It's a great honor to be able to participate here in welcoming home the “Iron Soldiers” of the 1st Armored Division. I wanted the soldiers here to be able to express themselves at appropriate moments during my remarks, so I went to the highest authorities. I consulted our Acting Secretary of the Army, Les Brownlee, and our [Army] Chief of Staff, General Pete Schoomaker, and I asked them if it would it be okay to ask for a loud and thunderous “Hooah” from the Task Force 1st Armored Division. Well, what they told me was, “You better have earplugs.” And I said, “Bring it on!”
So if you can hear me out there, how about a great big Hooah? Hooah!
AUDIENCE: Hooah! [Applause.]
There are a lot of people to thank here today. First to the soldiers of this task force, the 1st Armored Division, the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, and the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment:
President Bush said that the enemies of freedom would hear from America, and they did. They heard from you. You formed the largest combat formation in Iraq. Since World War II no other group of American soldiers has served in combat for a longer continuous time. That alone would be enough to earn our thanks, but you did more. You fought bravely in battle, then you showed kindness and encouragement to the people of Iraq. And then, even though your tour was supposed to end, your courage and skill were still needed. So you turned right around and you remained on the point of the spear.
You set the conditions for an important victory. Thanks to the work you started, Sadr and his gang have been cleared out of Najaf, and that key city is under Iraqi control. Over and over again, the men and women of the 1st Armored Division showed everyone exactly what right looks like. Our enemies will never forget, and our friends will always remember what America's Iron Soldiers did in Iraq. Our country, our president, our citizens, and the people of a new, free Iraq thank you. We're grateful and we're proud.
So how about giving yourselves a great big "Hooah"?
AUDIENCE: Hooah. [Applause.]
Today our soldiers are receiving the richly deserved thanks and praise of a grateful nation, but there's an equally important group of people here. Without them, our soldiers couldn't do what they do and, of course, I'm talking about the husbands and wives, the daughters and sons of the 1st Armored Division Task Force. When orders changed at the last minute, you were rock-solid. When the deployment was even longer and tougher than expected, you stuck it out. When our soldiers needed to hear a "We love you" or get a care package from home, you were there. We can't thank you enough.
We count our blessings for our magnificent soldiers, and we count our blessings for the magnificent support the families give them. So let's hear another loud Hooah. [Cheers.]
AUDIENCE: Hooah! [Applause.]
And one more very special thank you to our wounded soldiers. You've given so much to the cause of freedom. No words are adequate to express our gratitude. You should know that everyone who's been able to visit you and your comrades in the hospital comes away inspired by your amazing fighting spirit. As you recover, we will stay with you, and we wish you Godspeed.
Would you please stand or raise your hand, so that we can give you a proper thank you, and let's give them our loudest Hooah! [Cheers, applause.]
And a few more thank yous. To our German hosts: to Minister President of the state of Hessen, Roland Koch; to the good people of Wiesbaden, Friedberg, Hanau, Giessen and Baumholder, you've stood with us in friendship, and your hearts went out to our families when our soldiers went to war. On behalf of President Bush, let me say: Wir danken Ihnen herzlich fuer Ihre Unterstuetzung und Freundschaft. [I want to thank our German hosts heartily for the support and friendship.]
On a personal level, I'd like to express my gratitude and that of the President and Secretary Rumsfeld to [previous commander, Multi-national Force, Iraq] Lieutenant General Rick Sanchez. I've learned to admire General Sanchez's courage, his perseverance and his concern for his troops. Rick, you've laid a strong foundation for [Commander, Multi-national Force, Iraq] General Casey to build on, and we're all deeply grateful for your service. [Applause.]
And last, but certainly not least, [1st Armored Division Commander] General Marty Dempsey. One of your soldiers called you a powerful leader. I can't say it any better. On behalf of the President and the Secretary of Defense, let me thank you for that powerful leadership of this powerful force. Working closely with General Dempsey over the last year and a half, I've learned to admire the many superb qualities of this great soldier. But what I admire most, General, is your enormous attention to your troops. That concern helped them perform impressively in combat. That concern kept morale high when the deployment had to be extended for three months. And it's that concern that brought so many of them home safely. You care about your troops, and they know that you do. That's true leadership. Thank you. [Applause.]
As Ambassador [to Germany, Daniel] Coats said, today is a day to celebrate a job well done, and also a day to remember and honor the 130 men and women of Task Force 1st Armored Division who gave their lives for the cause of freedom. In their memory, we rededicate ourselves to making sure that their sacrifice matters. We join their families in mourning, knowing that we've lost some of the very best men and women of America. We remember them and these words of the prophet Daniel, "Those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever."
For our fallen soldiers, please join me for a moment of silent prayer. [A brief silence is observed.] Thank you.
Sixty years ago, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the soldiers of the 1st Armored Division answered America's call. They made history conducting the first U.S. armored attack of World War II at Kasserine Pass. And so from Salerno to Rome to the iron resolve at the Fulda Gap during the Cold War, they have made history. And now you have taken your place in that unbroken line of valor.
When they write the history of the global war on terror, it will be the history of how brave American soldiers helped make our country safe and the world more secure. It will be about how American soldiers helped to liberate one of the most important countries in the Middle East from the grip of a tyrant who terrorized his own people and supported terrorism against others. It will be the story of how one of the most important countries in that region became America's ally in the fight for freedom.
When the history of this global struggle is finally written, one of the great and glorious chapters will be devoted to the bravery and skill and dedication to duty of the 1st Armored Division Task Force. Thanks to you, Iraqis have started taking back their country, risking their lives. Thousands of Iraqis are joining the fight for a free Iraq.
More than 700 Iraqi soldiers, police and National Guard have already given their lives for that cause, and Iraq's leaders are brave also. They know what it means to have a price on your head, but they want a new Iraq and they are grateful to you for making it possible. Last month the Prime Minister of Iraq, Iyad Allawi, went to our Congress to say so. He thanked America and, most of all, our fighting men and women “for making our cause your cause, our struggle your struggle.” And that is why he said “Iraqis will stand by you, America, in a war larger than either of our nations, the global battle to live in freedom.”
I was in the Oval Office the day President Bush signed the executive order authorizing Operation Iraqi Freedom. He said then that it was the most difficult decision in his life because he understood the terrible cost of war. You and your families know those costs all too well. Yet time and time again, when dangers arise, American soldiers echo the simple, powerful words of the Prophet Isaiah: “Send me.” Send me, they say, until the job is done.
And I know you were looking forward to the end of your tour in Iraq when the word came that we still needed you, America needed you. That was tough news, the toughest news. You'd packed your things, called your families. You'd started making plans. Some of you were even sitting on the airplane. But you responded like Iron Soldiers. As one soldier put it: “We're soldiers, we drive on.” And drive on you did.
In a personal letter to his soldiers, General Dempsey put it like this: “We are being called to finish the fight against Mahdi's Army, which jeopardizes everything we worked for in the past year. Dozens of our fellow soldiers have died, and hundreds more have been wounded to ensure that those with the best ideas, not those with the most guns, lead Iraq into the future. I know,” the general said, “that you are eager to get home. I am, too, but not if it means allowing one thug to replace another. We've worked too hard here to watch that happen.”
One platoon sergeant wasn't about to, either. Wounded and in the hospital in Hillah, he'd “liberated” himself, shall we say, from that hospital, found a helicopter and joined his unit two hours before combat began.
I met another Iron Soldier in May at Walter Reed Army Hospital, after he had lost his left arm and the sight in his left eye. He put his enormous sacrifice into perspective this way. He said, "We're fighting for everything we believe in. Saddam affected everything in that country. Something had to be done."
He's right. Something had to be done, and the soldiers of the 1st Armored Division Task Force did it.
Iron soldiers, Americans are humbly and deeply grateful to you, who labor so selflessly to guard us and to build freedom.
We are deeply grateful to the families and friends who support our soldiers in all things. Each one of you has lived the words of the prophet Isaiah: "See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name. Your walls are ever before me. Your builders outstrip your destroyers."
And now I'd like to share with you a special letter that I've brought with me from Washington.
“To the men and women of the 1st Armored Division, America is safer because of the brave men and women who serve and sacrifice to defend our liberty. Each of you has answered a great call and demonstrated personal courage, love of country and dedication to duty. Our nation is also grateful for the military families who serve our country. We ask for God's special blessing on the families who have lost a loved one. Our country is proud of your service, and I am proud to be your commander in chief. Laura and I join our fellow Americans in welcoming home the 1st Armored Division from your deployment to Iraq.” Signed: “George W. Bush.”
May God bless you and your families, and may God continue to bless America. Thank you. [Applause.]