WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2010 — The bravery, resolve, expertise and commitment of American servicemembers proves that America’s best days lie ahead, President Barack Obama said at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan today.
Obama thanked American servicemembers and civilians for their sacrifices during a visit to the headquarters of Regional Command East. The command, built around the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, is responsible for some of the toughest territory in Afghanistan.
Obama arrived at Bagram and met with Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry. The president visited the Bagram hospital and awarded five Purple Heart medals to wounded servicemembers there. He then met with a platoon of 101st Airborne troopers who lost six soldiers Nov. 29 when an Afghan Border Police trainee opened fire on them.
Obama spoke to more than 3,500 servicemembers in a hangar at the base. He thanked them for their service and said they are part of an unbroken line of Americans “who have given up your comfort, your ease, your convenience, for America’s security.”
The president traced the sacrifices of previous generations of Americans who’d also found themselves serving in war during a season of peace. “They did it for the same reason that all of you do,” Obama said. “Because the freedom and the liberty that we treasure, that’s not simply a birthright. It has to be earned by the sacrifices of generations — generations of patriots, men and women, who step forward and say, ‘Send me.’ ”
A year ago, the president ordered a surge of 30,000 more American troops into Afghanistan. Some 95,000 U.S. servicemembers and thousands of American civilians now serve in Afghanistan.
“Thanks to your service, we are making important progress,” the president said. “You are protecting your country. You are achieving your objectives. You will succeed in your mission.”
The NATO effort has halted the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan, the president said, as NATO and Afghan government forces have reclaimed and held large swaths of the nation. “You’re going on the offense, tired of playing defense, targeting their leaders, pushing them out of their strongholds,” he said.
Obama told the servicemembers and civilians they can be proud that because of their efforts and sacrifices, Afghanistan today has a more hopeful future. Progress is slow, the president acknowledged, and has come at a high price.
“So many of you have stood before the solemn battle cross -– the display of boots, a rifle, a helmet -– and said goodbye to a fallen comrade,” Obama said. “This year alone, nearly a hundred members of the 101st have given their last full measure of devotion. There are few days when I don’t sign a letter to a military family expressing our nation’s gratitude and grief at their profound sacrifice.”
Obama said the servicemembers in America’s military come from every conceivable background and unite to serve a greater cause. “Through your service, you demonstrate the content of the American character,” he said. “Some people ask whether America’s best days lie ahead or whether our greatness stretches back behind us in the stories of those who’ve gone before.
“When I look out at all of you, I know the answer to that. You give me hope,” he continued. “You give me inspiration. Your resolve shows that Americans will never succumb to fear. Your selfless service shows who we are, who we always will be, united as one people and united as one nation, for you embody and stand up for the values that make us what we are as a people.”
He said the United States of America is not defined by borders, but by a common creed eloquently stated in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are the right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
That creed, Obama told the servicemembers, is what Americans have fought for through history and are fighting for in Afghanistan.
“And that belief is more powerful than any adversary,” he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)