Joint Service Open House at Andrews Honors War's Heroes
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 14, 2004 Although the 54th annual joint Armed Forces Day open house at Andrews Air Force Base has more to do with seeing both old and new generations of aircraft, military technologies and weapon systems, the message of the day from Defense Department officials was one of thanks and gratitude to service members.
The three-day event, formally called the Joint Service Open House, kicked off today.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz shake hands with Navy
reservist Petty Officer 2nd Class James Nappier of Naval Mobile Construction
Battalion 14, Jacksonville, Fla. Nappier was one of several wounded Iraqi war
veterans who attended this year's Armed Forces Day celebration at Andrews Air
Force Base, Md., May 14. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The words spoken at opening ceremony honored all veterans, but those serving in the most recent war felt them most strongly. Seated in front of hundreds of service members and visitors at this year's event were several Iraq war veterans who had been severely injured in battle.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said that Armed Forces Day is a day to honor heroes. "It's hard not to feel a sense of humility meeting with service members, especially those that have given so much for this country," he said. "There's no way to say thank you enough."
Wolfowitz called the service of the wounded service members "an inspiration to all Americans and freedom-loving people all over the world."
He added that all U.S. military people deserve praise for their efforts. "No military in history has fought so often for the freedom of others, and you are doing so today," he said. "You do so in order to protect our freedom and our security, because this country is safer and more secure when other (countries) are free."
Because of their actions, millions of people in Afghanistan and Iraq have been liberated from oppression, Wolfowitz told the military members in the audience. "This is an occasion for us to say thank you for all that you are, for all that you do," he said.
The deputy secretary also thanked military families, and said their support and sacrifices make it possible for military people to fulfill their missions. "Without the sacrifices your families make," he said, "our country would not be safe."
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, also on hand for the 10 a.m. Andrews ceremony, had landed at the base just before 6 a.m. after a 14-hour return flight from Baghdad. The Joint Chiefs chairman had accompanied Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on a surprise visit to Iraq. Except for about seven hours on the ground in Iraq visiting troops, military leaders and facilities, Myers and Rumsfeld had spent the rest of the time airborne between destinations.
One member of the Iraq traveling entourage noted the chairman's nonstop high energy level during the trip, and his Armed Forces Day ceremony kickoff followed suit.
Myers voiced his own appreciation for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom service members. "For those of you here today who serve or have served in the past, thank you for your service. The world is a much safer place because of your courage, your commitment and your sacrifice." The general said he and his wife have visited with wounded troops on several occasions, calling those moments "very inspirational."
"I think we all understand that they have a very tough job to do, but they're focused on the mission, and that is a peaceful, democratic Iraq," he said. "With their positive attitudes, they can't help but be successful."
Myers also used the occasion remind service members that despite the recent scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison, "99.9999 percent" of them are serving "absolutely honorably and bravely."
Injured Iraqi war veterans agreed with both leaders' comments. "Service members in Afghanistan and Iraq, or wherever they are putting their lives on the line, are doing a good job," Navy Seaman Leo Geibel, 21, said. Geibel was serving with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74 from Gulfport, Miss., when a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Fallujah March 20 shattered his left leg.
Army Staff Sgt. Heath Calhoun, 24, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky., who lost both legs to a Nov. 7 RPG attack in Mosul, Iraq, said that while he doesn't think his fellow service members are looking for gratitude, it's always welcome. "Most people don't view it as we need all the thanks, but we do appreciate it," he said.
Calhoun said he believes the mission in Iraq is a good cause. "All in all," he said, "we are doing the right thing."
Navy reservist Petty Officer 2nd Class James Nappier, 46, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 14, Jacksonville, Fla., praised Myers, calling him "a great leader who stands by his word." Nappier, who was injured by a mortar in Ramadi, Iraq, said his fellow service members are doing a "tremendous job" in Iraq. "I stand by them, and I wish I was back with them," he said.
And so does Air Force Airman 1st Class Scott Palomino of the Iraq-deployed 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. Palomino lost his right leg below the knee in an RPG attack in Balad. He said he wants to be back with his comrades. "I love them," he said. "My friends are out there. I wish that I could be with them, and I want them back home, but they've got to do their job." He offered them some advice: "Keep trucking."
This year's joint services Armed Forces Day open house at Andrews features aerial performances by the Navy's Blue Angels, and the Army Golden Knights parachute jump team, and the Canadian Forces Snowbirds. The event also has hundreds of static displays from each of the services, including the Coast Guard.
Antique fighter aircraft, such as the B-17 Flying Fortress, the first heavy bomber to raid Hitler's Germany, as well as the Air Force's newest fighter jet, the F/A-22 Raptor, are among aircraft on display.
Today's events were reserved for DoD identification card holders and invited guests, but the general public was invited free of charge from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 15 and 16. Base officials said the open house attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Full details are available at the event's Web site. Other Armed Forces Day weekend events were scheduled throughout the country.