Bidens Host Veterans, Troops, Families at Naval Observatory
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 2009 Today’s military is the “best-equipped, best trained, best educated, and the most competent military in the history of mankind,” Vice President Joe Biden told 240 servicemembers and veterans at his home at the U.S. Naval Observatory today.
Vice President Joe Biden, at podium, and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, left, hosted a luncheon for nearly 250 veterans, active duty servicemen and women and their families at the Vice President’s residence in Washington as part of November 11, 2009 Veterans Day activities.Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, left, joined the Bidens in honoring the attendees. VA photo by Robert Turtil
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Biden and his wife, Jill, hosted a Veterans Day luncheon for the servicemembers and veterans and their families at the official vice president’s home in northwest Washington, D.C.
“Welcome to your home,” Biden told the crowd gathered in a tent for picnic food outside of the main residence on a rainy Veterans Day here. “We’re honored to occupy it, but we want to share it. I’m truly grateful to the service all of you have rendered and humbled by your sacrifice.”
In his three decades in the U.S. Senate, Biden noted, he met many people. “If I had to list ten of the most impressive men and women I’ve known in my career, six were wearing a uniform at the time,” he said.
Biden said he’s made 30 trips to combat zones in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. “Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve marveled at how incredible our fighting forces are… they’re dedication, they’re courage,” he said. “I’ve seen the fire of patriotism in their eyes.”
“I see the most tested among us – citizens who didn’t fear the future, but helped shape the future,” he said.
Everyone wants to know how the American military turns out such great servicemembers, Biden said. “Well, first they come from a good gene pool – the American gene pool. Then, you train them, you give them the lead,” he said. “It’s the only military in the world that I’m aware of where you give a 19-year-old kid responsibility over multimillion-dollar equipment and let him or her make their own decisions. It’s remarkable.”
Biden noted that his wife and First Lady Michelle Obama have taken on the cause of military families as a top priority for the Obama administration. In fact, he said, even before he became Barack Obama’s vice presidential pick, his wife told him, “’More has to be done, Joe’” for military families.
Jill Biden noted that she and Mrs. Obama have been visiting U.S. military bases “to listen and to learn from their experiences.
“At each visit, I am overwhelmed by the courage of our men and women in uniform,” she said. “The dignity and sense of patriotism that military families just like yours exhibit every day is an inspiration.”
The administration is working to improve access to child care, improved housing for military families and quality care and treatment for wounded warriors, Mrs. Biden said, while she and Mrs. Obama have started a campaign to encourage all Americans “to show their thanks through simple acts of support.”
When the Bidens’ son, Beau, recently returned from service in Iraq, Mrs. Biden said, he was touched by how many people met him at the airport in New Hampshire in a sign of support.
“As a military mom, I know how a simple act of kindness can make a difference,” Biden said. “One thing Beau said when he arrived home was ‘I can’t tell you how much it meant to be greeted by hundreds of people who said ‘thank you for your service.’
“On Veterans Day and every day, it is our sacred duty to honor those who sacrifice so much,” she said.
The vice president estimated it will take more than $67 billion to give lifelong care for the 15,000 servicemembers severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he said it is a cost that is, and must continue to be, a top priority for any administration, and one veterans groups must “stay vigilant” about.
“There is only one truly sacred obligation and it is in giving all those we send all they need and care for them and their families when they come home and the families of those who don’t come home,” he said. “It is more important than education, health care, the FBI -- anything else in our federal budget.”
Veterans Affairs Secretary Ret. Army Gen. Eric Shinseki opened the luncheon by saying it is fitting that Veterans Day is so close to Thanksgiving, “because Veterans Day is an act of Thanksgiving.”
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Leon Caffie, a reservist from Gainesville, Fla., was among those who attended the luncheon. Drafted in 1970 and scheduled to retire in January, Caffie said it was important for him to reflect on Veterans Day this year because it is his last in uniform.
“This has been a part of my life for 39 years,” Caffie said. A Vietnam and Iraq war veteran, he said it was important to him for leaders to honor servicemembers.
“When I returned from Vietnam as a young American soldier who felt like I’d done my duty to protect our democracy and our way of life, we expected bands and crowds and citizenry, and that didn’t happen,” he said.
When he returned from Iraq in 2003, Caffie said, he received that long-awaited recognition. And, he said, today’s servicemembers are greatly deserving. “I’ve commanded 170 Army Reserve enlisted soldiers stationed around world, and I’m amazed at what they do when they are asked to perform. They are the silent heroes. They do everything we ask them to do. The young men and women today are full of enthusiasm and want to do whatever you ask of them.”
Another soldier, Capt. Stephen Betts, said he was honored to be selected to attend the luncheon. This year is the second that Betts, severely wounded in Afghanistan in April 2008, has faced as a wounded warrior.
“Veterans Day means so much now, now that so many people have gone and been wounded,” he said. “The fact that the vice president took the time out of his day to do things like this means a lot.”
Betts, an embedded technical trainer recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, said he is trying to return to duty.