Thank you very much.
My former senior military assistant taught me that, any time you're speaking to an Army audience, you better start out with one great big “Hooah!” And my present senior military assistant insists that I continue the tradition.
When I had the misfortune to have to let Major General [John] Batiste go on to bigger and better things -- we're under no illusions what people think about service in the Pentagon compared to commanding a division, so there was no way to get in the way of that one -- I started interviewing, and I just searched around, and I ended up with the best athlete. And it’s Major General Bill Caldwell. Bill, why don't you stand and take a hand, too? [Applause]
I am really honored to be here. It's been for me a very exciting day with a great sense of family. I feel like it's homecoming for me. In a way it is, with the Batistes here. But I sort of feel like so many people I've just met for the first time today are the kind of people I'd like to know all my life. And the sense of family and community starts with the wives. I met with the family support group this morning. The minute I came into that room I got this sense of just enormous positive energy. And I think it's the families that keep the rest of you going. And it's the rest of you who keep our country safe and secure. It is just incredible and an honor to be here.
If you don't know it already about your commanding general, I knew it when he was my senior military assistant, that he is a master of detail, from the smallest concerns in managing an office to the larger issues of the war on terrorism. We got to know each other, I think, pretty well working together. And there are some stories from his earlier career that say a lot about the man who is your commanding general.
The first one will illustrate just how unflappable John Batiste can be. When he was a brigade commander in Tuzla a few years back, in charge of implementing the Dayton Accords, one Saturday afternoon the then-Colonel Batiste and his officers were supposed to meet some Bosnian Serb officers at a local hotel. They got there and they found themselves in the middle of a -- shall we say -- lively Serb wedding reception, with something like a long drunken conga line snaking its way around the room to the sound of an electric accordion. Our brave colonel was not deterred by that mere sight, and he dutifully reminded the Serb officers of their obligation to remove landmines and pull back their heavy artillery.
This mission accomplished, they decided to make a contribution to winning hearts and minds. John and his officers put together $100 and made a gift to the happy, drunken couple. [Laughter] The bride was so grateful that she went up to John -- Michelle, I don't know if you know this -- [Laughter] -- for the customary one, two, three kisses. Then the groom came up, and a certain tension settled on the room. But the man wasn't looking for a fight. He wanted his kisses as well. [Laughter]
After that, Colonel Batiste is reported to have said, “This is a strange mission. They didn't train me for it.” [Laughter] I imagine they didn't. But it didn't prevent him from handling that situation with the tact and diplomacy and coolness that was needed.
But make no mistake, in case you haven't learned this already, there's a tough side to John Batiste as well, and the Serbs learned that. During that same operation in the Balkans he and his soldiers arrived one day at the stronghold of General Milosevic, the ruthless commander of the Serbian forces. They were denied entry at first. So John responded by calling in his Apaches and tanks, and he informed the Serbs, “I'll give you four hours, and then I'm coming in.”
Well, I think you know what happened. They let him in.
I'm told that, during that same assignment, John also became something of a star on Bosnian Serb radio stations. To his listeners he was “part warrior, part spiritual advisor, and part county extension agent.” [Laughter] That's a mix of experience and skills that will come in handy as John leads this great Division into Iraq.
I'm sure I don't have to tell this group how important that mission is going to be. Iraq is now the central battlefront in a global war on terrorism. Our troops and those of 34 other nations that are part of this coalition have done a magnificent job already in defeating Saddam Hussein and his thugs, in liberating a whole country, and now working to help the people of that country build a free and democratic future.
Today Iraq no longer threatens its neighbors, no longer builds weapons of mass destruction, no longer is a government sponsoring international terrorists. But the battle is only half won. We have to continue to win total victory. And you and your fellow soldiers are in the process of changing the course of history in the Middle East.
It's a huge challenge. It will not be easy, and it will not be short. Some people think it's too ambitious a goal. But if you stop and think about what decades of dictatorship and misrule in that part of the world have brought home to the United States and to freedom-loving people throughout the world, when you think about September 11th or the bombings in Bali or the recent attacks on Jews and foreigners in Istanbul and the terrorists who are still plotting to do evil around the world, if you stop and think about all of that, I think you can understand how important it is for the people of the Middle East to see a different kind of future for themselves, a better future than the one the terrorists offer.
The people of Iraq who suffered for 35 years under one of the worst tyrants in history have a chance to begin that process. And by your dedication and commitment and your skill and your courage, you are helping to give them that chance. And our children and our grandchildren, my children and my grandchildren, will be safer for it. And I thank you.
As the President said in the State of the Union Address just ten days ago, “America is on the offensive against the terrorists” who attacked our country. Speaking to you and every other American in uniform, he added, “Many of our troops are listening tonight. And I want you and your families to know: America is proud of you. And my Administration, and this Congress, will give you the resources,” the President said, “the resources you need to fight and win the war on terror.”
We are winning, thanks to the incredible skill, the resourcefulness, and the courage of America's troops -- including those of the 4th Infantry Division whom I've had the pleasure of visiting twice already and I'll be visiting again on Monday, who have done a terrific job in one of the toughest assignments in Iraq. I've seen it first-hand in my own visits. Our servicemen and women have been remarkably brave when courage is called for and compassionate when compassion is necessary.
I think you've heard a lot about what they're accomplishing and what remains to be done, but I'd like to just tell you a couple of anecdotes that especially impressed me.
Like the one about the 19 year old kids from the 82nd Airborne who came under fire from snipers in a mosque. They demonstrated remarkable restraint and courage and refrained from shooting back until some elderly Iraqi civilians had a chance to get out of the line of fire. Their behavior did not escape the notice of Iraqi civilians who were on the scene. Those young soldiers, and others like them, are helping to win the battle for hearts and minds in Iraq today.
Back in July I visited Mosul, and I had the opportunity to walk around the main square in Mosul with a young company commander from the 101st Air Assault Division. As we walked around, he showed me the block where the butcher shops were and he said, “Immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the butchers had their own idea about what liberation meant, and they started slaughtering their animals in the street and leaving the carcasses on the street. That was freedom to them.”
Of course in the old days they would have dealt with a problem like that by shooting a couple of butchers, and the rest would have fallen into line. That's exactly what we do not do.
Instead, this young Army captain organized a local butchers association so that he could have a group that he could negotiate with and lay down the law with, and they accepted it.
Only half seriously I asked that young West Point graduate if he'd had a course at West Point in organizing butchers. And of course he hadn't. But like him, ingenious Americans all over Iraq are working out solutions like that every day.
One young Marine down in Najaf was doing similar kind of work. We asked him where he learned it. He said, “I learned it in sixth grade.”
It is, I think, in the American civil culture. It's that same civic culture that I had a chance to feel first-hand today among the family support network -- a sense of banding together and working together and helping one another. Sometimes we do it better than other times. I don't think we ever do it better than I see it here in the 1st Infantry Division. It is fantastic. It is a great family. And I'd love to be a member.
Those are just a couple of examples of what your fellow soldiers are accomplishing already in Iraq. Their achievements came to my mind a few weeks ago at the retirement ceremony for a great Army officer, Jack Keane, who was retiring as Vice Chief of Staff after 37 years of devoted service. In his remarks General Keane paid tribute to everyone who wears the uniform of the United States Army. This is right out of his speech. I can't come up with better words.
“The foreign terrorists,” General Keene said, “the Ba'ath party sympathizers, the Islamic extremists who wantonly kill Americans and innocent people from many nations have no idea what they're up against. Their strategic objective is the political and moral will of the American people…. They think they know us because they have heard of Lebanon in ’83, or Somalia in ’94, or the USS Cole in 2000. They think we are morally weak and we will lose our resolve. But,” General Keene went on, “their knowledge is superficial and their understanding is shallow. To understand America and Americans, they need to understand the Marne of 1918, or Tarawa in ‘43, or Omaha Beach in ‘44, or the Chosun Reservoir in 1950. America,” General Keene said, “produces heroes in every generation. They are out there now … performing every day.”
I join General Keane in saluting you and all of them. He has it exactly right.
I was honored earlier this week to attend a small dinner for the combatant commanders and their wives in the private residence of the White House. It was an extraordinary evening. It was the first time I can say I ever got to see the Lincoln bedroom or a handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address.
But knowing that I was coming here tonight I made a point of noticing something else on the way to the White House, just outside its gates. As my car approached the Executive Mansion, we passed an imposing monument that I've seen so many times. It's nearly 80 feet tall and topped by a statue of Victory. It's a memorial to a very special group of American heroes, and it occupies, appropriately, a spot just a few steps from the White House itself and from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, I might add. In fact, in a city of famous monuments I think it's probably the monument that is closest to the President's office. It's what the President sees every time he comes and goes. If you haven't figured it out already I'm talking about the monument to the 1st Infantry Division.
It was modeled after the Battle Monument at West Point. And inscribed in its base is General [John J.] Pershing's tribute to the Division, words that describe what he called the Division's “special pride of service and a high state of morale never broken by hardship nor battle.”
Since that was built, generations of 1st Division soldiers have carried on that tradition. And their achievements have been added to the monument.
Now it's going to be your turn to add to that legend. You are the men and women who will write the next chapter in the glorious history of the Big Red One.
I can see that you are ready. You have an outstanding commanding general. You have the training. You have the equipment. You have the experience. You have the extraordinary and unqualified support of the remarkable families back here in Germany. And you have the support of the President and the American people back home.
We are committed to victory and I know you will help us win it. What's more, you have incredible motivation and pride. That's obvious from the extraordinary reenlistment rates, the highest in the Army. It's a testimony to the outstanding spirit of this Division and the dedication of you and your troops to the mission. It's a tribute to leadership. Every one of you in this room is a leader. And I want to congratulate you and thank you for the great job you're doing.
All of this leads me to say I don't know whether -- maybe somewhere in one of those spider holes in Baghdad or Samarra or maybe near Tikrit -- some remnant of Saddam Hussein's regime may be quietly celebrating the departure of the 4th Infantry Division that did so much to end their reign of terror.
But if there are such people, I have a piece of advice for them: Be careful what you wish for. America's 1st Infantry Division is coming. Remember them? You met them once before, in Kuwait. And believe me, you ain't seen nothing yet.
[Hooah and applause]
So General Batiste, officers of the 1st Division, family members, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this remarkable evening with you. It has been a great honor for me and a great pleasure.
On behalf of President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, General Schoomaker, and the entire Department of Defense, I wish you good luck and Godspeed. And we'll see you in Kirkuk.
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