Q – Fort Bragg. At Fort Bragg, you were the Commanding General of the XVIII Airborne Corps in ’93-’96, the Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division in ’91-’93, and the Commander of the 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division in ’83-’85. What were the highlights during those years, and how did it feel to be back home in North Carolina?
A – It felt great to be back home in North Carolina. I had fought hard to get to North Carolina throughout my career, particularly to the 82nd Airborne, which is the Army’s premier division and had not been that successful. I had always had great assignments, but I could never seem to quite swing it. I will never forget the day I was notified that I was going to command the 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne because it was so wonderful to be coming back to North Carolina, to be back in the area in which I was raised, to have the opportunity to command in the 82nd Airborne, and get paid on top of that. You just could not ask for it to get any better. It was a wonderful two years commanding in that Brigade.
The only tragic event during that period was the death of my father that occurred in 1984. I did numerous exercises overseas during this period. The Noncommissioned Officer Corps of the 82nd Airborne Division, the sergeants, were so good down there that they made commanding in the 82nd easy. I gained a greater respect for our NCO Corps than at any other time during the previous 18 years of my career because they literally ran the outfit, and their standards were very high. It was a tremendous experience. I left that job thinking, “You know, if I retire tomorrow, this has been a great and rewarding experience and I am totally satisfied with what Hugh Shelton has been able to accomplish in the service of our nation.”
As I was coming out of Desert Storm, having served with the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault, I was notified that I was going back to North Carolina to command the 82nd. That was like a dream come true. By this time, I was a 2-Star and the opportunity to command the division was a very special opportunity for any officer, and to command the 82nd was the ultimate experience.
Commanding the 82nd was rewarding. I had the opportunity to lead the entire division and to know that if the call came to go to war that we would be the first one called. I had been given the funding and the resources to train to make sure we were ready to answer that call. All this was done in a first-class manner which is the dream of every Commander.
Then I was notified that I would get to remain at Fort Bragg and command the XVIII Airborne Corps, which included not only the 82nd but the 101st at Tenth Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, and the 24th Division at that time now the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia, a mechanized division – that is America’s premiere contingency corps. If you have got to go to war, that is who you want to go with, as they demonstrated so ably during Desert Storm.
The highlight of commanding the XVIII Airborne Corps was when we were asked to carry out Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti. This was designed to be a full scale invasion, a joint operation involving all of our Services including Airborne, Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard. I was selected to be the Joint Task Force Commander of that with a nucleus being the XVIII Airborne Corps. To be able to develop a campaign plan and present it to the President, to have him approve it, practice it, and then be told to go execute the plan, was what every commander dreams of doing.
But as we know from history now, as the Airborne was just about an hour or so out from dropping, as the Marines were ready to make the amphibious assault, as the Navy Seals were in the water and their boats were getting ready to hit the targets that I had designated, we were notified that we had a peace agreement with Cedras and he would leave. That we were to stop the invasion and to go in the next morning in an atmosphere of coordination and cooperation, which are not military terms. I had about six hours to put together a new plan and to pull this off as being ready to fight but doing it in a diplomatic manner, which is a real challenge. We were able to do that because of the well trained force I had.
As Dr. Perry, the Secretary of Defense, said later, you know, what we did in Haiti was what you look for in a professional Super Bowl team. We had the ability to do a completely different play from what we had planned. And our team pulled it off because I had great leaders and well trained troops.
Q – Why do you like jumping out of planes?
A – As one individual said one time, “It’s not so much that I like jumping out of planes as it is I like being around people that do.” Airborne units have this very special breed of individual that does this very dangerous and challenging task. They know that they fight like everyone else when they reach the ground, but to know that for a short period of time, as you are put in harm’s way, that you only can rely on your buddy on the left and right and whatever you can drop in with you, leads to a different mind set than it does if you are going to deploy with tanks and artillery and everything else and have everything in place before you have to fight. It creates a very high degree of esprit. It creates a sense of camaraderie in the unit, a sense of bonding that far exceeds anything that I have ever experienced in any other type of unit.
I have made about 300 jumps that are the combat equipment static line jumps like the 82nd Airborne Division does, and a lot of those are at night wearing full combat gear. Then I have about 50 or better free falls, which are jumps done anywhere between 30,000 feet and 10,000 feet with the late openings.
Q – Desert Shield/Desert Storm. While the Assistant Division Commander of the 101st at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, you were sent to liberate Kuwait during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. How would you grade our military’s performance then, and should we have destroyed Saddam Hussein and his military while we were in his neighborhood?
A – I would grade the performance of the soldiers and the units that participated in that as extraordinary. Having said that, I don’t think that we should ignore the fact that it took us a long time to put that force in place. We did not have the strategic lift that we needed, either air or sea, and this was a very demanding operation. Again, to project the force of 500,000 to include a lot of tanks and artillery and armored forces halfway around the world is quite a feat. We are the only nation in the world that could pull that off. Even the Russians, the Soviet Union, in their greatest day could not have done that. They could not even come close, but we did it. In Desert Storm we learned we need to get better. We need to improve our air and sea lift, and improve our forward deployment of some of the heavy stuff that you ought not have to move, and put that in pre-positioned spots in the regions where you may have to fight. We learned the value of precision munitions. In Desert Storm only ten percent of our aircraft could drop precision munitions accurately. When we did the Kosovo operation a year and a half ago, 90 percent of the airplanes dropped precision munitions. These were just a few of the things that came out of Desert Storm that have allowed us to get even better in the intervening years.
But back to Desert Storm, the troops did extraordinarily well. We learned a lot from it, but they performed to standard. We used our air power to basically debilitate the Iraqi forces so that the ground force when it kicked off was able to move very fast to the Euphrates River, and put Saddam in a place where he had to surrender.
I believe with 20/20 hindsight and having had my time as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs occupied by the Iraqis and Saddam Hussein probably 20 percent of my time for the last four years, that it would be very easy to say it was a drastic mistake not to go to Bhagdad. But I do not feel that way. During Desert Storm, the Commander of the 101st, General Binnie Peay, and myself had had a discussion on day number three that it might be time to stop because what had happened is Saddam had pulled out some of his key leaders of his units to preserve them. He had moved them away. And what was left in the field for us to hit were the privates. They were soldiers that were there because they were afraid they would be killed if they left. For the most part they would surrender the minute we would come in contact with them. And I felt that some of the killing that was going on through the air strikes on these units, et cetera, had reached a point where it was not the right thing to do as a humanitarian act. I think the President made the right decision to stop. Today, of course, as Saddam still is a major threat in terms of weapons of mass destruction and continues to defy the international community in terms of living within international norms. It is too bad that he is still there because the Iraqi people deserve better leadership.
Q – Intelligence. What steps would you recommend to the U. S. Military and to the Central Intelligence Agency to improve our intelligence gathering capabilities around the world?
A – The intelligence community has suffered some tremendous losses over the last 15 years particularly in the area of human intelligence. A lot of the things that America finds itself involved in today could be predicted. We could take preventive action if we had human intelligence sources in some of what we call third and fourth tier countries where you have a tremendous amount of unrest and instability that ultimately leads to the conflict that involves the U. S.
But our ability to predict some of that is hampered by the fact that we do not have people that actually are in the country that know what is going on, that are able to tell us, give us a sense of what we ought to be doing to preclude conflict or to enlist our allies in the region to help this particular country and therefore avoid another war. Whether it’s the genocide that took place in Rwanda or what was going on down in Haiti and being able to predict that maybe Cedras was getting ready to overthrow Aristide, it came as a great surprise. The Balkans is another area. So we really do need to improve the human intelligence capabilities of the United States.
I had discussed these issues with both the Secretary and George Tenent, the Director of the CIA, and I know a lot of these issues are being brought, but it’s not really their fault.
As a result of September 11th, we are seeing some great strides being made in that area, and I think that is all for the good. It is too bad that it took September 11th to really get us moving.
We should also continue to improve our work in the international intelligence arena. We receive a tremendous amount of very useful intelligence from other governments around the world; friends and allies we have helped. The stronger we can make that, the more formal we can make some of those relationships, the better off this nation will be in the long term. Finally, we live in a changing world in which we can reduce some of the redundancy, some of the bureaucracy that you find associated with the intelligence community. For example, when we did the Haiti operation, I left most of my intelligence apparatus, the analysis, the collection pieces of it, back at Fort Bragg. We were tied together over the Internet. So I did not have to feed an extra three or 400 people, all the baggage and all the space and all the additional lift that that requires. We can do a lot better today than we have been doing. And it is a matter of using today’s information technology, our IT, to be able to operate with a smaller number of people, disburse it faster, to lower levels without having to have a layering effect all the way down to the Commander in the field.
Q – Let’s move into your tenure as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. You were Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from October 1, 1997, through September 30, 2001. Please describe the functions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the special role of the Chairman.
A – The Joint Chiefs of Staff serves as a collective body to provide the best military advice to the National Security Council, to the Secretary of Defense, and to the President. It consists of the four Services, Chief of Staff of the Army, Chief of Naval Operations, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the Vice-Chairman and the Chairman. It is a very powerful group whenever they speak with one voice because it represents, as a minimum normally, close to 200 years of military service to the nation, if not more.
During the Vietnam era there was a lot of parochialism among the Services and a lot of the recommendations from the Joint Chiefs individually about what the right answer was for Vietnam. They did not speak with one voice. The power of the Chairman, who had to present the collective view of the Joint Chiefs, was limited in that if he could not speak as a collective for the Joint Chiefs, as one voice. That made the Joint Chiefs very ineffective, and history shows that during the Vietnam era the Joint Chiefs did not do much to further the cause to correct the things that were wrong militarily with the operation. Each one of them thought his Service had the right answer, and they could not agree on joint strategy.
In 1986, the Goldwater-Nichols Bill recognized this weakness. Goldwater-Nichols recognized that we had too much parochialism in the Armed Forces and was designed to create a joint approach and to use the complementary capabilities of each of our Services in every operation in a way which best fit into the overall campaign plan of the Combatant Commander. It also determined new powers of the Chairman by making the Chairman the principle advisor to the National Security Council, the Secretary of Defense and the President.
The collective body of the Joint Chiefs is a very useful tool. As Chairman, I used that frequently, particularly on any major issue that I was going to be talking to the President or the National Security Council about to get kind of an azimuth check for myself as to whether or not my judgments were in keeping with the way the other members of the team would see it. Sometimes we would have a divergence of opinion, but every time that I would go to the President or to the Secretary of Defense, if I knew that I had dissenting voices in the Joint Chiefs, I would tell the President that, you know, four of the six believe we ought to be doing the following, which is my recommendation. But I do have two and I’ll tell you who they are and why they are concerned and what their opinions are so that he was playing with a full deck. If I had 100 percent concurrence among the Joint Chiefs, I would say my recommendation is the Joint Chiefs are 100 percent in agreement, et cetera.
The Joint Chiefs meet on all key issues. They confer. They form opinions and voice their opinions about the right way ahead for the Armed Forces, and we try to stick to the military lane. Of course, the President has to deal with the political, the economic, the diplomatic, the military, and the international community. But for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and specifically the Chairman, he makes the recommendation on what is best for America from a military perspective based on the capabilities of our Armed Forces.
Q – Who do you believe is the greatest military strategist in the history of the world?
A – Carl von Clausewitz, the respected Prussian military strategist.
Q – Is there anything that you would like to tell potential adversaries of the United States of America?
A – The United States of America is a great country. It is great because of what we believe in. We believe in free and open societies. We believe in individual liberty. Americans’ beliefs in individual rights and liberties and freedom for our people are clearly spelled out in our Constitution. America is a very compassionate nation. It is one which likes to help people, but America is also a very powerful nation, the most powerful nation in the world today. To potential adversaries I say you need to look at America for what it is.
The United States of America has tremendous Armed Forces. It has capabilities that range from humanitarian operations to fighting a nuclear war, and you ought to think twice before you decide that you are going to take on the United States of America – because you are going to lose. You are going to lose big. You are going to lose your Armed Forces. You are going to lose your nation if that is the will of the American people. So cooperating and existing with the United States is in most nations’ best interests.
On the other hand, I think America has an obligation to understand the formative issues of other nations, and the different cultures of other nations, and we should not try to impose our way as right on them all the time. We should not be unilateralist. We should work to achieve cooperation among nations and be a partner with them while still pursuing our own objectives. I think that is truly the way ahead, particularly in the globalized world that we live in today.
We create a lot of enemies if we are seen as unilateralists with a big stick. I do not think you will find any nation out there today that is going to want to take us on head on, and that is why we have to be concerned about terrorism. It is what the Joint Chiefs have been saying now for the last six or seven years. The asymmetric way of coming at America is the way we can anticipate, the thing we can anticipate in the future, and September 11th is just a very vivid example, but only one example, of a way in which they can come at us. Those are the things we have got to be concerned about for the future.
Q – I understand that you lost your next door neighbor when the plane hit the Pentagon on September 11th. What were your personal and professional feelings after you learned of the loss of life at and the damage to the Pentagon?
A – Well, I had just taken off that morning at 6:30 en route to Hungary and Naples for a NATO meeting and then back into the United Kingdom where I was to be knighted by our great ally, the U. K., and that is something I had really looked forward to. About two hours out, I was notified that an aircraft had run into one of the twin towers. I knew that the weather on the East Coast was crystal clear that morning. I had gotten a weather report just prior to departing and looked at the entire East Coast, and I was not sure then that that was an accident. I could not figure out how that could be, how you could have an accident like that, not on a clear day, not given the confidence in our pilots in commercial airlines and our air traffic control mechanisms.
When I heard that a second plane had just run into it, immediately I said, “Either we have got a terrible software program or we have got a controller that has gone berserk, or we have got a terrorist act, and I think it’s terrorists.” And a few seconds later they told me now we think we¹ve got a car bomb that had gone off at the Pentagon, and at that point I started turning the airplane around. I knew then that had to be terrorists.
And it is a long story, but as I got back, having gotten clearance to fly back into the United States, I saw the smoke as I flew over New York. The whole East Coast had been shut down. NORAD, the North American Air Defense Command, had scrambled at the request of the federal aviation authorities and had launched fighters. The FAA had now shut down all commercial traffic and was not allowing anyone to come back into the U. S. King Abdulla had been trying to come in. I talked to him later, and he had been turned around before he could enter in through Canada en route to the U. S. and sent home because they weren’t going to let someone fly in. I finally got through, through my Vice Chairman, and we had gotten NORAD and the FAA to clear my aircraft. We came back, and as I went over New York, I saw the smoke spiraling up to 10,000 feet as the World Trade Center burned. And I got a more accurate report on what had happened at the Pentagon.
Your first thoughts personally are remorse for those that you know have died. And in the World Trade Center, you know, I thought it would be even greater than it turned out to be. I had concern for the families whose lives would be changed forever by this event. And second, a feeling of wanting to get revenge, wanting to get retribution – the normal emotions that any American would feel for having this heinous act committed. But, from a military perspective, professionally, you know, I cannot think that way. I have to think in terms of what we have to do to defend ourselves from this type of thing. What can we do to go after the organization that did it, and there was no doubt in my mind who had done it. I mean, from day one. There was a matter of opinion that he might have had accomplices in this, and whether or not there had been other nations that were supporting it. I had to get back on the ground and focus on what we need to do now to go after the organization that did this to us. Focus on what we can do to take out this organization, to degrade it, to make it ineffective. My mind started thinking militarily about what my recommendations would be to the Secretary, and to the President as we moved forward.
It was only later that I learned that Tim Maude, my next door neighbor, a Lieutenant General that I had just seen and spoken to while he had been out running in the neighborhood on Sunday morning, was one of the victims of this terrible attack. That’s what went through my mind early on.
Q – For the historical record, can you tell us as much as you can about what you did during the first 24 hours after the attacks and what communications you had with our leaders?
A – I landed back at Andrews Air Force Base. Again, everything on the East Coast was shut down. I was in a 757. The military call it a C-37. It’s one of the four big jets that the Chairman, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State and Vice President use to make official trips. When it touched down, I was amazed at the lack of activity because nothing was going on, but I was also surprised to find 16 District of Columbia police officers with motorcycles and cars there waiting for me to escort me back to the Pentagon. I knew then the tremendous psychological impact that this had had on the City of Washington and it turned out on the Nation.
When I got back to the Pentagon, I went immediately – I didn’t even go in the office – I went immediately out to the site to see exactly how much damage we had physically to the Pentagon. I went back into my office then which was still filled with smoke and the smell of cordite from the explosion and took a look at the current state of where we were communications-wise, computer systems-wise, and found out we were in good shape. We had remained operational throughout that.
We have great systems. We exercise them regularly. Although we had activated the alternate command center underground up in Maryland just in case we got hit again with something, we did not use that. The Pentagon kept operating, and the people in there, even though the smoke was thick at one point, continued to stay at their posts and keep things going.
After that I met with Senator Warner and Senator Levin from the Senate Armed Service Committee who were at the Pentagon and with Secretary Rumsfeld. Then a few minutes later, I found myself standing in front of the cameras for the first news appearance, and my goal there was to reassure the American people that our Armed Forces are in good shape and they are ready to go, and that we will take military action against the perpetrators of this heinous act against our citizens and against the Pentagon. After that, I had a meeting with the Secretary.
The next day I had a meeting with the National Security Council. In the interim, I had reviewed the structure and the targets, if you will, the potential points that we might be able to take action against the Al-Qaeda organization, so that I would be able to discuss that with the National Security Council and ultimately with the President, and then later that afternoon met with President Bush.
Q – How does the American public overcome the fear generated by the September 11 attacks?
A – I think that what we need to understand as Americans is that a lot of the privileges and rights and freedoms that we enjoy as Americans are also the things that make us susceptible to terrorists, but that we have been that way throughout the existence of our Nation. We have one organization that did decide to perpetrate an act of this type and carry it out and that right now, the best defense against this type of an organization is an offense, and that right now you have every federal agency of this government, under the leadership and guidance of President Bush, that are going after this outfit militarily, economically, with information power, diplomatically and politically. We’ve got an international movement that is going against it now.
The ability of them to coordinate and to carry out these operations when they are under this type of pressure is pretty darn slim, and it doesn’t stop in Afghanistan. The thing we need to remember is that just happens to be the outfit that is harboring Osama Bin Laden himself and many of his lieutenants, but he operates out of about 55 other countries including the United States. We have to use every instrument of our power to go after that organization and to take it down to make it ineffective, and we have the capability to do that and we are doing it, and I commend President Bush and his team because they are using all the instruments, even the economic tool, which had been verboten until recently.
So Americans should not feel that they are in any greater danger today than they were on September the 10th. They carried it out, and for that reason you feel much more vulnerable. But we also have a much greater chance now of stopping something of that type because every agency we have in the government is out there trying not only to defend against it but to take it to those who would otherwise carry it out. To some degree, we are safer today than we were on September the 10th by quite a margin.
Q – Under what circumstances is it appropriate for the United States to use nuclear weapons?
A – Well, that gets into personal opinion, but I believe that will always be a judgment call that will have to be made by the President. Our nuclear weapons are a great deterrent, and certainly they are a deterrent against those who own nuclear weapons. You cannot fire a nuclear weapon as a nation state at the United States without us knowing about it instantaneously, and therefore, if you want to find yourself vaporized, that is probably the quickest way to do it.
We have to consider it in the overall scheme of our resources, over all our forces, when it would be appropriate, and I think the best policy the United States can have is the one that it does have. We never tell an adversary what might carry us over the threshold. Would hitting New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Raleigh and Atlanta simultaneously with chemicals that killed hundreds of thousands of people, if they could do it, would that mean that if we could identify the perpetrator, a nation state or an organization that we would not – you know – consider the use of some type of a nuclear weapon on them? We have never said that we would not, and we have not said that we would, and I think that is the way it ought to go.
Q – What is your advice to the President and to the Congress regarding the necessity for the national missile defense system?
A – Well, Denis, let me very quickly say up front, one of policies that I adopted early on in my Chairmanship was that I would never discuss publicly what my recommendations were to the President, and I assured him that those would always be between himself and me. If he wanted to share it with someone and said, “Well, the Chairman recommended this,” I would not object. That would be fine.
National missile defense, I think, is something that all Americans ought to be concerned about, because it is a foregone conclusion that we are going to be more susceptible in the future to missile attacks from nations that might act more irresponsibly than Russia or China or India or Pakistan have in the past. When you look at some of those nations today like North Korea, Iran, Syria, and others that may be pursuing a nuclear capability, we see irrationality such as that associated with some of Saddam’s decisions. You just never know what to expect. So if there is going to be a threat, and I think everyone acknowledges there will be sooner rather than later, of a missile coming at us, if we have the technology to stop it, then we need to decide if we want to build a system here in this country that will defend
all Americans against a missile attack from a nation of this type.
First of all, we need to understand this is, as envisioned right now, a limited defense. It won’t stop Russia’s missiles. I mean, those would overwhelm any system that is being envisioned right now, and by the time we field it, it wouldn’t stop China’s missiles with what they have, and the projection of where they are going. But, again, it gets back to that small number that may be in the hands of someone who would act irrationally and not care what happened to his country that you might want to defend against. If there is a threat, and if the technology is there, the third element is, can we afford it? Well, America can afford any defense it wants against anything. It is just a matter of priorities and where we want to put it. I think we ought to pursue the technology. My only concern would be that before we make a decision to deploy it, I think we owe the American people an answer in terms of what it is going to take to do it and what are we talking about in terms of costs because if it is billions and trillions of dollars that it would take, how does that impact on the other forces that America needs to remain a leading power to protect its citizens, and to provide for our economic prosperity, forces that we know are going to be used as they have been in great numbers since the Berlin Wall came down, since the end of the Cold War.
Then acknowledge up front that the missile defense is probably an additive number of dollars above what it takes for us to operate in the world today and maintain our leadership role with today’s Armed Forces. It will be a tremendous fiscal burden on America. Again, if we think it is necessary to do that and if it is the right answer, we ought to do it, but we go into it with our eyes wide open. It goes back to gaining the support of the American people before you go into any operation. I would say this is a rather major undertaking that we need to make sure the American people are behind.