Myers: Terrorists Not Interested in the Diversity That Makes U.S. Great
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
FORT MYER, Va., Sept. 16, 2002 Air Force Gen. Richard Myers said international terrorists killed more than 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001, and if they had their way, they'd gladly kill more innocents -- "10,000 or tens of thousands."
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, poses with Army Command Sgt. Maj. Maria V. Martinez in front of a display of Hispanic American Medal of Honor recipients at Fort Myer, Va. Martinez was awarded the American GI Forum's National Commander's Award during the organization's 7th annual Salute to Hispanic Veterans Sept. 14. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"Their goal is to destroy our way of life and the things we hold dear, such as freedom," the general said. "Freedom means a lot of other things too. It means that we're a tolerant people, contrasted to the terrorists who aren't very tolerant. We think diversity helps make us great. Terrorists are not interested in much diversity.
"The bottom line is, it's our respect for human dignity that makes us so different from those that oppose us," he said. "So this is a threat unlike we've ever faced before. It's going to take all of us working together to help overcome it."
Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke at the American GI Forum's 7th annual Salute to Hispanic Veterans at the Fort Myer Community Club Sept. 14. The event was held the eve of the start of Hispanic American Heritage Month, Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The 2002 national theme is "Strength in Unity, Faith and Diversity."
The forum singled out four persons for their outstanding contributions to the nation. Albert C. Zapanta, chairman of DoD's Reserve Forces Policy Board, received the American GI Forum's Founders Award. The National Commander's Award went to Army Command Sgt. Maj. Maria V. Martinez of the Baltimore Recruiting Battalion. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia was recognized with the Public Service Award. The organization's Special Merit Award went to Erwin "Swede" Huelsewede, a special assistant and senior adviser to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi.
A predominantly Hispanic American veterans organization, the American GI Forum is dedicated to addressing problems of discrimination and inequities endured by Hispanic veterans. Established after World War II, the organization's motto is "Education is Freedom and Freedom Should be Everybody's Business."
Myers, the keynote speaker, went on to say that because of worldwide terrorism, "It's going to take a long time before the things we hold dear are secure."
He said his greatest fear is the country will lapse into apathy the further away we get from Sept. 11.
"We've got to remember what it was like right after Sept. 11, when everybody had a flag on their house and on their car," he said. "There was a lot of sentiment early on and people were really focused. My greatest fear is we won't stay focused."
Emphasizing that everyone must stay patient and keep abreast of events, the chairman said people must talk to their families, friends and co-workers -- especially the veterans who understand and have been through this before."
The general said as he watched the color guard march into the ballroom, he thought that the service members "symbolize the nation's success as a place where all cultures can play together. I thank God that I came in the United States military and learned early how everybody is on the team.
"Discrimination is still present, but not as present as other parts of our society," the general said.
He pointed out the percentage of Hispanics in uniform is greater than in the U.S. population in general. Noting a couple of Hispanics who made noteworthy contributions to the nation, Myers said Brig. Gen. Luis R. Esteves was the first Puerto Rican to graduate from West Point.
"He was the first person out of his West Point class of 1915 to become a general officer," Myers said. "That's notable because Gen. (Dwight) Eisenhower and (Gen.) Omar Bradley were also in that class. (Esteves) was the founder of what is today the Puerto Rican National Guard."
Myers cited the Korean War heroism of Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Ambrosio Guillen. "He and his platoon fought hand-to-hand against the enemy," the general said. "He became critically wounded but refused medical aid and continued to direct fire until the enemy was defeated." Guillen died of his wounds shortly after and received a posthumous Medal of Honor for his valor.
Calling the war on terrorism the No. 1 priority for the president and himself, Myers said sometimes people laugh at the sports analogies about the war on terrorism. But he said sports analogies don't fit.
"First of all, sports are played by rules; terrorists don't play by rules," the general said. "There's usually a scoreboard in sports where you can tell how you're doing. It's very difficult in this war with no front lines and so forth to tell how you're doing, although I think in general we're doing pretty well. But it's not a traditional sort of conflict."
In sports, you usually have some backup players on the bench, he noted. "This effort is so important for this country that we can't have a bench. Everybody has got to be on the field. Everybody has got to be doing their piece and their part of this. Everybody does play a very important part."
Calling America's response to terrorism "complex," Myers said, "This has really been a different type of war." He said terrorists don't have armies, navies or air forces. And they don't have cities, capitals or infrastructure that they treasure.
"They're in the shadows, so our response has to be different," he said.
And, he said, America's response is more than a military one -- it includes diplomatic, economic and intelligence actions. For example, Myers said, the FBI last week closed in on a ring of suspected terrorist sympathizers in Buffalo, N.Y.
"This points to the need to keep the coalition of 90 countries working on the war on terrorism together," he said. "People are helping in many ways all over the world."
For example, he said, Japan is prohibited by its constitution from sending its military forces to participate, but the Japanese government has provided 48 million gallons of fuel for U.S. Navy ships in the Pacific.
"So everybody helps as they can," Myers said.
Myers asked the American GI Forum veterans to serve again by being patient and encouraging others to be patient.
"You know about combat and war. This is a different kind of war, but you know enough about it to say, 'We've got to be patient and have got to see this through.' The stakes are really too high. It's kind of like the last man standing rules. If we don't get this right, then what our veterans have fought for and our young people today are fighting for will all be for naught."
He told the Hispanic Americans to be proud of their heritage and their country. "Your freedoms are threatened by terrorists, but you probably understand that more than any group I speak to," Myers said.
He thanked the veterans for their past performance as role models. "You're my role model and one of the reasons I'm here," he said. "If it says 'veterans' in the invitation, I'm a really sucker for coming because of the legacy you've left for me and all of us on active duty today."
Juan Mireles, the forum's national commander, said, "Our goals this year are to assure benefits for our veterans, the continuing education equality for all youth in America and also to address civil rights."
Mireles said because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America, the forum plans to spend much of its energy helping the country.
"We're not only going to support the president and the government, we're going to support those serving overseas," he said. "We have a commitment to help those serving overseas."