REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT THE VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS CONVENTION
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Please, be seated. Thank you so much. Commander Gardner, thank you for your introduction and for your lifetime of service. I was proud to welcome Glen and your executive director, Bob Wallace, to the Oval Office just before the 4th of July, and I look forwarding to working with your next commander, Tommy Tradewell.
I want to also acknowledge Jean Gardner and Sharon Tradewell, as well as Dixie Hild and Jan Title and all the spouses and family of the Ladies Auxiliary. America honors your service as well.
Also Governor Jan Brewer is here, of Arizona; and Mayor Phil Gordon, our host here in Phoenix. I want to acknowledge President -- Dr. Joe Shirley, Jr., President of the Navajo Nation. And this wasn't on my original card, but this is just an extraordinary story and you may have already heard from her, but I just want to publicly acknowledge and thank Ms. Helen Denton the secretary to Dwight Eisenhower -- (applause) -- who typed up the orders for the Normandy invasion and is here today, and what an extraordinary story that is. (Applause.)
Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, I am honored and humbled to stand before you as Commander-in-Chief of the finest military the world has ever known. (Applause.) And we're joined by some of those who make it the finest force in world -- from Luke Air Force Base, members of the 56th Fighter Wing. (Applause.)
Whether you wear the uniform today, or wore it decades ago, you remind us of a fundamental truth. It's not the powerful weapons that make our military the strongest in the world. It's not the sophisticated systems that make us the most advanced. The true strength of our military lies in the spirit and skill of our men and women in uniform. And you know this. (Applause.)
You know this because it's the story of your lives. When fascism seemed unstoppable and our harbor was bombed, you battled across rocky Pacific islands and stormed the beaches of Europe, marching across a continent -- my own grandfather and uncle among your ranks -- liberating millions and turning enemies into allies.
When communism cast its shadow across so much of the globe, you stood vigilant in a long Cold War -- from an airlift in Berlin to the mountains of Korea to the jungles of Vietnam. When that Cold War ended and old hatreds emerged anew, you turned back aggression from Kuwait to Kosovo.
And long after you took off the uniform, you've continued to serve: supporting our troops and their families when they go to war and welcoming them when they come home; working to give our veterans the care they deserve; and when America's heroes are laid to rest, giving every one of them that final fitting tribute of a grateful nation. We can never say it enough: For your service in war and in peace, thank you VFW. Thank you. (Applause.)
Today, the story of your service is carried on by a new generation -- dedicated, courageous men and women who I have the privilege to lead and meet every day.
They're the young sailors, the midshipmen at the Naval Academy, who raised their right hand at graduation and committed themselves to a life of service. They're the soldiers I met in Baghdad who have done their duty, year after year, on a second, third or fourth tour. They're the Marines of Camp Lejeune, preparing to deploy and now serving in Afghanistan to protect Americans here at home. They're the airmen, like those here today, who provide the close air support that saves the lives of our troops on the ground. They're the wounded warriors -- at Landstuhl and Walter Reed and Bethesda and across America -- for whom the battle is not to fight, but simply to speak, to stand, to walk once more. They're the families that my wife Michelle has met at bases across the country. The spouses back home doing the parenting of two, the children who wonder when mom and dad may be coming home; the parents who watch their sons and daughters go off to war; and the families who lay a loved one to rest -- and the pain that lasts a lifetime.
To all those who have served America -- our forces, your families, our veterans -- you have done your duty. You have fulfilled your responsibilities. And now a grateful nation must fulfill ours. And that is what I want to talk about today.
First, we have a solemn responsibility to always lead our men and women in uniform wisely. And that starts with a vision of American leadership that recognizes that military power alone cannot be the first or only answer to the threats facing our nation.
In recent years, our troops have succeeded in every mission America has given them, from toppling the Taliban to deposing a dictator in Iraq to battling brutal insurgencies. At the same time, forces trained for war have been called upon to perform a whole host of missions. Like mayors, they've run local governments and delivered water and electricity. Like aid workers, they've mentored farmers and built new schools. Like diplomats, they've negotiated agreements with tribal sheikhs and local leaders.
But let us never forget we are a country of more than 300 million Americans. Less than 1 percent wears the uniform. And that 1 percent -- our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen -- have borne the overwhelming burden of our security. In fact, perhaps never in American history have so few protected so many.
So the responsibility for our security must not be theirs alone. That is why I have made it a priority to enlist all elements of our national power in defense of our national security -- our diplomacy and development, our economic might and our moral example, because one of the best ways to lead our troops wisely is to prevent the conflicts that cost American blood and treasure tomorrow.
As President, my greatest responsibility is the security and safety of the American people. As I've said before, that is the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, it's the last thing that I think about when I go to sleep at night. And I will not hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests. (Applause.)
But as we protect America, our men and women in uniform must always be treated as what they are: America's most precious resource. As Commander-in-Chief, I have a solemn responsibility for their safety. And there is nothing more sobering than signing a letter of condolence to the family of servicemen or women who have given their lives for our country.
And that's why I have made this pledge to our armed forces: I will only send you into harm's way when it is absolutely necessary. And when I do, it will be based on good intelligence and guided by a sound strategy. I will give you a clear mission, defined goals, and the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That's my commitment to you. (Applause.)
Which brings me to our second responsibility to our armed forces -- giving them the resources and equipment and strategies to meet their missions. We need to keep our military the best-trained, the best-led, the best-equipped fighting force in the world. And that's why, even with our current economic challenges, my budget increases defense spending.
We will ensure that we have the force structure to meet today's missions. And that's why we've increased the size of the Army and the Marine Corps two years ahead of schedule and have approved another temporary increase in the Army. And we've halted personnel reductions in the Navy and Air Force. And this will give our troops more time home between deployments, which means less stress on families and more training for the next mission. (Applause.) And it will help us put an end, once and for all, to stop-loss for those who've done their duty. (Applause.)
We will equip our forces with the assets and technologies they need to fight and win. So my budget funds more of the Army helicopters, crews, and pilots urgently needed in Afghanistan; the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance that gives our troops the advantage; the special operations forces that can deploy on a moment's notice; and for all those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, including our National Guard and Reserve, more of the protective gear and armored vehicles that save lives. (Applause.)
As we fight in two wars, we will plan responsibly, budget honestly, and speak candidly about the costs and consequences of our actions. And that's why I've made sure my budget includes the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Iraq, after more than six years, we took an important step forward in June. We transferred control of all cities and towns to Iraq's security forces. The transition to full Iraqi responsibility for their own security is now underway. This progress is a testament to all those who have served in Iraq, both uniformed and civilian. And our nation owes these Americans -- and all who have given their lives -- a profound debt of gratitude. (Applause.)
Now, as Iraqis take control of their destiny, they will be tested and targeted. Those who seek to sow sectarian division will attempt more senseless bombings and more killing of innocents. This we know.
But as we move forward, the Iraqi people must know that the United States will keep its commitments. And the American people must know that we will move forward with our strategy. We will begin removing our combat brigades from Iraq later this year. We will remove all our combat brigades by the end of next August. And we will remove all our troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. And for America, the Iraq war will end.
By moving forward in Iraq, we're able to refocus on the war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's why I announced a new, comprehensive strategy in March -- a strategy that recognizes that al Qaeda and its allies had moved their base from the remote, tribal areas -- to the remote, tribal areas of Pakistan. This strategy acknowledges that military power alone will not win this war -- that we also need diplomacy and development and good governance. And our new strategy has a clear mission and defined goals: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies.