Defense secretary makes point to make time for midshipmen

In good spirits, Rumsfeld meets hand-picked group at dorm for a short talk

April 06, 2004|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

When Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld visited the U.S. Naval Academy yesterday to address a training seminar for admirals, he had one request: a few minutes with the midshipmen.

He wanted to talk with future leaders of the U.S. military.

"We're so glad that you're doing what you're doing," the secretary told a group of six midshipmen who were randomly selected to meet him in the atrium of Bancroft Hall dormitory. The visit marked Rumsfeld's first trip to the academy since he delivered the commencement address to last year's graduating class.

From the moment he strode through the doors of the dorm, the secretary seemed in good spirits. Stopping a few feet from the half-moon of midshipmen he cried out: "My God, what are you all doing standing around the hall?"

The students laughed nervously as each of them stepped forward to shake Rumsfeld's hand.

"It's nice to see you all," he said, squinting at the fresh-faced students through his rimless glasses. "How long are your classes here? All day?"

"8 a.m. to 5 p.m., sir," replied several midshipmen.

"That's it?" Rumsfeld asked. "What do you do the rest of the time?"

"Homework, sir," they said.

"See this guy here?" Rumsfeld asked, pointing to an Army official behind him. "He gets up at 5 a.m., gets in the office by 6 a.m. and leaves around 7:30 p.m."

"Of course, he's an Army guy, so he can't get his work done in one day," Rumsfeld, a former naval aviator, said joking.

Having spent part of the past year fielding tough questions about the war on terrorism and increasing violence in Iraq, Rumsfeld received no such grilling from the midshipmen.

Only one student - freshman Adam Bosma - asked Rumsfeld a question: "Who did you root for during the Army-Navy game?"

Rumsfeld deftly evaded the query.

"When I go to those games I have to sit part of the time on one side, and part of the time on the other," he said, shifting the conversation to a summer he spent living at the academy, training for the Olympic wrestling team.

Then the students' time with the secretary was up. Accompanied by a troupe of handlers, Secret Service agents and advisers, Rumsfeld scurried out saying: "Off we go - It was good to see you folks!"

As Bancroft Hall emptied out, the midshipmen shared their impressions.

"You walk up to him and you realize that he doesn't float above ground," said senior Casey Thompson.

Morgan Spiliotis, a sophomore from Alabama, summed up the visit saying: "Besides all the flashing cameras and reporters, it was kind of like talking to your granddad."

After leaving the academy, Rumsfeld traveled to Norfolk, Va., for dinner with Russian Defense Minister Sergei B. Ivanov. Today, after addressing the NATO summit, he will again take time out for an informal chat - this time with naval officers.

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