President Bush Attends Military Appreciation Parade with Chairman of the Joint of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
ADMIRAL MULLEN: President and Mrs. Bush; Mr. Vice President; Secretary and Mrs. Gates; members of the Cabinet; distinguished members of Congress; fellow members of the Joint Chiefs; members of the Armed Forces of the United States, past and present; ladies and gentlemen: Thank you for honoring us with your presence, and welcome to the grounds of the Old Guard, which both sanctify our past and herald our future.
On behalf of the 2.2 million uniform men and women of our Armed Forces, I am humbled to be able to formally thank President and Mrs. Bush for all they have done for our military and for our nation. More than 280,000 are walking point right now on the front lines. They stand tallest with us on this day, and it is right to thank them for making this celebration possible. (Applause.)
Truly it is not my privilege alone to tell the story of the Bush name -- a story that waits not only to be said in volumes, but one carried in the hearts of those patriots out there; a story which rushes with the oral history of life, warm with gratitude, flush with inspiration; a story best told by the voices of our service members themselves, who recently had an opportunity to place in a journal their thoughts to President and Mrs. Bush. Deborah and I passed that journal to the troops as we recently traveled around the world.
And so if you don't mind, Mr. President and Madam First Lady, I wanted to share a few handwritten lines from them.
"Mr. President, thank you and your family for your service. I am proud to serve under you, sir. You are awesome, and made a difference in the world." Staff Sergeant Ward, Queens, New York.
"Sir, nice to see that our President is still quick on his feet after eight years in office." (Laughter.) "Next time, pick up the shoe and throw it back." (Laughter and applause.) "We got your back." Master Sergeant Michael Frazier, United States Air Force.
"Sir, you truly set the standard to uphold the peace and our very way of life so our kids can grow up in a peaceful world. We will always stand tall, one great nation and one great state -- Texas." (Hoo-ah.) Sergeant First Class Claude Corey, Waco, Texas.
"Mrs. Bush, your class and dignity were an inspiration to us all." Lieutenant Colonel Scott Rainey, United States Army, Baghdad.
"Sir, thank you for your service, example and leadership. We have not faltered, we will not fail. With greatest respect and honor, we serve." Signed simply, Your Soldiers.
Those voices are an answering volley to you for your high regard and great respect for every single man and woman who serves this nation.
After this nation was attacked by a rising evil, the same evil which later murdered many others in places like London, Madrid, Islamabad and Mumbai, you quickly led us from the grip of fear to a serenity of purpose and unity of action -- serenity well beyond our dreams on September 12th, when all thought further attack was not only likely, but gravely imminent. And through your vision, a new national security was rendered to reach our enemies where they hid and trained and celebrated deadly crimes.
We sent our forces to hills and caves, alongside tribesman on horseback to root them out and hunt them down. We liberated Iraq from tyranny, now on the road to renewal. And we are shifting our focus to Afghanistan. We applauded as you, Mrs. Bush, worked for the freedom and education of young women, and gave hope to children scarred by hate. And always, sir, we felt your unmatched confidence in us, which only made us better.
Yes, we know these images well and we treasure them. But what wasn't always often an image was how you, as our First Family, fully embraced our military family with words of love and prayers of hope. For you have proven that how well we care for our wounded and the families of the fallen defines who and what we really are as a nation. You made it personal, and that has made all the difference.
With quiet dignity, you stretched out hands to those touched by loss, unimaginable loss that can never be made whole so they might be touched yet again.
There are many moments I will never forget, such as when you, Mr. President, presented Michael Monsoor's family with the Medal of Honor, and how in that very presidential setting you were so visibly moved. We will never know of all the private embraces and words of healing that you provided, but we do know the wholeness they created. For with every minute which melted into many gracious hours spent with our veterans and families, you gave something precious to us all -- gifts which will forever adorn our chords of memory.
Indeed, not far from these grounds where both Union and Confederate soldiers lay in white, tented hospitals, President Lincoln also walked through the lines and personally brought the meaning of hope and sacrifice to those straining to touch it from every side. So true today. A reporter who followed Lincoln wrote, "From the outset, he was the personal friend of every soldier he sent to the front, and somehow, every man seemed to know it." So true today.
In my 44 years of wearing this uniform, I have never seen the American public and our military as bonded in understanding, purpose, and spirit as I do right now. For this, Mr. President, we owe you our greatest gratitude.
Finally, sir, I want to personally thank you for your trust in me as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and, honestly, a trust I do not hold alone, a confidence every other uniformed member also holds so dear: the honor to serve and represent the American people.
Mr. President, you have selected a tremendous civilian leadership team in Secretary Gates and the Deputy Secretary, our former Secretary of the Navy, Gordon England. It is a great personal honor to serve alongside them.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you the Secretary of Defense, the honorable Robert Gates. (Applause.)
SECRETARY GATES: Thank you, Admiral Mullen.
Some of you of a certain generation might remember a line from the John Wayne movie, "Red River" -- an epic story of a thousand-mile cattle drive across Texas. At one point, one of the characters says, "There's three times in a life -- in a man's life when he has the right to yell at the moon -- when he marries, when his children come, and when he finishes a job he had to be crazy to start." (Laughter.) Well, before President Bush finishes his job, I'm pleased to have this chance, on behalf of the United States military, to pay tribute to our Commander-in-Chief, and to give him proper thanks.
The legacy of George W. Bush in matters of war and peace began taking form more than a year before he first took the oath of office. In the fall of 1999, then Governor Bush gave a speech at the Citadel, titled, "A Period of Consequences." He observed that nearly a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States military was still organized more for Cold War threats than for the challenges of a new century -- what he called an era of car-bombers and plutonium merchants and cyber-terrorists and drug cartels and unbalanced dictators, all the unconventional and invisible threats of new technologies and old hatreds.
On a bright Tuesday morning in September, eight months into President Bush's first term, we learned how dangerous and unpredictable this new era could be, and saw in the starkest terms how necessary was the task of transforming the American defense establishment to meet these challenges. It was a task inspired by the vision of President Bush, propelled by the energetic advocacy of Secretary Rumsfeld, informed by the experience of our senior military leaders, and accelerated by the urgent demands of two unconventional ground wars.
The result is an American military that has become more agile, lethal, and prepared to deal with the full spectrum of 21st century conflict -- and on a personal note, a force that is dramatically more deployable and expeditionary than when I last served in government 15 years ago.
Consider just a few of the historical changes: The Army has undergone its most significant restructuring in more than two generations, moving from a division-based to a modular brigades-based force. The Navy's fleet response plan has nearly doubled the number of strike carrier groups that can be surged in the first weeks of a crisis.
America's Special Forces have seen vast increases in budget, personnel, authorities, and most importantly, in capabilities in the campaign against terrorism worldwide. The number of unmanned aerial vehicles has grown some 40-fold, to more than 6,000, and we have seen a genuine revolution in the military's ability to fuse intelligence and operations.
Cold War basing arrangements in Germany, Korea and Japan have been modernized and sized to better reflect the security requirements of this century. New authorities and programs enable the military to build the capacity of allies and partners in cooperation with civilian agencies and organizations. And much, much more.
As this historical institutional shift was underway, President Bush led our military through two major conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a broader struggle against terrorist networks worldwide. He has not flinched when faced with difficult wartime decisions, including the momentous decision two years ago to send more troops into Iraq and revamp our strategy there.
Nor has the President ever hidden from the human consequences of his decisions. We have seen this in countless visits with the wounded at Walter Reed, Bethesda, and other military hospitals. And there are the meetings that he and the First Lady have held with thousands of family members of wounded and fallen troops. The President's deep regard and affection for our service members and their families has played out in ways big and small: Surprise visits to Iraq and Afghanistan to shake hands and high-five, and personal phone calls to those deployed over Thanksgiving, even the occasional chest bump to unwary cadets.
Some might remember the story of Staff Sergeant Michael McNaughton of Louisiana National Guard. In January 2003, he stepped on a landmine 30 miles north of Kabul, and lost his right leg. President Bush visited Michael at Walter Reed, and suggested they go for a run when he received his prosthetic. Months later, Michael and the President jogged around the South Lawn of the White House together. A single promise to a single soldier: A small act that reflects President Bush's commitment to care for and honor every member of the Armed Forces.
Mr. President, every day these volunteers execute your orders with courage and determination, facing down danger for the greater good of America. On behalf of more than two million men and women in uniform, we are deeply grateful for your leadership and service to America in a time of war.
Finally, and personally, I would like to thank you for granting me the opportunity to serve as Secretary of Defense. It is true that I have been known to grouse from time to time about coming back to Washington, D.C. Yet working every day with our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines has been the greatest honor of my life. And I will always owe you a debt of gratitude for that. I have appreciated your steadfast confidence and support over these past two years, and I wish you and Laura the very best as you begin the next phase of your lives.
Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. At ease.
Mr. Secretary, thank you for the kind introduction -- and thank you for being an outstanding Secretary of Defense. (Applause.) For a while, we expected this event to be a joint retirement party. It didn't turn out that way, did it? (Laughter.) I am pleased that President-Elect Obama has asked you to stay on, and I am confident that you'll continue to be a strong leader as the Secretary of Defense. (Applause.)
And, Admiral Mullen, thank you for your strong advice, your clear thinking, and your years of service to our country. (Applause.)
I want to thank you for honoring Laura, who's been a fabulous First Lady. (Applause.) The military gave her the Distinguished Service Award -- a lot of friends from Texas think she deserved the Purple Heart. (Laughter.) I wish I'd have thought of the roses.
Mr. Vice President, I am proud to have served with you for eight years. The military has had no stauncher defender in my administration than Vice President Dick Cheney. (Applause.)
I thank members of the Cabinet, members of the administration, and former members of the Cabinet, especially the former Secretary of Defense, who did an outstanding job -- Secretary Don Rumsfeld. (Applause.)
I thank the current members of the Joint Chiefs and their families, as well as the former members of the Joint Chiefs and their families for joining us today. I want to thank those who wear the uniform; distinguished guests.
As my time in office winds down, the days bring a series of "lasts." I made my last overseas trip on Air Force One. I have delivered my final college commencement as President. And after much consideration, I pardoned my last Thanksgiving turkey. (Laughter.) These have all been wonderful experiences. But nothing compares to the honor of standing before you today, and addressing America's Armed Forces as your Commander-in-Chief.
Over the past eight years, I have seen the valor of the American military time and time again. I saw your valor on September the 11th, 2001, in service members rushing into smoke-filled corridors to save their colleagues at the Pentagon -- and in planes patrolling the skies above New York City and Washington. I saw your valor in the days after the attack, when Americans crowded into recruiting centers across our country, raised their hands to serve, and pledged to defend our people and our freedom.
I saw your valor in the forces who deployed to Afghanistan. Within weeks of September the 11th, you closed down the terrorist training camps, and you drove the Taliban from power. I saw your valor in the fearless troops who stormed across the Iraqi desert -- and destroyed a regime that threatened America. I saw your valor in battle-tested warriors who signed up for a second, or third, or fourth tour -- and made the surge in Iraq one of the great successes in America's military history.
The valor of America's Armed Forces have made our nation safer. Because you've taken the fight to the terrorists abroad, we have not had to face them here at home. And the world has seen something that almost no one thought possible: More than seven years after September the 11th, there has not been another attack on American soil.
The decisions I made as your Commander-in-Chief have not always been popular. But the cause you have served has always been just and right. The missions you have carried out have always been necessary. And the work you have done has every bit -- has been every bit as courageous and idealistic as that of any generation that came before you.
In the years since the war on terror began, America's Armed Forces have led the largest military liberation since World War II. Because of your actions, more than 50 million Afghans and Iraqis have seen the chains of despotism broken -- and are living in the liberty that the Creator intended. The new wave of freedom in the Middle East has made America more secure at home -- because it is undermining the culture of tyranny that fosters radicalism.
There will become a day when your grandchildren will ask, what did you do during your time in uniform? And you'll be able to say: We made the military stronger. We made the world freer. And we made America more secure.
You'll be able to tell them the story of the first decade in the 21st century -- their early days of a generational struggle against terror and extremism. It is a story of a global coalition led by the United States that is dedicated to eliminating the forces of oppression and fear. It is the story of the Iraqi people proudly holding up ink-stained fingers to show that the threat of violence could not break their commitment to liberty. It is the story of young girls going to school in Afghanistan after years when educating a woman could be punished with beatings or imprisonment. It is the story about the character in men and women who volunteered to leave the comforts of home to defend freedom and keep our nation safe.
On behalf of the American people, I thank you for making that sacrifice. I know you have not shouldered the burdens of military life alone. You've had the support of strong and loving families to sustain you. And this morning, I want all of you and your families to hear your Commander-in-Chief loud and clear: We appreciate you, we love you, and we honor your service. (Applause.)
We also honor our wounded warriors -- and those who never returned home from the field of battle. In their sacrifices, we see one of the extraordinary legacies of our Armed Forces -- the willingness to give everything to secure safety at home and liberty abroad.
As the Admiral pointed out, we saw that selfless spirit in people like Petty Officer Michael Monsoor, a Navy SEAL who served in Iraq. In the fall of 2006, on a rooftop in Iraq, Mike threw himself onto a grenade in order to save the lives of his teammates. As Admiral Mullen mentioned, I had the honor of presenting Michael Monsoor's parents his posthumous Medal of Honor in the White House. On that day, I saw the deep sadness that is familiar to anyone who has lost a loved one in the line of duty. But I also saw the pride that comes with such noble sacrifice -- and the recognition that our freedom and our security only endure because of the acts of bravery like Michael Monsoor's.
That kind of courage, character, and devotion defines our Armed Forces. So this morning, I cannot accept your kind tribute unless I'm allowed to return the favor. To the men and women of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and all those who serve in the Department of Defense: You have the respect of a grateful nation that you have kept safe. You have the admiration of millions around the world who would have never tasted freedom without you. You have the undying love and respect of a man who has been proud to call himself your Commander-in-Chief.
Two weeks from today, Laura and I will take our final trip back to Texas -- or, as you Texans understand, back to the promised land. We have the honor of doing it onboard a 747 piloted by the United States Air Force -- Colonel Mark Tillman will be the lead pilot. This brings a fitting symmetry: The military brought me to Washington eight years ago -- and on January the 20th, the military is taking me home.
We will take with us many fond memories that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. We will always remember that you answered the call to serve when your nation needed you most. We will always remember that you did your duty with honor and dignity. And we will always remember the debt of gratitude that each of us who lives in freedom owes to each of you who has protected it.
May God bless you. And may God always bless the United States. (Applause.)