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Paying a Debt of Gratitude

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Paying a Debt of Gratitude
By Congressman Joe Pitts

November 10, 2005

"These guys are all true patriots. They want to help their country."

Those are the words of Major Roger Redwood, the operations flight commander of the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, based at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas.

The patriots he's referring to are Iraqi Air Force pilots learning how to fly C-130 Hercules aircraft from their counterparts in the U.S. Air Force.

It wasn't long ago that these Iraqi pilots were under the command of Saddam Hussein's brutal and corrupt military regime. Today, they are learning the skills necessary to join with the United States in fighting the global war on terror.

Coalition forces in Afghanistan, serving in Operation Enduring Freedom, have ousted the Taliban regime and continue to work daily to rebuild the country and maintain peace.

Camp Blessing, one of the most remote and isolated posts in Afghanistan, is home to the 3rd Marine Regiment's 2nd Battalion. These Marines are doing the dangerous work of fighting and capturing anti-coalition militia forces and confiscating thousands of pounds of enemy munitions. They're also building into the nearby Afghan communities by forming relationships of trust and mutual respect with local residents glad to have them there.

As we celebrate Veterans Day on Friday, we will rightly pay a debt of gratitude to the thousands of men and women who have worn the uniform in service to our country. It is because of their brave sacrifice that the United States has been able, for more than 200 years, to serve as a beacon of freedom and liberty to the surrounding world.

Veterans of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom are carrying on this commitment to liberty at home and abroad by liberating oppressed populations from tyrannical rulers and lawless insurgents, opening the door to representative government and individual liberty.

Veterans Day provides an appropriate opportunity to take note of the progress being made by our troops serving abroad in these operations.

Three years ago, Saddam Hussein and his lieutenants wielded absolute power over Iraq, brutally suppressing any dissent from his corrupt government. Today, Saddam is in jail, and Iraqis have adopted a constitution upholding the rule of law, with nearly 65 percent of registered voters participating in the vote on the constitutional referendum.

Plans are in place for a new Iraqi parliament to be democratically elected in December, with a four-year termed government set to take office by the beginning of the new year.

Our effort to train and deploy new Iraqi Security Forces is also progressing. As of October, 206,500 Iraqi forces have been trained and equipped. These forces are taking control of the military operations in key cities, including several major districts within Baghdad. As trained Iraqi forces continue taking the lead for the protection and rebuilding efforts in their own country, American forces will be able to step down and return home.

Similar progress has been seen in Afghanistan. U.S.-led coalition forces have removed the Taliban from power, making possible the introduction of democratic government and eliminating a safe haven for terrorists.

Historic Afghan parliamentary elections have been held, marked by widespread voter turnout that included women and minority groups previously disenfranchised by the Taliban.

We have invested enormous resources into rebuilding this war-torn country and the results are showing. We have built or repaired 500 schools, 6,771 miles of road, 20 hospitals and 219 clinics in Afghanistan, and we continue with further reconstruction efforts every day.

The sweep of history shows that American military veterans have played a leading role in stamping out tyranny and expanding freedom around the globe.

This proud tradition continues today in Iraq, Afghanistan and the many other posts across freedom's frontier where our American military serves with courage and distinction.

It is this sacrifice in service to the cause of liberty that free Americans from coast to coast pause to recognize on Veterans Day.

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