The Reporter (Vacaville)
A look at the remarkable life of Donald Rumsfeld
With the passing of Donald Rumsfeld, our country has lost a great leader who helped liberate 50 million people from tyranny, deliver justice to the terrorists who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001, and transform our military for the threat sofa new century. And I lost a great boss and a dear friend who transformed my life in countless ways.
His work ethic was legendary. After the 9/11 attacks, we traveled 250,000 miles around the world, visiting combat zones and foreign capitals. His senior staff spent so much time in the plane with him, we called ourselves “Rummy’s tube dwellers.” He would often visit two or three countries in a single day. On a single trip, we’d stop in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. (The reporters traveling with us had T-shirts made which read: “Rummy’s onenight stand tour.”)
One of my jobs was to write his memorandum to the president — the “POTUS memo” — summarizing his impressions from his trip. This memo had to be completed (along with every cable and thank you letter from his meetings) before the plane landed back in Washington. So we would spend a full working day in, say, Baghdad, then board an overnight flight home during which we spent another 14-hour work day in the air, and then land at Andrews Air Force Base at 5 a.m. utterly exhausted — at which point, Rumsfeld would walk into the staff cabin and say “See you in the office in two hours.” He meant it.
On one trip, his punch-drunk staff slipped a fake cable into his folder along with all the real cables. We had just come back from a bizarre meeting with the megalomaniacal leader of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, who had plastered seemingly every corner of his country with portraits and statues of himself. “Niyazov suggested U.S. consider having a giant neon portrait of President Bush displayed outside the Pentagon,” we wrote in the cable labeled STS (Super Top Secret). Rumsfeld must have been tired, too, as he edited a few sentences before he caught on and came out to have a laugh with us. Another time, we sent up a hostage note with a series of nonnegotiable demands (“We’re not from the State Department, so when we say nonnegotiable, we mean nonnegotiable.” Among them was that his lovely wife Joyce come on all future trips “to ensure a kinder, gentler travel program.”
On another trip, he called me up his cabin. I thought he wanted to go over a speech, but instead he sat me down to explain the “Rule of 72.” On a cocktail napkin, he drew out an equation which showed how to determine the number of years it would take to double your money at an annual rate of return. He began calculating different sums, showing me how long it would take to turn a few thousand dollars saved now into a million. “That’s the miracle of compound interest,” he said. “It’s like having people working for you while you sleep.” He knew my first child had been born a few weeks after 9/11, and despite all the pressing matters on his mind, he was worried about the financial future of my young family.
Nearly two decades after leaving the Pentagon, I still find myself quoting him. When my kids do something dumb, I remind them of Rumsfeld’s First Rule of Holes: “When you’re in one, stop digging.” Most importantly, he taught me humility. “Remember, you are not all that important,” he would say, “your responsibilities are.” He was a remarkable man, whose lessons I will never forget.