DAVID GORMAN (DAV executive director): At this time I am very honored to introduce the Honorable Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of Defense -- (cheers) --
Go ahead, give it up. (Cheers, applause.)
-- Deputy Secretary of Defense since 2001 and newly-named president of the World Bank. He has spent more than 30 years as a public servant and educator, including 24 years in government service, serving under six presidents. In March of 2001, he began his third tour at the Defense Department as the 28th deputy secretary of Defense.
In the Pentagon, in the number two post, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz has managed the day-to-day operations and supported Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld in his efforts to transform the United States armed forces to meet the threats of the 21st century. Since the attacks of September 11th, 2001, he has been part of the planning in the global war on terrorism, including military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Recently the World Bank has appointed Mr. Wolfowitz as its tenth president. I want to say -- and Mrs. Nicholson said something that I think bears repeating. You just heard a little bit of his official bio, and you're going to hear him in a moment, but I think it's worth repeating that every Friday night a gentleman in Washington DC, Hal Koster, opens up his restaurant called "Fran O'Brien's" to patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, and they've taken advantage of that and Hal's generosity for about 15 months now, mostly out of his own pocket.
I've been down there, because DAV has been involved with it, a number of times. And I've seen Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz there on at least six different occasions. And he's not there as the deputy secretary of Defense. He's there as the man Paul Wolfowitz, I believe, a man of compassion and caring, who puts aside his business suit and comes down there to sort of say hello to the troops, to thank them for their service, with all the passion and compassion one could expect.
So, Mr. Secretary, for that you have our greatest and deepest thanks. And we'll be pleased to hear from you. (Applause.)
MR. WOLFOWITZ: Thank you, Dave. Rudy is a tough act to follow, and I don't sing very well. (Laughter.) So I'll try and make this short.
I did want to say a special thank-you and tribute to Jim Nicholson, who isn't with us tonight. He's taken on a big responsibility following Tony Principi as secretary of Veterans' Affairs. And I just checked with Jim, and there's no reason not to tell you, he was, as you may know, also our ambassador to the Vatican. He's back in Washington, sorting out arrangements for who will represent us at the Pope's funeral. That's why he's not here. It's pretty important.
And for those of you who are Catholics, may I express, on behalf of all of us, I know, our sympathy and condolences. And to all of us, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, the world has lost a great human being, a great leader, and it's an unusual weekend to be starting here.
On that solemn note, let me start by saying you are an amazing crowd, and why don't you give yourselves a big hand. (Applause.)
I want to thank Bo Derek for the invitation to come here, because that got the attention of my office, and they all said, "You've got to come." (Laughter.) I would have come anyway. And it's a great opportunity, and someone said it very well this afternoon -- I forgot who you were that said, "This is not just recreation; this is serious business."
It is serious business. It's a matter of conquering fears. As people have spoken before, it's a matter of how to get back to the active life that all of you have had at some point or other. It's an incredible, serious business, and I feel privileged to be able to be here.
I just want to say a few thank-yous. That's really why I'm here. I want to thank all of you service members for your service to our country. Whether you're combat veterans or not, you have put on the uniform, you have contributed to a cause greater than yourselves, and we are in your debt. (Applause.)
We are particularly in the debt of all of you who served and sacrificed in combat. You are testimony to the fact that freedom isn't free. And I personally feel deeply indebted to all of you for being able to live in this great country today.
To the veterans of World War II, the veterans of Korea, the veterans of Vietnam, the veterans of Desert Storm, and now our newest combat veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq, you're all heroes. My children, their children, my children's grandchildren, will all live in a better world because of the sacrifice you've made, and I thank you deeply. (Applause.)
You know, when I was visiting Iraq back in the fall of 2003, we visited a city called Mosul that was at that time under the supervision of the 101st Airborne Division - anybody here from the 101st? Screaming Eagles?
Oorah! Air Assault! Okay, not enough - they were louder back thereý Anyway, one of the brigade commanders said to me something I've never forgotten. He said, "When I talk to my troops about their mission here, I say they are doing very much what their grandfathers did in World War II with Japan and Germany -- not just fighting a terrible evil, but also creating an opportunity for new people to enjoy freedom, to become our allies."
President Bush has commented many times; I've heard him say how remarkable it is that he can sit down with the prime minister of Japan, Prime Minister Koizumi, the prime minister of a country that was our enemy 60 years ago, and the two of them talk about how our two countries can cooperate to make the world a more peaceful, freer and more prosperous place.
And we're starting to see some of that change thanks to your sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq. For the first time in the 5,000 years of its history, the Afghan people voted in a free election last October -- (applause) -- eight and a half million of them, almost half of them women, and they did it in the face of death threats.
And on January 30th, we saw another eight and a half million, mostly Muslims again, this time Iraqis, in the face of far more serious death threats. In fact, 44 of them were killed on election day. But they came out. They marked their fingers with that purple ink that marked them as having voted -- not quite sure whether it might also mark them for death. There are some amazing stories from that day. I think I will tell one of them. Again, it was from Mosul. Mosul is still one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq. And in one polling place, General Hamm told me the polls had been open for more than two hours and nobody had voted. But there was a crowd outside, a couple of hundred people, and finally this one old woman in her late 60s came forward. She said, "I've waited my whole life for this opportunity, and I'm not going to miss it." She walked in and voted, and a couple of hundred people followed her. (Applause.)
It's an important event. It's a great victory, although they're still fighting a terrible war there. But none of this could have happened without the courage and sacrifice of so many brave Americans, and we are deeply indebted to you.
But today and this week is for all of you, whether you suffered your injuries in combat, in training accidents -- and those can be pretty terrible -- or any number of other ways. However you got to the starting point, you're facing the same challenges -- the challenges of overcoming those fears, of resuming as much as you can of an active life.
And let me say, from the dozens and dozens and dozens of disabled veterans I've now met from many wars, you're an inspiration for the rest of us. I think you're an inspiration for each other. You're an inspiration for the courage and the determination with which you work at rebuilding your lives. All of those things that Rudy talked about, most of you are living examples of it. You're an inspiration for the commitment you give to one another.
I hope none of you believe that I go to Fran O'Brien's for the free dinners. It's good food, but I don't get a lot of time to eat. But I'll tell you, I do go there for the company. It is the best company in Washington, and arguably anywhere in the world. It's just a wonderful group of people with enormous care about one another and taking care of one another. And it's a privilege to be part of that, just as I know it's going to be a privilege to be part of this weekend.
I have gotten to know so many great heroes from Afghanistan and Iraq. I could go on all night with stories. But if I could just mention a couple that inspire me. And I don't know if -- I'm just about going to tell you who she is, but since I'm not sure she wants me mentioning her name, this young woman was a basketball player at West Point. In fact, she was recruited for basketball. And she went to Iraq as a military policeman and she was hit by an RPG and she lost her right arm, her playing arm.
And I had the privilege of having her accompany me on a trip up to West Point last fall, and I talked to her about how she had ended up at the academy. And she said she was on a recruiting trip, visiting a number of schools that were out to recruit her. The first one was West Point. She got to West Point and she sensed something different about the place. I asked her what it was, and she said it was the sense of people who were committed to each other and committed to something bigger than themselves. And then she said, "I made the right decision. I wish I hadn't lost my arm, but I'd make the same decision all over again." She's amazing. (Applause.)
The other one is a young man, a sergeant in the First Armored Division named Adam (Reploble - sp?). Adam was supposed to have come home and the First Armored Division was supposed to come home last spring; I think it was around April/May. They suddenly got word that there was some trouble because of this thug Sadr, and they'd have to stay a few extra months.
And in combat in Karbala, in southern Iraq, Adam, who was a gunner in a tank, was hit with an RPG, lost his right arm and his left eye. He lost an arm and an eye. An amazing young man; I've known him through the period of recuperation, and I was privileged to have him with me when he went back to Germany last fall, October, for the homecoming of the First Armored Division, and Adam came with me to Landstuhl Hospital, where he visited some newly-arrived wounded soldiers.
One of them was lying flat on his back and Adam asked, "How are you doing?" The soldier looked at Adam with his missing hand and his missing eye and he said, "A lot better than you are." (Laughter.) And Adam said, "I don't know about that. I'm doing pretty damn good."
That kind of attitude, which you just see over and over again, and I'm sure I'm going to see here this week. However you got there, you're such an inspiration for all of us, and makes us truly grateful for the kind of service that you have and the kind of commitment that you have to one another.
It's a great thing that the DAV and the organizers of this clinic have done to pull together the coaches and instructors for this event. It's wonderful. But I know that the real teachers in this room are going to be the participants. You have so much to teach the rest of us. You are our heroes. (Applause.)
Let me just conclude by saying that I know I speak for President Bush when I say that our country must never forget your service and your sacrifices. As the president said at Camp Pendleton back in December, America will show the same sense of duty that you have shown. We will provide the best possible medical care to any American service member wounded in action. And I would add, we must also provide the best ongoing rehabilitation and lifetime support.
So thank you. I hope you have a terrific week here in the Rockies. God bless all of you, and God bless this great country. (Applause.)
MR. GORMAN: Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary. We are honored and pleased that you're here to join us this week.