Medal of Honor Society Honors Nation's Troops
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 13, 2003 There are heroes among today's service members, just as there have been throughout our nation's history, Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz told America's military heroes of yesteryear during a Feb. 12 black-tie dinner at the New York Stock Exchange.
The nation's Medal of Honor recipients honored Wolfowitz on behalf of all the men and women serving in the armed forces. The deputy secretary received the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation's first Circle of Honor award.
The Medal of Honor recognizes exceptional valor in the military. In the last 100 years, only 1,200 individuals have received the Medal of Honor. Of those, only 139 are still living.
"More than anything else, we're here tonight to celebrate a virtue that is needed today as much as ever," Wolfowitz said. "I am speaking about courage -- the courage that enables some people to go above and beyond the call of duty, the courage to act without regard for one's own safety, even in the face of mortal danger."
The Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation is dedicated to preserving the heritage and memory of the award. Its mission is to demonstrate to all Americans that courage, character and devotion to duty are what make this nation great.
Wolfowitz paid tribute to the Medal of Honor recipients who served on the battlefields of Europe, the Pacific and Asia. He then noted that courage "is still very much a defining characteristic" of those in uniform.
"You honored today's service men and women with your award," the deputy secretary said. "And I want to assure you that -- like the predecessors they admire -- they are prepared to act with extraordinary courage."
Today's service members are as smart and innovative as any who have ever served, he said. "At the same time they are fighting a war, they are also transforming our military to give it capabilities that will astonish future adversaries."
It was said during the Gulf War that smart weapons require smart soldiers, he noted. That it is even truer today, as weapons and platforms become technically more complex.
But "smart weapons are no good without courageous soldiers on the ground and brave pilots in the air," Wolfowitz said. "Fortunately, we have many of both."
Osama bin Laden is just the latest in a long series of tyrannical leaders who have underestimated American bravery and courage, he said.
Based on what happened in Somalia, the terrorist leader may have concluded that inflicting casualties could defeat the United States.
"He might have drawn a different conclusion had he paid more attention to the actions of the brave Americans who fought against overwhelming odds that day in Mogadishu," Wolfowitz said. Two U.S. Army sergeants received Medals of Honor posthumously for their actions during a brutal battle in the city streets of Mogadishu in October 1993.
Soldiers serving in Afghanistan have been equally as courageous, the deputy said, noting that at the battle of Shahi Kot, Army Rangers and Air Force pararescuemen engaged in a firefight against a much larger, dug-in enemy. Two of the U.S. casualties were posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross. Following the battle for Mazar-e Sharif, Army Special Forces Maj. Mark Mitchell received an equivalent award.
"Those are just a few examples of the courage with which American troops are engaging the enemy," Wolfowitz said. "Like those of you who served in earlier wars, the men and women who wear the uniform today are getting the job done."