President Salutes Those Who Serve as Nation Celebrates Freedom
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 4, 2006 Marking the 230th anniversary of American independence, President Bush today gave thanks for the nation's freedom and for the men and women who make that freedom possible.
"Each of you have stepped forward to serve, knowing the risks and dangers that accompany freedom's defense," the president told soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division, the 18th Airborne Corps and the Army's Special Operations Command, as well airmen from adjoining Pope Air Force Base.
President George W. Bush shakes hands with Sgt. James Stanek, an infantryman assigned to the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade, during the President's Independence Day visit to Fort Bragg, N.C., July 4, 2006.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"You are serving our country at a time when our country needs you," he said. "And because of your courage, every day is Independence Day in America."
Bush noted that the Declaration of Independence signed by 56 brave men 230 years ago was a bold statement of revolutionary principles. Without the support of the Continental Army, he added, the declaration would have been forgotten.
"We celebrate Independence Day each year because that ragtag group of citizen-soldiers challenged the world's most powerful military, secured our liberty and planted a standard of freedom to which the entire world has aspired," he said.
Since 1776, Bush said, some 43 million Americans have defended the United States in wartime. He praised the character of the men and women who put on the nation's military uniform.
"We see that character in 24 servicemembers from Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base who have received the Silver Star for gallantry in combat," he said. "We see that character in men and women who have received serious wounds in battle, but fought on -- exposing themselves to enemy fire to save their comrades and complete their missions."
He then told the troops about one special operations soldier, Capt. Chip Eldridge, who lost his leg in December 2004 while deployed at a coalition base near Shkin, Afghanistan. When his Humvee was hit by an anti-tank mine, Eldridge's unit came out to look for him and came under a barrage of gunfire.
The captain "pulled out of his vehicle and he looked down and he saw that part of his left leg had been blown off," Bush said. "Despite the intense pain, he refused pain killers offered by a field medic so he could stay alert to deal with the enemy. Soon, a team of A-10 Warthogs arrived and took care of the terrorists, and Chip and his men were evacuated."
Eldridge was transported to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where doctors told him that he would be in recovery for at least a year. Bush said the captain told his doctors he had a change of command in six months and that he'd be out of recovery by then.
"Today, his commanding officer says, 'I'd say he's fitter than 90 percent of the people in the unit he commands. In a room with four people, I bet he could beat three of us in a mile run.'
"Chip is here at Fort Bragg," Bush said, "he's jumping out of planes, he's training with his men, and next April, he's heading back to Afghanistan, where he'll once again command a unit in the zone of combat. America is blessed to have brave soldiers like Chip Eldridge. With men like this leading our forces in the battle, the enemy doesn't have a chance."
The president also praised the "courageous military families who have borne the hardships of war with dignity and devotion" while supporting loved ones in uniform. He thanked the family members for their patriotism, adding that their dedication and sacrifice are helping the nation win the war on terror.
"Last year, more than 6,400 members of the Fort Bragg community served as volunteers, put in more than 725,000 hours of service to your friends and neighbors at this base," he said. "You've coached Little League teams, you've comforted children who miss moms and dads deployed on missions far from home, and you helped returning soldiers make the adjustments from life in a combat zone to life at home."
Bush also praised the sacrifice of the wounded and the fallen. "We hold the families of the fallen in our hearts and we lift them up in our prayers," he said. "America will always honor their sacrifice." The men and women who serve at Fort Bragg are making a difference for America, the president concluded.
"Two-hundred-and-thirty years after America declared her independence, the Spirit of '76 lives on in the courage that you show each day," he said.