Thank you very much general Vane and all the civilian leadership from the community. It’s terrific to see you, Congressman Reyes. It’s always a pleasure to see you and thank you so much for your wonderful support of not just the men and women here in this area, but all across the globe.
The folks I’ve just been saying hello to, they are the pillars of this community and are important in creating an environment here that is hospitable to the men and women in uniform we are so grateful to all of you.
Now, this group, look up there, I didn’t even see you up there. Who’s running the base? In any event, I’m delighted to be with you. I know that those of us who work in Washington who aren’t from Washington, know that it’s important to get away periodically and get a little different perspective on the world and certainly that’s the case here and so I’m very pleased to be here.
This morning, General Dick Meyers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and I spent, goodness I suppose, four hours with President Bush and on the secure video with General Abizaid and General Casey in Baghdad, talking about the events taking place in Afghanistan and Iraq and the horn of Africa and I was asked by the President to be sure to bring his warm greetings and respects to all of you and each of you, of course, is a volunteer.
Each person in the armed services in the active force, the guard and reserves, raised their hands and said they wanted to serve and that is something that’s very special. It’s something that each of us in leadership positions recognize as the strength of all that we do in the world.
As we meet today, there are of course a great many talented and very patriotic men and women—folks from Fort Bliss, White Sands, Holloman and across the state and across America who are serving our country so well and performing such vitally important service. Also, I do think it’s important from time to time to mention the employers of those who serve in the guard and reserves. They have to patch around when a key member of their team leaves and it is something that we recognize and we thank them as well.
Your efforts and the work of others in our coalition are helping the newly liberated Afghan people and the newly liberated people of Iraq transition from freedom to freedom from what in each case was a vicious regime and a dangerous regime. With your help, those countries today have free governments that are not harboring terrorists but they are helping to fight terrorists.
The third anniversary of September 11th is fast approaching. None of us will ever forget that day. I have just returned from Afghanistan. A country, of course, where the Al Queda launched that attack and had been guests of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Now, despite a campaign of violence and intimidation by the remnants of the Al Queda in that area and the Taliban, over nine and half million Afghan people have registered to vote. Think of that. Here is a country that didn’t have elections. Where they would have, out in the middle of a soccer stadium, they would take people out and execute them as sport to demonstrate to the people that people shouldn’t fly kites, or women shouldn’t were colored shoes, or people shouldn’t whistle or sing in the street.
Not only have nine and half million people registered to vote, but over three and half million and something like 41 percent are women. We know that not too long ago, I believe up near Jalalabad, a bus was stopped by some Taliban and they pulled the people out. They looked at the women’s purses to see if they had voter registration cards and to the extent that they did, they shot them. And the reaction to that in the community was such that it increased the number of women who came to register to vote.
So these people have suffered Soviet occupation. They’ve suffered drought. They’ve suffered civil war. They’ve suffered a vicious rule of the Taliban and today, they have somewhere in their being, have the strength and the courage and the conviction that they’re going to move ahead create a democratic country and keep terrorists out, and in fact, become an alley in the global war on terror rather than [inaudible].
This war is a brutal reality of our time. I think it’s important to remember that while many in the United States may feel like we’ve been at war only since September the 11th, in fact, the struggle started many, many years before. The decade prior to September 11th, Al Queda terrorists bomb the world trade center in New York the first time in 1993. Later, there were the attacks against the barracks in Saudi Arabia. Then the attacks against U.S. embassies in East Africa, and of course the killing of the US Sailors aboard the USS Cole in the Persian Gulf.
During that period, Saddam Hussein’s regime was dispatching assassination squads to try to kill a former U.S. President, shooting at U.S. and British aircraft almost on a weekly basis trying to shoot them down, and of course, was paying $25,000 bonuses to the families of suicide martyrs. So we are not to make the mistake of thinking that the absence of more traditional war or traditional conflict means that we’re at peace because we’re not. So too the cost and pain of fighting this war so far from our shores should not tempt us to think that if we were simply let events to take their course, somehow the bloodshed, and the sacrifice and the violence would go away. It would not. Indeed, it would simply increase and it would increase our vulnerability by inviting still more attacks.
Those in uniform know that the enemies of freedom for what they are and they’re dealt with in Afghanistan and Iraq and are still being dealt with there and elsewhere. And let there be no doubt, our coalition will succeed against the forces of extremism that seek to take those countries back to a terrorist attack and they’re trying. They’re trying everyday.
Think back 50 years ago, some doubted the success of another coalition’s efforts--the allies. First, they doubted they could defeat Germany and Japan. We don’t think of it that way now because history, we learn it in school that we did defeat them, but there was…our allies suffered defeat, after defeat, after defeat in the early part of WWII and then they doubted that, in fact, over a period of years, that they could be turned into democracies. But despite the large number of WWII casualties and the series of military setbacks, the allied troops and their military leaders were steadfast and they forged ahead, first to achieve victory and then to transform Germany and Japan into democratic nations that everyone sees today and recognizes today as a follower of the free-world security and prosperity during the Cold War.
Fifty years from now, historians similarly will look back on our coalition’s work in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the global war on terror and they will see your service as what made our country and the world more secure. The great sweep of human history is on your side. It’s on the side of freedom. It’s on the side of opportunity. It’s on the side of the values and the opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan they can now offer their people not just in their countries but also in the region where they are.
I was in South Korea several months back and I have on my desk a piece of glass in a little round table and under the glass I have a picture of the Korean peninsula at night taken from satellite and you can see the peninsula and you can see the de-militarized zone and south of that line is electricity, lights all over that country. And north of that line is blackness, nothing but a pin prick of light in the capital of Pyongyang. Here are two halves of the same country, one is…same people, same resources. And, today, South Korea is a thriving, successful economy, a vibrant democracy contributing in the world and North Korea has recently lowered the height to get into the North Korean Military to 4 feet 10 inches because of starvation. They’ve lowered it to under 100 pounds for young men to get into the military because they don’t have enough people who are over 4 feet 10, or over 100 pounds. They have concentration camps. They have starvation. They are involved in counterfeiting and drug trade. They are the principle proliferators of weapons of mass destruction of the ballistic missile technologies.
I was on the top of a building, in Seoul, the capital of Korea, and that hour before, two hours before, I’ve been out at the memorial laying a wreath, I looked up and the names from my state, Illinois, there were people I knew, and this reporter, one reporter, obviously to young to remember the war, looked at me and said--they were just having a vote in their parliament as to whether they should send troops to Iraq—and she said to me, “why in the world should South Korea, Republic of Korea send our boys, young men and young women, half way around the world to get killed and wounded in Iraq?” I said, “Look out the window. There is your answer.”
You could just see the whole city booming economically. Free people--able to do—to get up in the morning do what they want, say what they want and go where they want and work where they want and live as free people, and I said, “we could have said the same thing in Illinois fifty years before. Why should young people from my school go half way around the globe, put their lives at risk in Korea, which half the people haven’t heard of,” and I think she got it.
So what you have to do is know that what you do is important. It has great value. Each generation has had to do it. And you’re the ones in your generation that are doing it, to your credit and to the great benefit of our country and the world—thank you very much.
Now, I’d be happy to respond to some questions, not from the press, not from Congressman Reyes. I get enough of that in Washington, but from all of you and I will answer the questions I know the answers to. I’ll respond thoughtfully to the ones I don’t and ask general…you can help me answer them. Alright, do you have mics or anything here? There is a couple of people with mics. If anyone has a question, what you might want to do is get up and go over there or else wave your hand and we’ll pass you one and then if you have a question, raise your hand and I’ll call on you if I see the hand go up. And if there are any hands behind me, you’re responsible for telling me—fair and good? Who’s got a question? Behind me? Good for you. Always scares me a little bit the first question. You wonder why he is so eager to ask that first question. What in the world is in his mind? Yes sir?
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