WASHINGTON -- After briefing the news media and millions of Americans on the progress of wars in Panama and the Persian Gulf, Lt. Gen. Thomas William Kelly, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced at the Pentagon yesterday that he was making his last appearance before the banks of television cameras and reporters.
"I'd just like to say that believe it or not, I've enjoyed this little interlude," the 58-year-old general said.
General Kelly, who is to retire Friday after 33 years of military service, was a key figure in carrying out a stringent information policy on the conduct of the gulf war.
Known for his delivery of military dictums mixed with flashes of wit, General Kelly presided over the Washington end of the daily briefings about the progress of the war.
"I can tell you I got about 1,000 letters, and 95 percent of the people said 'We feel we're being told everything we need to know.'
General Kelly said that while he had no complaint about news organizations overall, he was sometimes surprised about the extent to which some reporters expected him to reveal information that might affect the security of U.S. forces.
"Some people who came to our briefings were not very experienced," he said, recalling the question from one reporter who asked "what our plan of maneuver was" on the battlefield.
But he defended the news media's right to seek information.
"The last thing I'd like to say is having a free press has served the United States well for 215 years," he said. "It is a crucial element in our democracy, and if anybody needs a contrast, all they have to do is look at the country that didn't have a free press and see what happened there."