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President Praises Coast Guard as 'Shield of Freedom'

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 21, 2003 – President Bush congratulated the graduates of the Coast Guard Academy and thanked them for becoming the newest members of the "shield of freedom."

The president spoke at the New London, Conn., campus with the USCGC Eagle a square-rigger used as a training vessel for the cadets as a backdrop on the Connecticut River.

"Coast Guard Academy life is demanding, and it should be, because you are entrusted with solemn responsibilities in peace and in war," Bush said to the class of 2003. "America counts on the Coast Guard to enforce maritime law, to secure our waterways and ports, to rescue those in distress, and to intercept illegal drugs."

The class is the first to graduate into the new Homeland Security Department. That department is charged with defending the United States from terrorist attacks. The Coast Guard belonged to the Transportation Department before moving to the new department March 1.

"You're bringing a long tradition of duty to this new and urgent task," Bush said. "Terrorists who seek to harm our country now face your shield of freedom. Every citizen can be grateful that the Coast Guard stands watch for America."

But the service goes beyond simply defending America's shores, the president said.

"In the Iraqi theater, Coast Guard cutters and patrol boats and buoy tenders, and over a thousand of your finest active duty and reserve members protected key ports and oil platforms, detained Iraqi prisoners of war and helped speed the delivery of relief supplies to the Iraqi people," he said.

"Many have returned safely to port, and many remain on duty in the Persian Gulf. All have helped to liberate a great people, and all have brought a great credit to the uniform of the United States Coast Guard."

Coalition forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom "carried out every mission and exceeded every expectation," Bush said. Army and Marine Corps heavy armor and infantry units moved with speed and agility that kept the enemy in a state of constant surprise and deadly confusion.

"Air strikes and cruise missiles destroyed the power centers and meeting places of the regime, while targets were carefully examined to protect the innocent from harm," he said.

The president referred to the Iraqi death squads and units of the special Republican Guards. "Our forces confronted an enemy that rejected every rule of warfare and morality," he said. "But our men and women in uniform showed their decency and kept their honor," he said. "In a month of battle, American armed services set an example of skill and daring that will stand for all time."

The president spoke on the day after the Department of Homeland Security raised the national threat level to "orange." Security was obvious as patrol boats combed the Connecticut River behind the president as he spoke. The danger of terrorism still exists, and the United States will not relent in the global war on terror, he said.

The president stated that the United States will deny terrorists sanctuaries and bases. "We will not permit terror networks or terrorist states to threaten or blackmail the world with weapons of mass destruction, as we have shown in the battle of Iraq," he said.

He said the United States has suffered terrorist strikes and those organizations continue to strike as evidenced by last week's attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco. "We have seen the ruthless intentions of our enemies, and they are seeing our intentions," the president said. "We will press on until this danger to our country and to the world is ended."

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