(Briefing on Operation Tribute to Freedom. Participating were Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Army Maj. Gen. Anders B. Aadland, director, Installation Management Agency, and executive director, Operation Tribute to Freedom Committee. The slide shown at today's briefing can be found on the Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jun2003/g030612-D-6570C.html.)
Myers: Well, good afternoon, everybody. While operations in Afghanistan and Iraq continue, more than 100,000 of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have returned from overseas. As they do, many communities from around our country are paying tribute to the efforts and sacrifices these brave men and women have made in our global war on terrorism. In fact, we've been inundated with requests from hundreds of communities -- actually, I think the number is closer to -- up to a thousand now -- communities, companies and individuals asking how they can show their support and say thanks for the great job our young people have done and continue to do.
We have established Operation Tribute to Freedom as a way for the military to support as many community efforts as possible. The first of the Operation Tribute to Freedom events began on Memorial Day weekend, I think a natural starting point to reflect on the sacrifices of our military members and their families.
This Saturday, all Major League Baseball teams will fly flags that were flown over the Pentagon to recognize our troops. And there are numerous Operation Tribute to Freedom events taking place across the country over the next several months that include hometown parades, 4th of July fireworks, veterans meetings, community dinners, and many other types of tributes.
Of course, many Americans around the nation have already paid tribute to our troops in so many ways, and we thank them very much for their support. Some have placed yellow ribbons on mail boxes, hosted a parade or, like one family in St. Jacob, Illinois, they have taken over their neighbor's lawn care until he returns from Iraq. What a deal that is. I think they bring new meaning to the term "neighborly." In fact, it was just last weekend, I was out about 40 miles west of here, went through a couple of small towns, and it was amazing the number of American flags and yellow ribbons that were displayed, I think all part of recognizing the sacrifices that our armed forces make.
The official Tribute to Freedom Events scheduled for this summer, and beyond, will continue that support for our fighting forces.
And with that, in a minute here I'm going to introduce to you the officer that's leading the department's efforts to support all of these events, Major General Andy Aadland here is executive director of the Operation Tribute to Freedom Committee. He and his joint team, in conjunction with the Department of Defense Public Affairs, will serve as the point of contact for these communities and organizations who want to participate with us in this celebration.
So finally, I want to thank every American who has gone above and beyond the call to support our troops, and there are many millions of those, and we very, very much appreciate it.
And before I go to General Aadland, let me -- I'll take about two questions on whatever is on your mind.
So -- Bret?
Q: General, is the operation east of al Qaim over the last 24 hours, originally described as a strike on a terrorist training camp --
Q: -- can you fill in some blanks there? Were there foreign fighters there?
Myers: They're still -- reports are still coming in. They're still sorting through that. It was, I think, accurately described by General McKiernan today in his news conference. I'm sure you've seen those remarks. I think, before we say anything more about that, that we ought to wait for the rest of the situation to develop.
My understanding is, there's potential for more fighting, so it's still an ongoing operation. We've got to sort out who these people were. It's not entirely clear.
What was the term you used? Did you use a term --
Q: Foreign fighters.
Myers: Yeah, I think there is some indication that they're probably foreign fighters.
It was a tough fight. They were well-trained or well-equipped, and clearly well-prepared for this, for the fight they had. And of course our folks were likewise. And it was a good thing, I think, because this is one of the many types of groups that we're going to have to confront, I think, in Iraq for some time to come.
Q: I guess my question is, do you believe foreign fighters have played a role in the recent attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq?
Myers: Well, we'll have to -- you know, they're going through that intelligence right now, and that -- it's too early to say, based on this incident and what I know about this incident, to make that conclusion. I can guess, but I think we just ought to let it wait and play out of here a little bit longer while they do the research on who they are. There's a -- they are gathering intelligence that these people had with them and on them, and I think we'll be able to tell here in the long run.
Q: Is there any indication -- I'm sorry -- going back to the same issue, any indication of casualties on either side?
Myers: In that particular event, we had one wounded.
Q: One --
Myers: One on the U.S. side.
Q: U.S. side. Is there any indication on the other side?
Myers: There were a number killed -- large number.
Q: Large --
Myers: And we'll -- they're -- like I said, they're still sorting that out.
With that, General Aaland, I think, is ready to take this platform. This is a very important project that the Department of Defense has going on. And what we want to do is help communities, help celebrate our armed forces in this tribute to freedom.
And with that, Andy?
Aadland: Thank you, sir.
Myers: Thank you.
Thank you all.
Aadland: Well, good afternoon. I'd just like to lead off by saying first off that this is all about the troops, this is our opportunity to recognize them, to pay tribute to their efforts. And it's an honor for me to be heading up a joint team that's going to lead this effort.
The operation has three key goals: thank the troops for their tremendous valor, patriotism, loyalty and the outstanding efforts they've put forth in the global war on terrorism; number two, create a stronger bond between the military and our citizens, between the returning troops and the great heroes with the communities from which they came; and three, underscore that the global war on terrorism continues. It's not over. And we will continue to recognize the great folks who serve on point over there, and in any other capacity, even guarding a gate in our installations here, as part of the global war on terrorism.
Two major components of the approach. One is to use events that have been scheduled through the summer, starting with Memorial Day, where events have already been scheduled and were in tribute to Operation Tribute to Freedom, and then other activities through Flag Day, coming up Saturday, and the Fourth of July Independence Day, and carrying on the effort of the campaign through till about Veterans Day, and hopefully, having garnered the kind of excitement and patriotism and teamwork between our hometowns and the military that will carry on and continue to recognize our returning heroes.
The second component of our campaign is to invite all citizens -- family members, children, parents, concerned citizens, patriots -- to join the Tribute to Freedom team. And they can do that by letting us know what -- what particular small thing they've done to recognize our troops, and to let us know through our website, DefendAmerica.mil, and get on and join in the excitement of this great campaign.
And so, we've already seen a lot of excitement from that, and we want to continue to seize on the momentum and partner with our hometowns to ensure that the tribute to our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen is fitting for the tremendous service they put forth.
So, our audience is the families, the friends, the communities across the nation who are so concerned about returnees, getting their troops back home, and having a chance to hear their personal experiences about what they did. And so, we think that this task force effort will have a great way of harboring that energy and delivering on those three key goals.
I'll take your questions.
Q: Yeah, what's the scale of this project? How large is the office of folks doing it?
Aadland: The office is pretty small. We have a senior leader from each service on my team at the O-6 level -- colonel or a Navy captain -- and a small administrative group who can help us work with the in-place public affairs offices of all the services and OSD to help us generate excitement and get the word out. So, we're tapping into the existing public affairs offices, and then this leadership, sort of a steering committee, where we make sure all services are involved.
Q: Sir, can you give us some more details of some of the events that will be going on at sporting venues on Flag Day?
Aadland: Well, as the chairman mentioned, the flags flown over the Pentagon will be raised at 13 Major League Baseball venues on Flag Day. And we also have some other events; we're generating more and more all the time. We have one -- D.C. United, right here in town, is going to honor some of our returning heroes who -- from all services who will be able to attend that. And I -- we have many more coming up across the nation.
And we're also right now, because of the shortness of time, focusing, of course, on the tremendous number of events for 4th of July.
But another thing that's happening this weekend, I think we have about 11 military bands performing in 10 different states and paying tribute. And those are just examples of what will certainly turn out to be a broader scale than that.
Well, thanks for your interest. Help us get the word out.
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