General Myers, men and women of the Department of Defense, I thank you for being here and for all you do for our country.
Next Thursday, Americans all over the world will gather to celebrate with family and friends and give thanks for the blessings of freedom and of life.
Thanksgiving is a very special American holiday, first in 1621, I'm told, although I wasn't there -- and celebrated every year since. It's a reminder not just of the abundance that freedom brings, but of the origins of our great country, really the first nation in the history of the world to be founded on freedom.
For the Pilgrims, Thanksgiving was the culmination of a long year of hardship and struggle -- a struggle in which they risked everything for the right to be free.
Freedom lies at the heart of who we are and what we believe as Americans. And for well more than two centuries, our country has been blessed, year after year, with men and women willing to fight and die to defend freedom, the freedom that we all cherish.
This Thanksgiving, Americans have a great deal to be grateful for and proud of:
· Americans can be proud of our heritage, and certainly grateful for our freedom.
· We're proud of the men and women in the military -- active, Guard and Reserves -- and grateful for their service, every one, a volunteer.
· We appreciate their families as well, who also sacrificed so that they can serve.
· And we're grateful to each of you -- military, civilian, contractors, employees of the Department of Defense -- who support them all.
· We're grateful for each soldier, sailor, airman and Marine who has given his or her life in the cause of freedom, and for every member of the armed forces of our coalition partners who died for freedom in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere across the globe.
On September 11th, enemies of freedom brought war to our shores – and, in the two years since, we have taken the war to the enemy. It was not so much a choice as a responsibility. And we now have the responsibility to follow through.
The road ahead will not be easy. There will be successes, to be sure, but there will also be setbacks -- and regrettably a price to be paid in lives and treasure.
But consider what has already been accomplished:
· Our country has helped to liberate 23 million people in Afghanistan and another 23 million people in Iraq.
· Today, in Iraq, almost every city, town, village and province has a government or a council, chosen by and run by local Iraqis.
· More than 130,000 Iraqi security forces are now taking the responsibility for security for their own country.
· More than 150 Iraqi newspapers are now in circulation, free press in that country for the first time in decades.
· Hospitals, clinics, schools, universities are open.
· Water, power and essential services are at, or above, pre-war levels in most of the country; and
· We're working with the Iraqi Governing Council to establish a provisional government so that responsibility and sovereignty can be transferred to the Iraqi people sometime next year.
Those attempting to prevent the Iraqi people from taking hold of their country and determining their future have launched many new attacks -- attacks on Coalition forces, to be sure, but also attacks on Iraqis themselves. There are certainly a great many Iraqis being killed by the remnants of the regime that's trying to take back the country.
These attacks will not deter the Coalition from its mission. The Coalition will stay the course -- 34 countries strong now. And they will stay and work and succeed.
Each of you here, and those watching around the world, have made important contributions to the successes that have been achieved. You've worked long hours, you've given of yourselves to ensure freedom prevails in the war on terror -- and to ensure that this Department is prepared for the new threats that will certainly emerge in this still new 21st century.
To help us better deal with those threats, Congress recently approved a defense authorization bill with a number of important transformational initiatives -- including a new National Security Personnel System that will give the Department the flexibility it needs to quickly respond to changes in the new security environment. The new system will provide you, the men and women of the Department -- the freedom and flexibility that you'll need to do your jobs.
Each of you has chosen to serve our national defense, because you want to contribute to peace and to the security of this country. This legislation will help you transform the Department so that DoD's great civilian workforce can be as agile, as flexible and as innovative as the forces you support in the field.
Let me close by saying this: Our country is engaged in a great cause -- you are engaged in a great cause -- the cause of freedom -- and you have much to be proud of.
This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for all of you and what you have done to serve our country, and for the men and women of the U.S. military who defend our freedom every day.
I hope you'll all enjoy a well-deserved rest this coming weekend -- next weekend, I guess it is -- and spend time with family and friends. And needless to say, we'll all keep the men and women on the frontlines, those who will not be with their families on Thanksgiving, in our thoughts and prayers, and their families as well.
So, have a good rest next week, and come back rested and ready. A great deal of important work remains to be done. So thank you, and God bless you.
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