Obama, Biden Celebrate Military’s Virtues
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 1, 2012 President Barack Obama honored troops for their devotion, strength and resolve while Vice President Joe Biden praised the “9/11 Generation” during a tribute to Iraq War veterans and their families yesterday.
President Barack Obama shakes hands with a Marine during "A Nation's Gratitude Dinner," an event he and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted to honor Iraq War veterans at the White House in Washington, D.C., Feb. 29, 2012. DOD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Mark Fayloga
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
At a White House event titled “A Nation’s Gratitude: Honoring Those Who Served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn,” Obama reflected on the dinner’s place in history as he expressed admiration for the military’s example of service and sacrifice.
“This house has stood for more than two centuries, through war and peace, through hardship and through prosperity. These rooms have hosted presidents, prime ministers, kings and queens. But in the history of this house, there’s never been a night quite like this,” the president said.
“Because this evening, we welcome, not the statesman who decide great questions of war and peace, but citizens,” he said. “Men and women from every corner of our country, from every rank of our military, every branch of our service, who answered the call.”
More than five dozen service members chosen to represent the million-plus U.S. troops who served in Iraq and their guests listened as Obama noted that in a culture that celebrates fame and fortune, those who go to war to defend its peace are not necessarily household names.
“They’re something more,” he said. “The patriots who serve in our name and after nearly nine years of war in Iraq, tonight is an opportunity for us to express our gratitude and to say, once more, ‘Welcome home.’”
The president said this isn’t the first or last time the nation will pay tribute to “those who served courageously in Iraq,” noting that the nation’s attitude toward service members has changed in the last half century.
“History reminds us of our obligations as a nation at moments like this,” he said. “Now this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, a time when our veterans didn’t always receive the respect and the thanks that they so richly deserved. That’s a mistake that we must never repeat. The good news is already we’ve seen Americans come together in small towns and big cities all across the country to honor your service in Iraq.
“Tonight, on behalf of Michelle and myself, on behalf of over 300 million Americans we want to express those simple words that we can never say enough,” the president continued. “That’s ‘Thank you.’”
The vice president thanked senior military leaders for training the “finest generation of warriors.”
“This is not hyperbole -- [they are] the finest generation of warriors in the history of this country,” Biden said, “and I would argue, in a literal sense, the finest generation of warriors in all of history.”
Biden expressed his frustration in hearing talk of how “Generation X” is unprepared for what previous generations went through and referred to the current generation as the “9/11 Generation.”
“You are the most incredible generation this country has produced,” he said. “Since 9/11, over 2.8 million of your generation -- men and women -- have joined the military, knowing, and in many cases hoping, you’d be sent into harm’s way.
“This journey began nine years ago when armored vehicles rumbled across the borders of Kuwait and into one of the most challenging missions that the American military has ever undertaken,” the vice president continued. “And all of you sitting at our tables tonight, you know better than anyone.”
As Biden spoke of missions that seemed impossible in what he called “a test of faith,” Obama praised the Iraq veterans for their perseverance and values to service despite having other opportunities.
“Blessed to live in the land of the free, you could have opted for an easier path,” the president said. “But you know that freedom is not free. And so you volunteered and you stepped forward and you raised your hand, and you took an oath to protect and defend -- to serve a cause greater than yourself, knowing that in a time of war, you could be sent into harm’s way.”
Obama noted that many Iraq War veterans now serve in Operation Enduring Freedom.
“Indeed, we’re mindful that even as we gather here, Iraq veterans continue to risk their lives in Afghanistan, and our prayers are with them all tonight,” he said.
The president also recognized the troops’ families for their “remarkable service” and said he is proud to serve as the commander in chief as he offered a toast.
“To the country we love, to the men and women who defend her,” he said. “To that faith -- that fundamental American faith that says no mission is too hard, no challenge is too great. Through tests and through trials, we don’t simply endure. We emerge stronger than before, knowing that America’s greatest days are still to come. And they are great because of you.”