White House Dinner Guest List Includes 64 Iraq Vets
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2012 Defense Department officials expect later today to release the names of 64 service members who will attend a White House dinner next week representing all U.S. troops who served in Iraq.
Douglas B. Wilson, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said the Feb. 29 dinner honors the more than 1 million American military members who served in Iraq from 2003 to the end of operations in December.
The services’ senior enlisted advisors selected the 64 service members who will attend the gala event.
Calling the event “the beginning of a ‘thank you,’” Wilson said officials selected the representatives to include service members from all states and territories, all ranks, all services and all backgrounds. “In the East Room that night, the idea is that room will look like the America that served on the battlefields of Iraq,” he added.
The service members will fly in from all over the country and bases overseas. At least one service member currently assigned to Afghanistan will attend, Wilson said.
The Defense Department will pick up the costs of the troops traveling to Washington. “I don’t know what the cost is, but in terms of thanks for what they did, it is a minor drop in the bucket,” Wilson said.
America really owes those who served on the battlefield more than just a quick handshake, the assistant secretary said. “We are going to be seeing tens of thousands of people coming back who want to be reintegrated into this society and their communities,” Wilson said. “There are easy and simple and direct ways for people to do this.”
Wilson said he considers the dinner to be the start of a nationwide conversation about jobs for veterans, educational opportunities and help for military families.
“That’s not all top-down,” he said. “I think people from communities around the country who want to help need to understand they can by extending a real sense of normalcy and inclusion to the people who are coming back.”