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Secretary of Defense Message, 3rd Anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom

National Guard Bureau

WASHINGTON, March 19, 2006 – Outside of my office in Washington, D.C., sits a small American flag, one of many distributed by a local Boy Scout troop to many of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who serve our country. The flag is accompanied by a note that reads:

"Here is a flag for your pocket, so you can always carry a little bit of home. We are praying for you and are proud of you. Thank you for defending our country and freedom."

That small flag is a reminder that so many Americans -- even the young -- recognize the importance of the sacred duty each of you have willingly taken: to defend them, their families, their homeland and their freedoms.

Throughout history, our military has fought to protect our people and our way of life, in battles the names of which echo through history: Bunker Hill and Gettysburg, Normandy and Midway, the Chosin Reservoir and the Ia Drang Valley.

On September 11th, 2001, a new enemy -- extremists motivated by a twisted ideology -- believed that their vicious assault on our homeland would force our country into retreat. They were wrong. That day, the sight of smoke rising from Washington, New York and a field in Pennsylvania filled the American people not with fear, but with resolve.

That resolve has taken so many of you to far-flung battle lines in the defense of our nation: from the mountains of Afghanistan to the jungles of the Philippines, from the plains of Central Asia to the deserts of the Horn of Africa. And for many, it has also taken you to the dusty streets of Iraq, where three years ago our Coalition removed Saddam's brutal regime from power and liberated 25 million Iraqi people. And today, it is increasingly the liberated people of that land who are standing with you and joining the fight against the common enemy -- the terrorists and assassins in their midst.

The Iraqi people -- who had suffered through decades of brutality and corruption -- understand the high stakes in this war. They are determined to claim their birthright of freedom and secure their new democracy. In defiance of violence, they have elected a provisional government, drafted a Constitution, ratified it through popular referendum and elected a permanent government -- with millions more Iraqis participating in the process at each new stage.

This progress on all fronts has been murderously contested at every turn by terrorists aligned with al Qaeda. But they are not succeeding. Some terrorists have privately noted that "time is not on our side" and that "morale is down." Others have observed a "very dangerous" turn of events. Zarqawi himself writes of his fear that "democracy is coming," and with it will come the death of his cause.

You should know that the role you have played in fighting the extremists has made an indelible mark on history in the cause of liberty. And the names of new battles -- including the routing of the Taliban at Mazar-e-Sharif, the "Thunder Run" to Baghdad and the liberation of Fallujah -- now join those others proudly remembered in our history.

Some of your comrades and friends have fallen in battle, and more have been wounded. Their sacrifices remind us that freedom is a gift, selflessly purchased by the very best among us, at great cost. We will never forget them and their grieving families.

The peace of a troubled world depends on you -- our men and women in uniform. You have willingly accepted the highest responsibility of citizenship. Never forget that you serve in the finest military in the world, in the greatest nation in the world.

You serve in a military dedicated not to conquest, but to preserving freedom. It is a military that is recognized and appreciated by your fellow citizens. So know that wherever you go, you can always carry with you a little bit of home.

I thank you for all you do for our country. May God bless you and keep you safe. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.

Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense

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