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Bush Begins Inaugural Celebration With Military 'Salute'

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2005 – As the nation prepares to celebrate its 55th presidential inauguration, President Bush said today he could "think of no better way to begin than by giving thanks for our freedom and those who make it possible."

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Gospel singer Bebe Winans extends congratulations to President Bush at the Jan. 18 "Saluting Those Who Serve" event at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C. Looking on are, from left, first lady Laura Bush, Lynne Cheney and Vice President Dick Cheney. Photo by Donna Miles

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The president headlined a star-studded lineup of celebrities and military and civilian government leaders who gathered at the MCI Center here for a gala "Saluting Those Who Serve" event to honor members of the armed forces. The event is the first in a long line of activities leading up to the Jan. 20 inauguration.

"As I prepare to take the oath of office, I want you to know how grateful I am for your service and sacrifice, and how proud I am to be your commander in chief," Bush told the estimated 6,000 servicemembers and their families and guests.

The audience also included troops deployed to Southwest Asia, who watched the gala via satellite in Baghdad, Iraq, and Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.

"Whether you serve in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard, each of you have stepped forward to serve," the president told the cheering crowd. "You have risked your lives in faraway mountains and arid deserts, in perilous skies and on the high seas, to defend liberty and to free those trapped by tyranny."

Bush cited the inauguration as an outward sign of what America is all about. "The inauguration of a president is a great moment in the life of our country," Bush said, noting that it's a time to celebrate freedom and the power of democracy.

The president credited the men and women in uniform for helping extend that same power to more than 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq during the past four years. He called the first free elections in Afghanistan's 5,000-year history and the upcoming elections in Iraq "landmark events in the history of liberty."

"And none of it would have been possible without the courage and the determination of the United States armed forces," he said.

Bush told the troops their service and sacrifice in the war on terror is making America safer for today and the future. "Your sacrifice has made it possible for our children and grandchildren to grow up in a safer world," he said.

But this success has come at a great cost and through tremendous sacrifice, the president noted. He acknowledged the long separations families must endure, the wounds many servicemembers will carry with them for the rest of their lives, the heroes who gave their lives, and the families who grieve them.

"We hold them in our hearts," Bush said. "We lift them up in our prayers."

The president paid a special tribute to military family members who stand by their loved ones as they serve the nation. "Your families miss you and they worry about you and they pray for you, always wondering where you are and if you're safe," he said. "By their sacrifice, they also serve."

Bush said those who wear the uniform have given much, and will be asked to give more in the months and years ahead as the war on terror continues. "In Afghanistan and Iraq, the liberty that has been won at great cost now must be secured," he said. "We still face terrorist enemies who wish to harm our people and are seeking weapons that would allow them to kill on an unprecedented scale.

"These enemies must be stopped," Bush said, "and you are the ones who will stop them."

The road ahead will be difficult and dangerous, the president said, "but we can proceed with courage and with confidence" because we live in "hopeful times, when the promise of freedom is spreading across the world."

"And the cause of freedom is in the best of handsthe hands of the United States armed forces," the president said.

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Related Sites:
White House Transcript of President Bush's Remarks, MCI Center, Washington, D.C., Jan. 18, 2005

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