Thank you very much, General Fontaine, General Vines, troops, volunteers all, it’s terrific to be with you.
General Vines, you made it sound like I can’t hold a job.
I am really delighted to be here. And to all of you gathered here and to those who are out on duty – but stationed here -- let me begin by conveying an important message to each of you. The American people and I are profoundly grateful to each of you for your service and for your sacrifice, and I should add, we’re grateful also to your family and loved ones who sacrifice as well.
They recognize – I think – that you folks are being called on to do things that we’ve really never asked U.S. forces to do before, to simultaneously be warriors, humanitarians, diplomats -- even in many cases well outside of your own specialty and in many cases outside of your own service branch.
From pharmacists to fighter pilots, you are serving with the professionalism, with dedication, and I might add, with good humor – that’s the hallmark of American fighting men and women through the decades.
I think of a man like Senior Airman Douglas Batchelder – is he here? I’m told that back in November 2003 he was wounded in a rocket attack just a few hours after arriving in Iraq. After five surgeries and some 18 months of recovery, he chose to stay in the Air Force and indeed he returned to Iraq – and now fixes armament used for the 64th Helicopter Maintenance Unit here on this base. And I thank him for it.
You folks are making the extraordinary seem routine.
There are Airmen manning gun trucks for Army supply convoys.
I’m told – there are mechanics from the 732nd Expeditionary Mission Support Group armoring up vehicles for the Army. And I am told that in 72 man-hours Air Force mechanics can strip down and re-armor a 5-ton truck and send it out the gate ready for action. A NASCAR pit crew could hardly do any better.
The doctors, the nurses, and other medical personnel of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group are providing care that I’m told is comparable to the finest medical facilities in the world, and they’re doing it here in the middle of Iraq.
Through your work you have touched the lives of thousands of people, certainly your fellow Americans – you know that.
They follow so closely what you’re doing-- also the Iraqi people -- and even Iraqi children -- those who live just beyond the gates of this base. You have reached out to them – I’m told -- with kindness and generosity – and compassion they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
I know that because over the years I’ve met number of people who were living in war zones in World War II who were befriended by American servicemen and women whose lives were touched and they never forgot it.
So those relationships are important, and nowhere more so than here in this part of the world. I say that because this conflict at its core is really much more than a military battle. In a major sense it’s an ideological campaign, it’s a struggle. It’s a struggle extremists and moderates within that religion. It’s a test of wills, to be sure. It’s also a struggle between hatred and hope.
From time to time I have to remind people in the United States that America is not what’s wrong with the world. Those who behead people, those who murder innocent men, women and children are what’s wrong with the world.
It’s amazing to me that anyone would have to say that -- but I must say -- given what I hear in Washington, it’s clear that that must be said and it must be said again and again.
Think about what happened in a Baghdad neighborhood just a few weeks ago. Some U.S. soldiers, I’m told, had stopped their Humvee and – in a sight that has become familiar the world over – some children flocked around the Humvee and flocked around the soldiers.
And seconds later, a suicide bomber plowed into the gathering, killing that soldier, and over twenty Iraqi children.
So much has been left out about what is at stake here. Imagine the kind of a world we would leave to our children – and grandchildren, if we allow those people – the perpetrators of those massacre, and others like them – to have their way.
The extremists, having failed every one of their major objectives are reduced to slaughtering increasingly innocent Iraqi men, women and children. They have the hope of bending the survivors to their will. But thanks to you, terrorists are far from achieving their goals.
To be sure, suicide bombings continue today, and I must say that the violence continues – they’re going to get larger headlines here and around the world. The deadline for drafting the new Iraqi constitution is drawing near – August 15th. I just met with the leaders who are in the process of trying to pull together the diverse elements in this country to fashion a constitution – something they have no experience doing. A piece of paper that will protect each of the various elements from each other and they have great confidence that they will succeed by August 15th.
But as in the past, when the Iraqi people have approached a major milestone along this difficult path toward democracy and self-governance, the attacks from the terrorists have increase – and I suspect we may very well see that between now and the October 15th date when the new constitution is scheduled to be voted on – and then the elections to be held, I believe on December 15th later this year.
But if history has shown us anything, it is that suicide attacks, whether by extremists in Iraq today, or by Kanujaze pilots over the Pacific Ocean 60 years ago, are not really a sign of strength. They are signs of weakness – and to some extend a sign of desperation.
The Zarqawis and the Bin Ladens – just as the fascists and the fanatics before them – have really nothing to offer but death. So they try to destroy things that they could not build, and they try to kill the people they cannot persuade.
The mission of the multi-national Coalition in Iraq -- the mission that you are leading here -- is to help create an environment where the democratically elected Iraqi government and their security forces can contain and ultimately defeat the insurgents.
It will not be an easy. I know that you endure the heat, separation from families, occasional mortar rounds even inside the compound.
A young man who works on this base, I’m told, put it this way when he was interviewed, he said, “It’s the hardest job I ever had, and it’s also the most important job I’ve ever had.” He has it right.
You’re part of a mission that has liberated some 50 million people between Afghanistan and Iraq. You’ve liberated them from a life of terror, repression and despotism.
You’re helping to build a future where pride and dignity come from building and creating things instead of destroying them.
Your work is important work. It’s noble work. It’s work that will benefit the future generations of Americans to be sure, and it’s work that will not be forgotten.
I thank each of you for your service to our country and to your fellow citizens.
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