It’s a pleasure for me to thank each of you for the outstanding job that you and your colleagues and this department are doing.
It’s been quite a month for the men and women in the Defense Department.
Think about it: today is Thursday, April 17th. One month ago today, Iraq was ruled by the regime of Saddam Hussein -- a regime that threatened its neighbors and the world with weapons of mass destruction, supported terrorists,and brutality repressed the Iraqi people.
And today, one month later, the regime is no longer in charge of Iraq.
Thanks to the effort of forces from the United States, the U.K., Poland, Australia, and the support of something like 42 or 43 other nations in the world, the regime has been removed from most of Iraq, and the coalition forces are in the process of eliminating the threat that it posed to our people and to the world.
The Iraqi people are busy pulling down statues of Saddam Hussein, and they're celebrating their new freedom. They're speaking freely for the first time in decades -- discussing the future of their country, and expressing their hopes and aspirations for their -- for a free Iraq.
This week, in Nasiriyah, there was a meeting held by the coalition -- I should say sponsored by the coalition. It was really the first gathering of free Iraqis to discuss a way ahead towards creating an Iraqi Interim Authority, and eventually creating a new Iraqi government. That such a meeting could take place on free Iraqi soil, less than a month after the war began, is truly remarkable.
It's testimony to the leadership of General Tom Franks and General McKiernan, the land component commander, Admiral Keating, the naval commander, and General Buzz Moseley, the air commander -- component commander, and the wonderful Special Forces team under Del Dailey. It's also a credit to the determination of the men and women in uniform who are serving on the front lines in theater; and to the talent and the dedication of each of you who support them here at the Department and those across the globe who support them.
What's happened is amazing for the speed with which it was executed, but also for all the things that did not happen, all the bad things that could have happened because of that speed. Think about it:
Neighboring countries were not hit with Scud missiles.
The vast majority of Iraq's oil fields were not burned, and the country did not suffer a major environmental disaster, as Kuwait suffered. And the country's oil wealth has been preserved for the Iraqi people, and they'll need it.
There are no large masses of refugees fleeing across borders into the neighboring countries -- and humanitarian relief is flowing in through ports and rail and roads to assist the Iraqi people.
There has not been large-scale collateral damage -- the infrastructure of the country is largely intact.
Bridges were not blown, for the most part, and rail lines were protected. The dams were not broken and floods did not occur.
And there have not been massive civilian casualties because the coalition forces took such enormous care to protect the lives of innocent civilians.
This was not just good luck, this was the result of very careful planning by extraordinarily talented people in the region, at Central Command in Tampa and here in this department.
But above all, what made it possible is the same thing that has made success possible in other wars -- the courage and the heroism of the men and women in uniform.
There are stories that are really too many to recount about:
The Army captain who braved enemy fire to help save an injured Iraqi woman caught in the crossfire on a bridge -- possibly caught; more likely put forward by the Iraqis as a human shield;
The soldiers in Najaf who even after -- as fighting raged throughout the country, they helped clean out a school, took some money out of their pockets to help pay some of the things that the teacher needed for the students;
The Marines in Baghdad who helped free more than 100 children from an Iraqi prison -- kids who had been jailed because they refused to join the Ba'ath Party Youth Organization;
The joint team of Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Marines, Air Force Special operators who rescued PFC Jessica Lynch, and all those brave men and women who helped bring our other coalition POWs home.
Such heroics are the daily work of men and women in uniform who serve not only in Iraq, but in Afghanistan and so many other places across the globe -- defending the American people.
What is unprecedented is that so many Americans watched so many of these stories unfold in their living rooms. They saw these -- really, the same men and women that you know and see each day, and they're filled with pride at their courage, at their compassion and at their dedication to duty.
The program to put five (hundred) or 600 journalists and embed them with the various elements of the forces in the war with Iraq was not an easy decision. General Myers and I had to talk Torie Clarke into it for weeks. That's not quite the way it was. But it was a roll of the dice. The outcome of it, however, I think is pretty clear. There's no question but that the American people were able to see slices of what took place. They could see accurate presentations and representations and written accounts of what the men and women in uniform were doing.
But there's a side benefit. And the side benefit, it seems to me, is there's now a new generation of journalists who have had a chance to see firsthand what kind of people volunteer to put their lives at risk, and that's a good thing.
Coalition forces performed brilliantly, to be sure -- but each of you, with your hard work and dedication, helped to make this success possible. You can take pride in what this department has done and in your contribution to its efforts.
Needless to say: the war is not over; we know that. There are still pockets of resistance, shots are still being fired, and people will still be killed. And as we gather here, people are still fighting in Iraq and elsewhere.
And even when that fighting ends, there will still be a good deal of hard work to do:
Dealing with the senior Iraqi leadership;
Finding and securing weapons of mass destruction;
tracking down and capturing terrorists;
Locating and returning Iraq's stolen wealth;
And working with free Iraqis as they work to establish an interim authority, first and then a free Iraq government;
Trying to create an environment so that they can do that -- it's not something we'll be doing or the coalition; they'll have to do that work.
So now is really not the time to rest. We do have a lot of work to do. But I know that each of you here are hard workers. I see the lights on in this building at all hours of the days and nights.
So congratulations on an enormous accomplishment, and my appreciation for your daily dedication to the defense of our country, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday weekend. General Myers.
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