It's terrific to be with you. We've had a big couple of days. Yesterday we were in Iraq for about 15 hours and had a chance to visit with the troops there. It's a privilege to be here and to be able to personally thank each of you for your service to the country. And I should also add, to thank your families for their service to the country because they too sacrifice.
I'm told this is my ninth trip to Afghanistan since the war, and I must say that I'm reminded of all of the men and women in uniform, including all of you here, who have done so much to help the Afghan people forge a new future. Each of you stand as an example of giving to a cause larger than yourself.
Last week in Washington I was able to see another example of selflessness. Two years ago in Iraq, a non-commissioned officer refused to retreat when his platoon came under very heavy fire. His award cited that he killed some 50 of Saddam Hussein's soldiers and likely saved as many as 100 American lives at the cost of his own life. In doing so the soldier testified to that ancient truth that there's no greater love than that a man would lay down his life for his brothers.
I think you would agree that President Bush could have made no finer choice for the recipient of the first Medal of Honor in the global war on terror than Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith of the United States Army.
His name is now listed in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes, honoring all of those who have earned the Medal of Honor. Think of some of those great figures that are remembered there in the hall -- Audie Murphy, certainly one of the most formidable combat soldiers of World War II; Jimmy Doolittle, whose 30 seconds over Tokyo meant so much to American morale after Pearl Harbor when there was loss after loss after loss for months. I've been around so long I actually knew Jimmy Doolittle. I had a chance to visit with him on a number of occasions. And also Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Rider who charged up San Juan Hill. No, I'm not old enough to remember Theodore Roosevelt.
You know, when those men were growing up, I don't believe one of them ever really thought of themselves as a future hero. I doubt that the sailors who were fighting in Midway Island in the Pacific, or the soldiers who were charging down Little Roundtop at Gettysburg, realized that they were taking part in some of the most important battles in history. And one day you will learn what it is that will be said of you. One day Americans will read about how in the early part of the 21st Century, servicemen and servicewomen freed some 25 million people in Afghanistan from the grip of a tyrannical regime that harbored terrorists, indeed that harbored terrorists who killed some 3,000 people in our country on September 11th; gave citizens a chance for a representative government for the first time in 5,000 years history; and who helped rebuild a society decimated by years of hardship.
They will marvel at the daily challenges which were largely unknown in previous wars, where victory now depends on your ability to succeed in combat to be sure, but also construction, civil affairs at the same time. You're rewriting the new rules of warfare, and you're earning your place in history. And let there be no doubt, it will be a proud one.
Consider the coalition successes from the enemy's point of view. Extremists attacked Americans many times before September 11, 2001. They believed they could attack our people with impunity from a safe harbor here in Afghanistan. Never in their worst dreams did they believe that a coalition would respond as boldly as it has. Keeping the extremists in disarray, taking the offensive against terrorists and the regimes that harbor them. Even regimes halfway around the world. And foiling their plots to strike at our country and our people.
They never thought that our coalition would attack the very foundations, the underpinning of their extremist ideology by offering those who might be drawn to their extremism the opportunity to choose freedom instead. They hadn't planned on having to contend with a determined coalition or with the liberated Afghan people who refused to go back to the dark times.
Or with heroes like those who have fought and died here in Afghanistan or with Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith.
If anyone still has doubts that what you're doing here is making a difference, listen to what Sergeant Smith's widow said last week when she accepted the Medal of Honor on his behalf.
Birgit Smith was born in Germany. She said, "Sixty years ago American soldiers liberated the German people from tyranny in World War II. Today another generation of American soldiers have given the Iraqis and the Afghan people a birth of freedom. That is an ideal that Paul truly believed in.” She finished with a heartfelt "Hooah.” She's quite a lady.
There are still quite a few folks in Europe who remembered the allied troops who liberated that continent. One day I suspect the Afghan children you have met during your time here will grow up and tell their own children about American GIs who risked their lives to fight against the extremists and terrorists who sought dominion over free people everywhere.
Ronald Reagan told a story once about an American sailor on the carrier Midway patrolling in the South China Sea. On the horizon he saw a leaky little boat crammed with refugees. The Midway sent a small launch to bring in these folks to the ship and to safety. As the launch made its way back through the choppy seas, one refugee spied a sailor on the deck and called out to him. The refugee yelled, "Hey, American sailor. Hello, freedom man.” An American's mission has always been a proud one.
So to you all, to each of you, to all of freedom's men and freedom's women -- for that is what you are -- I thank you for your service to our country. I thank you for your service to the cause of freedom -- the very freedom on which America's security depends.
May God bless you all and may God bless the great land of liberty. Thank you.