Fort Campbell Troops Say Bush Visit Gives Hope, Inspiration
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., March 18, 2004 Excitement rippled through the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) parade field as President Bush promised thousands of soldiers just returned from Iraq that the United States won't stop short in waging the war on terror.
President Bush reacts to cheers from soldiers their families and civilian employees at Fort Campbell, Ky., as Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, 101st Airborne Division commander, introduces him during the president's March 18 visit. The president thanked soldiers and families at Fort Campbell for their service and sacrifices. U.S. Army photo by Gary Burton
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The president and first lady arrived here today to the booming cheers of thousands of 101st Airborne Division soldiers who waved flags, hoisted children on their shoulders and peppered the president's message with applause and "hooahs."
"He seems like he's really dedicated and not going to back down," said Spc. Josh Brown, just returned from tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry "Rakkasans."
"That means a lot," the soldier said. "It means that we're in this for the long run."
Brown acknowledged the president's pledge could mean he'll be called back to duty in support of the terror war. "Nobody enjoys being away from home," he said. "But this is what I signed up for."
Sgt. First Class Keith Costley with the 196th Quartermaster Company said he, too, was inspired by the president's determination to fight the terrorists in their own backyard so America never again has to face them on its own turf. Back since June following six months in Iraq, Costley agreed he's ready if called for another deployment. "If duty calls, then I'm there," he said. "That's the reason we came into the military."
Pfc. Ryan Conklin from 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry, said he was impressed by the president's pledge to provide the U.S. military every resource and tool you need to fight and win the war on terror. "That means that he's going to keep building us up so we can get the job done -- so he can get the job done," Conklin said.
Staff Sgt. Tracey Stremming from C Company, 3rd Battalion, 502nd Infantry, said he liked hearing Bush praise soldiers for making a genuine difference in Iraqi lives -- not only by liberating them from a brutal dictatorship, but also by overseeing hundreds of projects to build or rebuild the country's infrastructure and services.
Stremming and his unit participated in these projects firsthand, helping equip a school with desks, books and other staples. "It felt really good, especially when you see the results," he said. "We could see that we were really helping to improve their lives."
Master Sgt. Sandra Webb and Staff Sgt. Will Webb, a mother-son team from the Army Reserve's 3397th U.S. Army Garrison Unit, said they were heartened by the president's recognition of the role reserve components troops are playing in the terror war. "It felt really good, because the division wouldn't be able to perform their mission without us," said Master Sgt. Webb. Her unit was called to active duty at Fort Campbell to help process other reserve units and the 101st Airborne Division for deployment and to fill in vital services during the division's absence.
Nita Gilliam, whose husband, Sgt. First Class Devin Gilliam, still is deployed to Iraq, said she was "overwhelmed" by the message of thanks the president delivered to her and her three young children, as well as all military families. "He gave us a lot of hope and encouragement to keep us going," she said. "It was just incredible."
After his address, the president ate lunch with about 200 division soldiers at the 2nd Brigade dining facility, then met privately at the Don F. Pratt Museum with about 120 family members of the 60 101st Airborne Division soldiers killed in Iraq.
"It means a lot that he took time off from his schedule to come see us," said Stremming of the president's visit. "He's the one who sent us to Iraq, and now he's come here to thank us for what we've done, face to face. That means a lot."
Before the president's address, the troops were treated to a concert of headline entertainers: Layne Brody, Jackie Valesquez, Mark Wills and Darryl Worley. Each successive act helped unwind the crowd, gathered in a muddy parade field to await the president's arrival, but none moved the crowd more than Worley's performance of "Have You Forgotten?"
"This isn't about politics," Worley told the crowd, which waved flags and hollered hoots as Worley sang his popular song reminding America about the reasons behind the war on terror. "It's to honor and bring some long-overdue respect to you men and women," Worley told the troops. "We want to thank you all for your sacrifices and tell you how much we appreciate and support you."