate various military requirements.
Cost of current or future operations and manpower.
Cost to close or realign the base.
Impact on neighboring communities.
NCost of environmental impact related to environmental restoration, waste management and environmental compliance activities.
Congress has until March 15 to approve the criteria before a federal commission begins work on a recommendation to the president.
The chamber has welcomed several big-name speakers but never one for whom they had less than 48 hours to book a 200-seat banquet hall, meet Secret Service requirements and accommodate a swarm of reporters.
That was the challenge posed to the chamber last week when Mr. Rumsfeld came to town and asked to address the South Florida business community.
The chamber vice president of business development, Betsey Greene Freeman, got a call on the evening of Feb. 9 from Mr. Rumsfeld's staff to ask her to arrange a time for the secretary to speak to the chamber.
According to Ms. Freeman, Mr. Rumsfeld's office contacted the US Chamber of Commerce last week asking for a group of business leaders the secretary could speak to while in Miami and was referred to the chamber.
Mr. Freeman credited the call to improved relations with US chambers since Isilio Arriaga became president of the Miami organization.
"Several months ago, under Isilio's direction, we began to build some very close ties with (the US Chamber of Commerce) again," Ms. Freeman said. She said relations between the chambers "winded way down, and now they are winding their way back up."
The Miami chamber received final confirmation Feb. 11 that Mr. Rumsfeld would be in town Friday afternoon, giving the group less than 48 hours to invite chamber members, reserve a banquet hall and notify the media. But after the whirlwind event, Chamber Chairman Peter Roulhac said, both the chamber and one of the nation's most powerful figures were pleased with what the chamber had pulled off.
"The last thing the secretary said to me was, 'I visit a lot of locations, and I speak to a lot of business groups, and this is one of the finest receptions I have received,' " said Mr. Roulhac, vice president and director of community relations at Wachovia Bank.
Mr. Roulhac said Ms. Freeman, the chamber's special-events planner, Kathy Preece, and its public-relations director, Lorraine Reigosa, "really made this happen."
About 200 chamber members were at the luncheon at New Raddison Hotel in downtown Miami, and several of the chamber's volunteer leaders had a private reception with Mr. Rumsfeld after the lunch.
He later stopped by US Southern Command in Doral and then relaxed in the area.
Mr. Rumsfeld stressed to the chamber the importance of homeland security despite mounting costs and the impact it has on businesses, which has drawn criticism from the chamber.
The chamber released a study this fall that it performed with Florida International University citing numerous businesses that have been hurt by increased security regulations and called on elected officials to keep the business community in mind when legislating security measures.
But Mr. Rumsfeld, whose staff requested a copy of the chamber's study before his visit, told the area's business leaders that the cost of weak security would far outweigh the cost of heightened security.
"Some talk today about the cost of defending freedom, but the cost of that single day of destruction in September 2001 was astounding," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "It cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and that is not counting the price paid in lives and the suffering of the families of those lost. All of this was caused by four airplanes. Picture the damage terrorists could inflict with a chemical, biological, nuclear or radiation weapon."
Mr. Rumsfeld remarked on Miami's diversity and the symbol of the American dream that the city represents.
"Flying in here and looking down on this amazing city is always a pleasure," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "Miami is an amazing city, a living example of the promise of America. People from many backgrounds and cultures have come together here to live and work and build a future based on freedom and prosperity."