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Wolfowitz Hosts Pre-Thanksgiving Feast to Honor Injured Troops

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 26, 2003 – Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz hosted a pre-Thanksgiving dinner at the Pentagon Nov. 25 honoring almost 70 U.S. service members wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families and thanking them for their contributions to the war on terror.

Wolfowitz joined with top military and Defense Department officials and congressional representatives to extend appreciation to those he said "have been to war and faced its danger and borne its wounds."

The dinner, held in the outermost "E" ring of the Pentagon in what is known as the Eisenhower Corridor, featured a virtual "who's who" of guests, including Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. Peter Schoomaker, chief of staff of the Army; Adm. Michael Mullen, vice chief of naval operations; Gen. Spider Nyland, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps; and Gen. Michael Moseley, vice chief of staff of the Air Force. Also participating were Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

They mingled with the guests of honor all patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.-- and shared a festive turkey dinner prepared by the secretary of defense's mess staff. The "President's Own" U.S. Marine Corps band provided music.

All those at the dinner joined Wolfowitz in thanking the men and women being honored for their sacrifices and praising their role in what Gen. Myers called "the global war on the freedom from fear."

"There probably hasn't been such a collection of heroes and patriots gathered here in the E ring since Dwight Eisenhower walked these corridors," Wolfowitz told his guests.

"You are American heroes who have been on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq, taking the battle to the enemy," he said. "You are the reason that millions of Americans can travel safely and feast in prosperity on this Thanksgiving day.The liberties that we hold dear are secure because of you."

Myers joined Wolfowitz in thanking the guests. "Tonight we are blessed to be with you who know the cost of freedom," he said. "We extend thanks to you for your service, and to your families."

The guests at the dinner appeared somewhat overwhelmed by the praise and attention showered on them throughout the evening. "I've been in the Army for 23 years and have never been to anything like this," said Army 1st Sgt. Glenn Farra from the 588th Maintenance Company, based at Fort Sill, Okla. "This is outstanding for the young soldiers and also for the old guys like me!"

But like many of his fellow guests at the dinner, Farra said he really wants to be back in Iraq, with his fellow troops. Farra, who is being treated at Walter Reed for leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease transmitted by sand flies, said he is scheduled to return to Fort Sill following 20 days of intravenous treatment with antibiotics. "But I'm trying to get to (nearby) Andrews (Air Force Base) to get back to Iraq," he said. "That's where my soldiers are, and so that's where I need to be. I went there with them and I want to go home with them."

Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Dailey from the 4th Infantry Division's 404th Aviation Support Battalion, also being treated at Walter Reed for leishmaniasis, said Wolfowitz's pre- Thanksgiving dinner "shows that they care about us." But, like Farra, Dailey acknowledged that he "can't wait" to return to Iraq to be with his fellow troops at Camp Caldwell. "I never wanted to leave," he said. "While I'm here, I worry about my guys. I'd rather be there with them."

For some of the guests, like Marine Cpl. Gardner Mejia from 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, the likelihood of returning to Iraq to join his fellow colleagues isn't as certain. Mejia, a patient at the National Naval Medical Center, recently endured his fourth surgery to reconstruct his hand after an explosion nearly ripped his finger from his hand April 11 in Baghdad.

"I love the Marine Corps. I've learned and grown in the Marine Corps," he said. "I'm getting outstanding (medical care), but right now, I'm not sure what the future holds for me in terms of military service."

Wolfowitz reminded those at the dinner that their sacrifices have not been without cause. He acknowledged that many in the group, in addition to facing personal injury, have lost friends who "gave the last full measure of devotion for this country and our cause, which is a just and noble one."

The deputy secretary told the group that "those of your comrades who have passed on live on in our hearts and our memories."

"We must dedicate ourselves," he said, "to finishing the job that they have so nobly begun."

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