Soldiers Respond to Vice President's Welcome
By Spc. Jeffrey Ledesma and Spc. Shejal Pulivarti
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT HOOD, Texas, Feb. 26, 2008 With secret servicemen scattered in a sea of soldiers and cameras, the 1st Cavalry Division parade field looked like a scene from the next box-office suspense thriller Feb. 26. But it wasn’t a “Hollywood” set.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney speaks to about 9,000 1st Cavalry Division soldiers during a welcome home ceremony on Fort Hood, Texas, Feb. 26, 2008. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Alexis Harrison
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The scene was set for Vice President Richard B. Cheney to welcome home the Fort Hood troopers from a 15-month tour in Iraq.
A roaring crowd of about 9,000 soldiers greeted the vice president, in what the division’s commanding general Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks referred to as a welcome so loud that not only would Cheney feel welcomed, but the soldiers’ brothers and sisters in Iraq and Afghanistan would be able to hear them as well.
Cheney, who visited prior to the First Team’s deployment in October 2006, started his speech by saying it was an honor to be back at Fort Hood and extending President George W. Bush’s respect and good wishes to his recently redeployed troops.
Sgt. Rebekah Withers said that having the vice president take the time to travel from Washington, D.C., to see soldiers off and, now, welcome them back shows he cares and supports what servicemembers do for the country.
“For the younger soldiers, I think it’s pretty exciting, because how often do you see the vice president?” added the military policewoman.
While this was Wither’s first deployment to Iraq, she knows how hard it is for those who have been there three or four times already and have lost friends and time with their families.
“It’s nice to know that the sacrifices are worth something,” she said.
Cheney said that he understands the gravity of the demands placed on the soldiers of the division now and historically.
“For many decades time and time again this country has counted on the First Team to slug it out against freedom’s enemies,” he said.
He credited the recent the progress made in Iraq to that hard work by the division and each of their subordinate units. He spoke about the decrease in sectarian violence, the fall in improvised explosive devices, and the developed trust between Iraqi citizens and American soldiers.
“We have managed to avoid another 9-11 not because of good luck, but because of hard work,” Cheney said. “The challenges were immense but you never pulled away from the mission and you did in fact turn things around.
“Your efforts as part of the counter insurgency ordered by the president, implemented by (Gen. David H. Petraeus), (Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno) helped prepare the way for the political progress we are now seeing in Baghdad.”
In recent weeks, the Iraqi parliament has passed key legislation to advance the cause of reconciliation, which according to Cheney, was not possible 15 months ago.
“We’ve kept the pressure on the enemy, going after the terrorists, doing what it takes to shut down their training camps, to deny them sanctuary, to disrupt their funding and to bring them to justice,” he said. “In that effort some of the most difficult and dangerous work has been carried out by all of you – members of the United States Army.”
However, Cheney reminded the troops in attendance that the progress made is not irreversible and not without costs.
“We know as well you’ve had to face sorrow, day-to-day, minute-to-minute, you fought for the soldiers on either side of you,” he said. “When a comrade falls, it’s hard to say goodbye to someone you cared about, knew by name, called a friend. You’ll remember them and the United States of America will honor their service, sacrifice and memory.”
Cheney said the story of this deployment is best summed up by the words of the division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team’s commander Col. David W. Sutherland who said “the men and women in my formation fought day in day out to destroy the terrorists… they went places no man or woman should every have to go they saw things no man or woman should ever have to see.”
“America is the kind of country that stands up to brutality, terror and injustice and you the men and women of the First Team are the kind of people we send to get the job done.”
Within the vast crowd of troops, Sgt. Donald Davis, a transportation noncommissioned officer with Company A, 115th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, reflected on the vice president’s visit.
“Being here and hearing him speak is an honor. I was very excited when we were told he was coming back,” he said.
Following Cheney’s speech, Davis rushed through the crowd to get the rare opportunity to shake his hand. “I can feel the appreciation, he understands the job we have to do and that we are in harm’s way,” he said.
Davis’ role in Iraq was to supply the forward elements with essential supplies to enable them to conduct their operations as well as teaching, training and eventually partnering with the Iraqi Army in logistical support.
“I firmly believe we have to introduce freedom and democracy in that area. Nobody has anything against freedom—nobody does,” Davis said.
Responding to Cheney’s remarks that the progress made during the Division’s 15-month tour is not “irreversible,” Davis parallelled Cheney's remarks, boldly stating, “We aren’t done yet, the fight is not over.”
(Army Spc. Jeffrey Ledesma and Spc. Shejal Pulivarti are assigned to 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs.)