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STUDENT LOAN DEBT
Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, one of the most heartbreaking yet underreported consequences of the Obama economy is the extent to which college graduates today are stepping out into a world where the possibilities no longer seem endless. Unlike generations past, today's college graduates are more likely to end up either unemployed or back at home with mom and dad, saddled with student loan debt that they are to end up with for the rest of their lives. And they don't tend to have the opportunity to get that job of their dreams.
For a great many of them, the excitement and the promise of President Obama's campaign 4 years ago have long since faded as their hopes collided with an economy that he has done so much to reshape. So it is understandable that the President is so busy these days trying to persuade these students that the struggles they face or will soon face have more to do with a piece of legislation we expect to fix than with his own failed promises. It is understandable that he would want to make them believe the fairy tale that there are villains in Washington who would rather help millionaires and billionaires than struggling college students. But that doesn't make this kind of deception any more acceptable.
Today the President will hold another rally at which he will tell students that unless Congress acts, their interest rates will go up in July. What he won't tell them is that he cared so little about this legislation that created this problem 5 years ago that he didn't even show up to vote for it and that once he became President, he didn't even bother to include a fix for this problem in his own budget.
Look, if the President was more interested in solving this problem than in hearing the sound of his own voice or the applause of college students, all he would have to do is pick up the phone and work it out with Congress. We don't want the interest rates on these loans to double in this economy. We don't want today's graduates to have to suffer any more than they already are as a result of this President's failure to turn the economy around after more than 3 years in office. Really, the only question is how to pay for it. Democrats want to pay for it by raiding Social Security and Medicare and by making it even harder for small businesses to hire. We happen to think that at a time when millions of Americans and countless college students can't even find a decent job, it makes no sense whatsoever to punish the very businesses we are counting on to hire them. It is counterproductive and clearly the wrong direction to take.
So let's be honest. The only reason Democrats have proposed this particular solution to the problem is to get Republicans to oppose it and to make us cast a vote they think will make us look bad to voters they need to win in the next election. Earlier this week they admitted to using the Senate floor as an extension of the Obama campaign. So no one should be surprised that they opted for a political show vote over a solution.
What Republicans are saying is let's end the political games and solve the problem like adults. This is an easy one. The only real challenge in this debate is coaxing the President off the campaign trail and up to the negotiating table to get him to choose results over rallies. We can solve the problems we face if only he will let us do it.
HONORING OUR ARMED FORCES
STAFF SERGEANT GARY L. WOODS, JR.
Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, with great sadness I wish to report to my colleagues today that our Nation and my home State of Kentucky have lost a brave and valiant soldier who pledged his life to protecting others. SSG Gary L. Woods, Jr., of Shepherdsville, KY, was killed on April 10, 2009, in Mosul, Iraq, in a terrorist suicide bomber attack. He was 24 years old.
For his service to America, Staff Sergeant Woods received several medals, awards, and decorations, including the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, two Army Commendation Medals, three Army Achievement Medals, two Army Good Conduct Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, three Iraq Campaign Medals with Bronze Service Stars, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, two Noncommissioned Officers Professional Development Ribbons, the Army Service Ribbon, and three Overseas Service Ribbons.
Staff Sergeant Woods, who went by Lee, was born on June 24, 1984, on a Sunday. ``He had very light brown hair and beautiful blue eyes,'' remembers Lee's mother, Becky Johnson. ``He was my first-born child and my only son.''
Lee grew up in Shepherdsville, where he attended Roby Elementary School, Bullitt Lick Middle School, and Bullitt Central High School, from which he graduated in 2002. In school he participated in Bullitt County's Gifted and Talented Program, and was a member of the academic team in both middle school and high school.
Lee also loved music. He played the trumpet, baritone, and trombone in school and sang in the concert choir. He taught himself how to play piano at age 6. He played the guitar, too, and took a guitar with him on two tours in Iraq to entertain his friends. Lee also played the drums.
``Before returning from his second tour he ordered a set of drums and had them delivered to my house,'' Becky remembers. ``When he came home on family leave, he had to set them up the minute he got there, and played them in my basement for a full week. I would give anything to hear him beat on those drums again!''
Lee also enjoyed drawing pictures, fishing, camping, and woodworking. He was obviously a talented young man. But his mother will always remember music as one of his greatest loves.
During his sophomore year at high school, Lee joined Junior ROTC. It was then that he first had the idea to one day join the service. In January 2003, Lee told his mother that he had joined the Army.
Becky was surprised at first, but when Lee laid out his argument, she could see that he had given the opportunity serious thought and was excited about the future. ``I knew at that instant that my son had become one heck of a man,'' she says. ``He had listened to me all those years after all. I couldn't say anything except, `I love you and I will always support you 110 percent.' ''
Lee entered active service in February 2003, and did his basic training at Fort Knox, in my home State of Kentucky. He graduated as a tank armor crewman and deployed on his first of three missions to Iraq from August 2003 to March 2004. Lee's second Iraq deployment lasted from March 2005 to February 2006.
After his second deployment, Lee got a reassignment to the First Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, based in Fort Carson, CO. He deployed for the third and final time to Iraq in September 2008, and received a promotion to staff sergeant soon afterwards in December.
In January 2009, one of Lee's fellow soldiers and close friends, Darrell Hernandez, was killed, and Lee escorted his friend back home in February. ``Soon after returning from this, he volunteered for a mission that would take his own life and the lives of four other U.S. soldiers,'' Becky remembers.
That mission put Lee in a convoy of five vehicles that on April 10, 2009, exited the gates of Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, Iraq. Shortly after leaving the base, a dump truck sped towards the convoy. Lee was driving the fifth and last vehicle.
Lee drove to put his gunner in position to fire on the dump truck. But tragically, that dump truck detonated with 10,000 pounds of explosives, killing Staff Sergeant Gary L. Woods, Jr., and four other American soldiers.
``The FBI says [that the dump truck's] destination was [the forward operating base at] Marez,'' says Lee's mother Becky. ``If in fact the FOB was the target, these five men saved the lives of thousands of soldiers on the FOB.''
On the same day that Lee acted heroically to save his fellow soldiers at the cost of his own life, half a world away Becky Johnson heard the knock at the door that all military families dread.
``Those men in the dress-green uniforms with the highly polished black shoes came to my house,'' she remembers. ``Yes, I noticed their shoes, because that was all I could look at while they asked me if I was Becky Johnson. I told them no as my husband stood behind me shaking his head yes.''
We are thinking of Staff Sergeant Woods's loved ones as I recount his story for my colleagues today, Mr. President, including his mother and stepfather, Becky and Pat Johnson; his father and stepmother, Gary and Debbie Woods; his sister, Britteny Lynn Woods; his two half-brothers, Courtney and Troy Woods; his half-sister, Heather Woods; his step-sister, Mandy Maraman; his two step-brothers, Newman and Corey Johnson; his grandmother, Nancy Ratliff; and many other beloved family members and friends.
Staff Sergeant Woods's loss in the line of duty is tragic. However, as small a comfort as it may be, I am pleased to report that his family may take some solace in the fact that a terrorist connected to the suicide bombing that caused Lee's death was arrested in Edmonton, Canada, and Lee's family can look forward to the prosecution of this terrorist and justice for Lee.
Becky Johnson intends to attend the trial and speak in the sentencing phase. May she and her family have the strength they will surely need to endure this process, and may they find peace in its final outcome.
I ask my Senate colleagues to join me in saying to the family of Staff Sergeant Woods that our Nation is forever grateful to them and recognizes the great cost they have paid. This Nation will never forget the heroism of SSG Gary L. Woods, Jr., or his great service and sacrifice.
Madam President, I yield the floor.
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