Myers Tells Fort Campbell Combat Vets to 'Walk Tall'
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., Sep. 1, 2004 "Walk tall," Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers told a theater full of combat veterans here Aug. 31. "Your country and I couldn't be prouder of your professionalism, courage and dedication."
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, makes a point during an Aug. 31 visit to Fort Campbell, Ky.
Myers thanked members of the 101st Airborne Division and other Fort Campbell
personnel for their work in the global war on terror. Photo by Jim
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff thanked members of the 101st Airborne Division, the 5th Special Forces Group and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment for their service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The chairman took questions from the soldiers about the war on terrorism, the need for transformation of the U.S. military and the shape democracy might take in Iraq.
"You know better than anyone else that we are in a very tough time," the chairman said to the soldiers. "You also know some of the good things that have been done. You all were terrifically successful over in northern Iraq."
During the war, the division fought from the Kuwait border up beyond Baghdad. In the middle of April 2003, the division took the area around Mosul. The troops helped set up the first civilian council in the country and helped install the first civilian mayor and provincial governor. Division soldiers helped train Iraqi police, and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps now the Iraqi National Guard. The division returned here in February and is now refitting.
"Mosul has had its challenges, but the work you did there has had a real lasting effect," Myers said. "The problems in Mosul today are solved mainly by Iraqis, with a pretty small (U.S.) force a Stryker Brigade that responds as needed. And that's thanks to you for setting the conditions where they can do that."
The focus on Iraqi security forces is important, Myers said, because the bigger the role Iraqi forces play in the defense of their own country, the less of a role coalition forces need to play. He told the soldiers that during the recent fighting against Muqtada al-Sadr's militia in Najaf, the Iraqi forces "did some heavy lifting." He said their performance was "uneven, but mostly toward the good." This is in marked contrast their performance in fighting in April and May, when their performance was equally uneven, but mostly toward the bad.
One soldier expressed concern that any new Iraqi government may try to emulate the strong-arm tactics of Saddam's regime. Myers said that the United Nations is working with the interim government to ensure that Iraq will respect the rights of all citizens regardless of their ethnic background or tribal allegiance. He said the soldiers themselves were examples to the Iraqi people. "We talk about you taking America's values to combat with you," he noted. "You do. And people watch you. The way you behave, the way you treat people is a good example. (The Iraqis) need good examples, and they had a whole division full of them with you."
Myers said the Iraqis will make mistakes on the road to democracy. He said learning to be a free people will be tough for them. He said people shouldn't expect a clone of American democracy in Iraq, because of the cultural differences. "As they are shepherded through the constitutional process, I think you'll see a country that is governed by the rule of law," he said.
He sympathized with the soldiers about "a little turbulence going on around Fort Campbell." The division is refitting and adding a fourth combat brigade in accordance with the Army transformation program. "We've got to do this transformation as we fight," Myers said. Once complete, the number of brigades in the Army will go from the current 33 to 43. This increase should cut down the number of deployments troops must make.
The chairman said that he does not expect the current pace of operations to last, but, if it does, he will not hesitate to advise that the service needs to grow.
Myers said the job the troops are doing worldwide is understood at the highest levels of the government. "Make no mistake, there's no one walking around the Pentagon who thinks we're doing anything except trying to help you do your job," he said. "We know where the work gets done, and it's the troops who do it right now in Baghdad, Fallujah, Ramadi and all over the place. And our job is to support you as best we can."
Following the troop talk, Myers and his wife, Mary Jo, had dinner with soldiers and their families. Mrs. Myers thanked the families for their sacrifices. She said as a military spouse herself, she understood the pressures families face during the deployments, and her husband pledged to do all he could to make life "more predictable" for military personnel and their families.