Ford Foundation Honors Troops With Public Service Medal
By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 20, 2006 On behalf of America's armed services, some of the nation's top leaders gathered at the National Archives here last night to accept this year's Gerald R. Ford Medal for Distinguished Public Service.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine Gen. Peter Pace, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President Richard B. Cheney attend the presentation ceremony for the Gerald R. Ford Medal for Distinguished Public Service at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., June 19. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Jack Ford read a letter of personal greetings from his father, the 92-year-old former president: "To me, it's a source of both pride and humility to know that a medal bearing my name will be permanently associated with the valor and patriotism of the men and women of the United States armed forces."
Vice President Richard B. Cheney said he was delighted that the men and women of the armed forces have been chosen to receive the award.
"We're not a country that takes our military for granted," he said. "Even in the quietest of times, Americans have always understood that our men and women in uniform are the ones who assure stability and keep the peace. And in a time like the present, we have daily reminders of the kind of courage and skill that have kept this country free."
Cheney pointed out some of the decorations America's troops have earned since Sept. 11, 2001, including 371 Silver Stars, 24 Distinguished Service Crosses and a Medal of Honor posthumously awarded to Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith for action in Iraq in April 2003.
"The conditions in this war are some of the most difficult a person can imagine," he said. "This generation of our military is writing an extraordinary chapter in the history of freedom. The citizens of this nation are filled with gratitude, and we stand in awe before all the men and women who defend the United States of America."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld thanked the Ford Foundation board, the former president and former first lady Betty Ford for their support. He took advantage of the ceremony's location in the National Archives building during his remarks.
Rumsfeld noted the documents still housed in the National Archives that laid down the nation's government in the 18th century, and he compared the situation during Colonial times with that of today.
"Only after eight terribly difficult years were they able to achieve independence for our nation," Rumsfeld said. "Their victory of course was not won by accident. It was not happenstance. It was not even good luck. It took service and sacrifice. It took patience and perseverance."
Rumsfeld said throughout America's history, there has always been spirited debate about what the nation's responsibilities in the world should be.
"There was violent debate in those earliest revolutionary days," he said. "To be sure, there's debate today, but in the end, free nations and free people simply cannot survive in a world dominated by tyranny and terrorism."
Those who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq can be proud of what they've achieved, he added.
The Ford award, which was presented to all five branches of the armed services, recognizes outstanding public contributions by individuals who reflect the qualities demonstrated by President Ford during his public service career: strength of character, integrity, trustworthiness, fidelity to principles in decision making, sound judgment, decisiveness, determination, diligence, self-confidence balanced with respect for the views of others and self-discipline. Five servicemembers, representing the 2.6 million American troops serving today, received written award citations:
- Army Capt. Elzbieta Kmiecik served with the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. She served two tours in Iraq and deployed to Pakistan supporting earthquake relief operations, caring for over 800 patients.
- Marine Staff Sgt. Shannon Sweeney served with an emergency response team after Hurricane Katrina, using amphibious vehicles to rescue over 200 stranded members of Gulf Coast communities.
- Navy Petty Officer 1st Class David Worell, a hospital corpsman serving with Marines in Iraq, taught lifesaving courses and performed triage operations that saved the lives of over 50 troops wounded in action.
- Air Force 1st Lt. Melissa Hull, the first woman security forces officer to deploy to Camp Bucca, Iraq, upgraded the facility, trained Iraqi guards, countered two uprisings by detainees, and developed security and voting plans for elections in the area.
- Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Williams, a rescue swimmer, performed 113 direct deployment rescues in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, including one helicopter rescue in which he faced down armed men who threatened to kill him if they were not rescued first. He established order, convinced the men to lay down their knives and remained behind until everyone was taken to safety.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that before the ceremony he took the opportunity to look at the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
"I spent some extra time with the Constitution, because each of us here on stage, and 2.6 million Americans like us, has taken an oath," he said.
Pace then recited both the officer and enlisted oaths. They promise to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic" and to "bear true faith and allegiance to the same."
"Those oaths to the Constitution that is housed in this incredible building are all the thank you we need," he said. "But to have you publicly, in this forum, with this foundation in the name of such an incredible president, tell us publicly that you appreciate what we do resonates not only here tonight, but will be known by every member of your armed forces within the next 24 to 48 hours, thanks to the Internet."