Rumsfeld Praises 'All-American Division' for Terror War Contributions
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FORT BRAGG, N.C., May 26, 2005 They're making their mark in history by helping free the world of extremists committed to death and destruction, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told troops in one of the most frequently deployed units in the global war on terror.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld poses with 82nd Airborne paratroopers during his visit to Fort Bragg, N.C., May 26 during All-American Week. Photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Speaking today to 12,000 82nd Airborne Division soldiers gathered here at Pike Field for their annual divisionwide review, Rumsfeld praised the "All-American" Division's accomplishments in Afghanistan, Iraq and the greater Middle East.
"You pursued and routed the remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, where terrorists plotted the mass murder of our countrymen," he said. "You overcame sandstorms and death squads in Iraq to topple a dangerous and vicious regime."
In doing so, Rumsfeld said the 82nd Airborne Division helped "capture the imagination of reformers across the Middle East" as they watched the Afghans and Iraqis defy terrorists to elect democratic governments.
Missing from today's review were members of the division's 1st Brigade, who recently deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
"No fighting force in the world has done more to liberate people they had never met than the United States military," Rumsfeld told the soldiers assembled in formation under the hot North Carolina sun. "You can be proud of the legacy and the mission you have been entrusted with, and the American people are proud of you."
Rumsfeld paid tribute to veterans of the division in the crowd, and told them today's All-American Division soldiers are following proudly in their footsteps. "Since the attacks of Sept. 11th (2001), a new generation of paratroopers is writing its own chapter in this division's long and storied history," he said.
The coalition has achieved "great victories and ... made solid progress" in "the global struggle against extremism" and will continue to do so, but the secretary warned that bumps may lay in the road ahead.
"Let there be no doubt that as in the past, there will be discouraging days, and times when our purpose and potential for success will be called into question," he said.
He called suicide attacks by terrorists in Iraq "signs of desperation" by enemies who recognize that they have no chance of victory and nothing positive to offer. "They try to destroy things that they could never build themselves and kill people they could never persuade," he said.
These terrorists also failed in their efforts to stop free elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, to ignite a civil war in Iraq, and to stop Iraqis from joining the new government and its security forces, the secretary said.
And in the end, Rumsfeld said these extremists will fail in their cause. "The great sweep of human history is for freedom, and we are on freedom's side," he said.
Rumsfeld told the 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers the skill and professionalism they and their fellow servicemembers exhibit makes him confident in the future, and he said he's particularly impressed by their bravery and sacrifice.
Seven division members have earned the Silver Star for gallantry in combat during Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. In addition, a division soldier who lost a leg in Iraq, Spc. George Perez, recently deployed to Afghanistan with the division's 1st Brigade.
"We are profoundly blessed to live in a country that produces such men and women," the secretary said.
During today's military review, the secretary honored the 82nd Division's noncommissioned officer and trooper of the year, Staff Sgt. Joseph Brady and Spc. Jeff M. Petersen, respectively.
The review was the ceremonial highlight of "All-American Week," the division's annual week of competition, fun and remembrance.
"It's a celebration to highlight the achievements of the division and all the many things we've done," said Sgt. Maj. Bert Vaughan, the division's sergeant major for operations. "It showcases our capabilities and what assets in we have in the division."
Today's pageantry included a performance by the division chorus, a demonstration by the 82nd Sport Parachute Club, a pass in review by division veterans, a flyby of the division's helicopter fleet and a 19-gun salute.
Rumsfeld joined Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the division commander, in the back of a Humvee to inspect the 12,000 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers, who later marched by the reviewing stand for a pass in review.
Sgt. Maj. Stanley Bailey, division fire-support coordinator, summed up the military review and the All-American Week activities with one word: fellowship. "It's fellowship with the new and the old," he said.
Division veterans like retired Command Sgt. Maj. Willie Harris from Colonial Beach, Va., make an annual pilgrimage to Fort Bragg to take part in All-American Week and share stories with currently serving soldiers.
"It gives me pride to watch our troops wearing our (division) patch and fighting in the war on terror," Harris said. "I'm proud of them."
"Everyone is proud of the 82nd," agreed Doug Dickerson, a division combat veteran of World War II. "Today's 82nd Airborne paratroopers are definitely carrying on the division's traditions."
Bailey said the camaraderie celebrated during All-American Week is critical to a force that can be called into harm's way at a moment's notice. "When we do what we do, that bond has to be there for us to accomplish our missions as quickly as our country expects us to," he said.
Sgt. Ramon Perez with the 21st Chemical Company said the event reaffirms his pride in being a part of the 82nd Airborne Division.
"Seeing all these veterans and shaking their hands makes you realize what you're in the Army for to defend the country," he said. "And there's a lot of pride in that."