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Public Statements

Honoring Our Armed Forces

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, today I rise to talk about the ongoing war in Iraq, but more importantly to recognize a few of those soldiers who sometimes get lost in the mounting rolls of casualty listings and to speak to the reality of war as seen through the eyes of a State that has a long tradition of sending young men and women onto the battlefield.

I have been in every county in my State many times, and I cannot think of one county in Arkansas that does not have some sort of war memorial. In fact, most of those are at the county courthouse. In fact, War Memorial Stadium is in Little Rock; it is where the Razorbacks play their games. You can go all over the State and see memorials to men and women who have served and died in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and now we are adding memorials for those who have died in Iraq. In fact, in some parts of Arkansas, you can visit the graves of Revolutionary War soldiers who actually-even though Arkansas wasn't even a State or a territory during that time, we have taken those graves, honored them, and we are proud that they migrated to the area known as Arkansas. We feel connected to the Revolutionary War through them.

Sometimes it is easy to feel disconnected from the war effort. Even though there is 24-hour news coverage dominated by visions of our men and women in uniform fighting for freedom in Iraq, the pictures, words, and stories can have a numbing effect. We start paying attention to other matters, and we try to live our daily lives and try to put the echoes of war in the background. But sometimes all it takes is one event to snap us back, to grab our attention and make us more attuned to the conflict we face.

The tragic events in Iraq in April have brought with it 115 American military fatalities; major combat in Fallujah; and a rush of kidnapping, bombings, and other insurgent attacks that have terrorized not just American soldiers but innocent Iraqis.

April has also brought our full attention as a Nation back to the war in Iraq. Almost a year later, we fully realize there is still work to be done militarily and diplomatically, and that our mission is not yet accomplished.

As for the citizens of Arkansas, we have in the past few weeks experienced both the joy and pain that is associated with being a standard bearer for freedom and democracy. We are a country that has and will continue to risk life and limb, not only to protect our freedom and liberty but to extend those same opportunities to all people in all places. It is something of which we can and should be proud. But as we know, it often comes with the most precious sacrifice.

On April 22, we were fortunate enough to welcome home 106 Army National Guard soldiers, members of the 1123rd Transportation Company based in Marked Tree, AR, and Blytheville, AR. Also, more than 60 Army Reserve soldiers from Company C of the 489th Engineer Battalion returned to their home bases in Arkansas last week after spending more than a year in Iraq. These units spent more than a year in Iraq helping rebuild Iraqi cities, providing protection and logistical support, and destroying enemy weapons.

I commend these men and women for their brave service. Some of them were away from their families for far longer than they expected, but they are now home, and I, along with all Arkansans and all Americans, welcome them back.

Mr. President, while Arkansans rejoiced in the news of having a collection of our men and women return safely, we at the same time faced the harsh reality that some of our men and women would pay the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

On Saturday, April 24, four soldiers, all members of the Arkansas Army National Guard's 39th Infantry Brigade, were killed in Taji, Iraq, as a result of hostile fire when rockets hit their camp. An additional soldier was killed a day later when a roadside bomb detonated near Sadr City.

To let my colleagues know, there are approximately 4,200 troops in the 39th Infantry Brigade, including about 2,800 Arkansans from 47 hometown units. The balance of the troops are from 10 other States.

The 39th was officially called to active duty last September, and I watched their progress as they trained and prepared to fulfill their mission.

In January, I traveled to Fort Hood, TX, to visit troops from the 1st Cavalry Division and the 39th Infantry Brigade. During my trip, I witnessed demonstrations of topnotch training and cutting-edge equipment that will enable these soldiers to successfully carry out their mission in Iraq.

I again visited them at Fort Polk, LA, with other members of Arkansas's congressional delegation. I was truly proud of what I witnessed. I saw Arkansans who had undergone long days of training and preparation and were aware of the dangerous conditions and challenges that lay ahead for them in Iraq. However, they remained in high spirits and were determined to carry out their mission.

I am inspired by these men and women, patriots all, who have taken determination and commitment to a new level. I know the sacrifice and the dedication of the 39th will help bring stability and democracy to the streets of Iraq.

We wished these soldiers well, knowing it was a matter of days before they would be sent to Iraq. In March, they were sent over. Since their departure, we have all gone to bed with prayers in our minds and hope in our hearts that all the members of the 39th would return home safely. The events of the past few weeks have prevented this from happening, although we remain hopeful.

I stand here today to extend my deepest sympathies to their families and honor them for their commitment and sacrifice. The brave men and women who have surrendered their lives this weekend so others might enjoy freedom include:

U.S. Army CPT Arthur "Bo" Felder, 36, of Lewisville, AR. He had served in the National Guard since 1986, a year after he graduated from Lewisville High School. Felder served as a youth director at St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church in North Little Rock.

U.S. Army CWO 3 Patrick Kordsmeier, 49, of North Little Rock, AR, who died tending the soldiers injured in the first blast when he was killed by a second attack. He was up for retirement before the war in Iraq began, but he asked for an extension so he might serve. He was born in Little Rock. He reminds me of that phrase in the Bible where it talks about there is no greater love than one who lays down his life for a friend. That is exactly what he did;

U.S. Army SSG Stacey Brandon, 35, of Hazen. He was a prison guard for the Arkansas Department of Correction and later worked at the Federal prison in Forrest City;

U.S. Army SSG Billy Orton, 41, of Humnoke, AR. His wife and children reside in Carlisle, AR, and his mother in Hazen;

U.S. Army SP Kenneth Melton, 30, of Batesville, AR. Melton was traveling as part of a protection team with battalion leaders when a roadside bomb exploded, taking his life.

The events of this past weekend almost double the number of troops my State has previously lost during the war in Iraq. Arkansas has lost eight soldiers prior to this weekend.

To put this in perspective, no single day during Vietnam saw as many Arkansans killed by hostile fire as this past Saturday. In fact, Saturday's events are the bloodiest for Arkansas's soldiers since December 2, 1950, when five Arkansans were killed during combat in Korea.

I also honor the other eight soldiers who gave their lives during combat in Iraq. They include:

U.S. Army SFC William Labadie, 45, of Bauxite, AR, who died 2 weeks after being deployed. Labadie was also assigned to the 1st Cavalry, 39th Brigade, Troop E-151 Cavalry, Camp Taji in Kuwait;

U.S. Army SP Ahmed "Mel" Cason, 24, died on April 4 in Baghdad. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division in Fort Hood. Cason grew up in McGehee and many of his relatives now live in Maumelle, AR;

U.S. Army 1LT Adam Mooney, 28, of Cambridge, MD. His helicopter went down in the Tigris River in Mosul, Iraq, during a search for a missing soldier. His wife now lives in Conway, AR;

U.S. Army MSG Kevin Morehead, 33, a special forces soldier from Little Rock who had previously received a Bronze Star with valor in Afghanistan, died on September 12, 2003, from hostile fire in Ramadi, Iraq;

U.S. Army SP Dustin McGaugh, 20, of Derby, KS, died on September 30 in Balad, Iraq. His mother resides in Tulsa, OK, and his father in Springdale, AR. McGaugh grew up in Springdale and joined the Army ROTC after he graduated from high school in 2001;

U.S. Army PFC Jonathan M. Cheatham, 19, of Camden, AR, my father's hometown. He was assigned to the 489th Engineer Battalion, U.S. Army Reserve, North Little Rock, AR. He was killed while riding in a convoy that came under a rocket-propelled grenade attack on July 26 in Baghdad;

U.S. Marine Corps PFC Brandon Smith, 20, of Washington, AR, died March 18, 2004, in Qaim, Iraq, on the eve of the anniversary of the war. He was trying to help comrades under attack when he was killed by mortar fire;

U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman Third Class Michael Vann Johnson, Jr., of Little Rock, AR. He was the first Arkansan to die during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In fact, one of my staff in Little Rock was visiting a doctor several days ago and it so happened he started talking to the woman who was assisting in the doctor's office, and it was Michael Vann Johnson's mother. It happened to be the 1-year anniversary of his death in Iraq.

We have not lost nearly as many as other States, but our loss is just as real. The grieving is just as sorrowful, and the fear that there may be more coming is just as frightening, but our resolve is just as strong.

This is a very real war for the people of my State. It impacts every community. It seems as if everybody in my State knows of someone who has served, is serving, or who will serve in Iraq.

We might not all agree on how we got where we are. We might not all agree with all the decisions that have been made by this administration. But we stand behind our troops and are truly inspired by their dedication. We are proud of our professional soldiers, Guard members and reservists who left behind their families and way of life to fight in a land that is not theirs for people they do not know.

The soldiers we have lost will never be forgotten. They, along with all our soldiers, will be remembered for their strength and dedication in bringing independence to the Iraqi nation, and they will be defined as heroes of the 21st century.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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