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First Lady Thanks Troops at Bagram Air Base

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2005 – "We support you, we believe in you, and we're proud of you." That was the message first lady Laura Bush carried to U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base during her March 30 visit to Afghanistan.

The visit with U.S. servicemembers deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom topped off a six-hour, whirlwind visit through Afghanistan, during which the first lady offered support to Afghan women in their struggle for more rights and reaffirmed the United States' commitment to expanded educational opportunities for women and children.

At Bagram Air Base, Bush praised the troops for making these advances possible and thanked them for their service and sacrifice. "Every day you're protecting the rights and liberties all of us hold dear," she said. "You're also bringing opportunity and security to people who have known years of cruel oppression."

She credited the troops for breaking the grip the Taliban had on Afghanistan, for paving the way for 8 million Afghan men and women to vote in a free election, and for opening schoolroom doors to young girls who were previously denied an education.

But Bush also acknowledged servicemembers' smaller acts she said have "big consequences" - providing medical care to Afghan civilians, helping the local people endure conditions ranging from snowstorms to floods, and donating shoes, clothing and school supplies, often paid for out of their own pockets.

"Actions like these are vitally important to America's mission, because they show the people of Afghanistan our true selves," she said.

And as they carry out this mission, Bush reminded the troops that the American people and the administration stand firmly behind them. "Millions of Americans are thinking of you and praying for you every day, and one of them is your commander in chief," she said.

"Your fellow citizens know that your mission is not easy," she said. "Many of you have faced long deployments, sometimes far longer than you expected. Many of you enlisted in a time of peace and now find yourselves serving in a time of war."

Many deployed troops miss and worry about their families, she acknowledged. "All of those who serve in our military deserve our utmost respect, and so do those who serve well behind the front lines - your families," she said.

The first lady paid tribute to servicemembers who are grieving lost comrades. "America will never forget them either," she assured them.

"Thank you for the sacrifice you make, for every hardship to endure to help freedom prevail in the war on terror," the first lady said in closing. "I look forward to getting home and telling the president that America is safer because the men and women of Bagram Air Base are on duty. Thank you all so much.

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