Deputy Secretary Hosts Holiday Gala for Wounded Troops
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2004 Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz hosted a gala holiday dinner at the Pentagon Dec. 9 to express appreciation to wounded servicemembers being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center and their families.
The star-studded event included Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Marine Gen. Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs vice chairman ; and other top leaders from every military service, as well as Joyce Rumsfeld, wife of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz thanks wounded
servicemembers for their sacrifices during a Dec. 9 holiday dinner at the
Pentagon. Photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
But Wolfowitz made no bones about it: "The real VIPs are those of you who have given so much for your country," he told about 170 guests, who feasted on a dinner prepared by the defense secretary's mess staff and were serenaded by the Marine Corps Band's "Free Country" country and western group and a keyboard soloist.
Speaking in the festively decorated Eisenhower Corridor outside his and Rumsfeld's offices, Wolfowitz assured the wounded troops and their families that the military leadership and Pentagon workforce care about them and are committed to providing the best possible support. "I want to tell you that there is a great heart here, and it is a heart that goes out to all of you heroes who we admire so much and appreciate so much," he said.
Myers, just returned from a USO event in New York, echoed Wolfowitz's sentiment, telling the wounded troops and their families that wherever he travels, he is struck by the show of support from the American public. "In New York City and across this land, people really do appreciate what you do and what you have done," he told the group.
And despite any differences they may have about political or other issues, Myers said, "they all agree on one thing and that is that your service to our country is absolutely extraordinary and remarkable, and everyone appreciates it."
Wolfowitz likened the wounded troops and their fellow servicemembers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan to the heroes of World War II, who he said have been appropriately called "the greatest generation."
"You here and the men and women in uniform on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq are every bit as brave and courageous and dedicated to this country as those people of the greatest generation," he told the guests.
"I don't think there's a military in the history of the world that has brought freedom to more people than the U.S. military," the deputy said. "And I don't think there's a military in the history of the world that has helped make the country they defend freer and safer and more prosperous and secure."
Wolfowitz said America "can't say enough how grateful we are to those of you who have paid such a price for our security and our safety and our freedom."
He assured the troops that their sacrifice has not gone unappreciated. "It is a sacrifice that I believe your children and grandchildren will look back and say, 'You were a part of another great generation,'" he said.
Wolfowitz also assured them their sacrifices won't be in vain. "We're going to win," he told the wounded troops. "And when we win, the world will be a better, safer place."
Guests at the event said it felt good to hear their leaders personally thank them for their service and sacrifice.
"It's wonderful. It lets me know they appreciate what we're doing," said Army Spc. Arthur McLin, an Alabama National Guardsman from the 2101st Transportation Company, whose right hand was injured during an improvised explosive device attack south of Baghdad.
Army Sgt. Michelle Ward from the Army Reserve's Virginia-based 424th Transportation Company called the dinner invitation "the opportunity of a lifetime" and said she felt gratification seeing that "all these people support us."
"It's good to hear somebody say we're rooting for you and care about you," agreed Army Pfc. Jeremiah Holler, a member of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team from Korea, who received back injuries in Kuwait. "It feels good."