U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Friday honored the crew of a U.S. surveillance plane that survived a collision with a mainland Chinese fighter jet and warned the U.S. military to prepare for new and “unseen” challenges to freedom.
At an Armed Forces Day ceremony, honor guards marched past the 24 U.S. Navy crew members on a tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base as Rumsfeld, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the chiefs of all the military services looked on.
“We’re proud of you all,” said Rumsfeld after walking down the line of crew members as General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, pinned medals on their chests.
Parked behind them was an EP-3 Aries II like the one Lieutenant Shane Osborn was piloting April 1 when it was hit by a mainland Chinese F-8 fighter that the Pentagon insists was flying recklessly close during an interception. The pilot of the mainland Chinese fighter was killed.
The incident sparked a bitter confrontation with mainland China, which held the crew for 11 days and still holds the EP-3, an 80-million dollar electronic surveillance aircraft that is stuffed with sensitive equipment used to monitor mainland Chinese radar and military communications.
“We’re making progress toward getting the plane home,” said President Bush. “But today we get to celebrate the fact that the crew is home, and that is the most important thing.”
Rumsfeld made no mention of the dispute with mainland China but he used the Armed Forces Day occasion to warn that the U.S. military must prepare itself for new challenges from forces that are less well understood than those of the Cold War.
“We may not know precisely who are adversaries may be, or precisely what challenges they will pose. But we do know that challenges to freedom are unending. Your task is to defend the nation against the unknown, uncertain, the unseen, and the unexpected,” he said.
Building a force to prevail against the new threats — terrorism, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and cyberwarfare — will require a willingness to take risks, innovation and an openness to new ideas, he said.