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Defense secretary thanks base for B-2 effort in Afghanistan
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Friday brought greetings from a grateful nation to B-2 stealth bomber crews who have made successful runs to Afghan-istan.
The B-2s housed at Whiteman Air Force Base, 50 miles east of Kansas City, have flown the longest missions in history: 44 hours from Whiteman to Afghanistan, and then to a recovery base in the Indian Ocean.
Wearing a pilot's jacket with arm patches of the 509th Bomb Wing that flies the B-2, Rumsfeld told the 2,000 crew members and their families, "On behalf of the president and a grateful people, I am here today to thank you for your service, dedication and patriotism." Sen. Christopher Bond and Rep. Ike Skelton joined Rumsfeld on the platform in front of a parked bomber.
Rumsfeld repeated the mantra that the United States wants to drive the terrorists from their caves. "And you folks here certainly know about those caves," he said. "You have addressed a few of those caves yourselves with 5,000-pound bombs."
A member of the audience asked Rumsfeld whether terrorists are using the anthrax attacks as a diversion.
"I don't know," Rumsfeld said. "There is no question but that anthrax has been moved through the mail, and thus far affected only a small number of people. ... Nonetheless, it is terrorizing people, and Americans are not ready to live with this."
"Bioterrorism is definitely real," he said. "I think the president's advice is good. People should have a sense of heightened awareness and sensitivity, but try to go about their normal lives."
Rumsfeld also said he has been discussing how the government might react to a smallpox threat, but gave no specifics, and said no decision had been made.
Security at the event was tight, and military officials barred interviews with base personnel and their families. But Lt. Matthew Hasson, deputy chief of Public Affairs, said the pilots were honored to have the secretary visit during such a difficult time.
"For him to take the time to come here and show base personnel and our families that he understands what we do and appreciates it, it was just a real honor," Hasson said.
The $1.3 billion stealth bombers have been criticized for their cost. Rumsfeld declined to answer specific questions from the media about the future of the B-2, thought he praised the bomber.
"It has distinctive capabilities, the ability to reach long distances and has been valuable," he said.