Remarks to United States Servicemembers at Royal Air Force Mildenhall in Suffolk, United Kingdom
Colonel, thank you for that introduction and your service leading this team in such a difficult time. Because we know that it's the whole family who serves, I also want to thank Melissa. I know—I know your next assignment at U.S. Transportation Command starts soon. So congratulations, and thank you, thank you, thank you.
And, Sydney, you're 14 years old. When I was 14, if you—please, at ease. [Laughter] I keep forgetting I'm President. [Laughter] When I was 14 years old, I would have been—I mean this sincerely—scared to death to stand up in front of a microphone, in a large crowd or small crowd. See, when I was a child, I used to stutter badly, for real. I had great difficulty speaking in front of other people. And so I expect that when you're President, you'll remember me. [Laughter] You'll remember me. You're, really, quite a polished young woman. Thank you.
And you know, it's got to be hard to have your dad deployed in Afghanistan. And I also know how proud you are of him and your mom, Chief Master Sergeant, for being part of the leadership team here.
Our son Beau served as a U.S. attorney for a while in Kosovo for a while. Matter of fact, they erected a war monument to him. And then, he went on, and he joined the National Guard. Gave up his job as attorney general of the State of Delaware so he can go with his unit to Iraq for a year. And when he got promoted to major, I said, "Beau, you're now a field-grade officer." I was in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan about 28 times. And I said, "You're now a field-grade officer." He said: "Dad, I have no illusions. I know who runs the military: chief master sergeants." [Laughter] So I just want you to know we know. Okay?
Thank you for your incredible dedication and service. And you know, I want to thank you all—all of you, all your families—for the sacrifices they've made. And congratulations to having just a wonderful child.
There's an awful lot of history at this base, a proud history for the British people: the bravery and heroism of the Royal Air Force pilots fighting to defend their nation. I'm sure everyone here knows the history, but just 6 hours after Britain and France declared war on Germany in 1939, three Wellington bombers took off from Mildenhall and bombed Nazi battleships.
And over the course of World War II, out of this base, your RAF bombers dropped nearly 28,000 tons of bombs on Nazi Germany, flying more than 8,000 sorties. This base has been a significant source of British air power, a proud, proud history of a proud nation.
But I also know there's also an awful lot of American Air Force pride in this room tonight. World War II was when the U.S. Army Air Force formed the 100th Bombardment Group.
And by the way, my—just so you know—although my uncle, who was killed in World War II in New Guinea was Army—he was the Army Air Corps. He got shot down in a reconnaissance flight. And he would—he's looking down and thinking, "All these years, my God, what this Air Force has become." It's incredible.
The 100th also ran more than 8,000 sorties into hostile territory and supported operations from D-day to the Battle of the Bulge, where another uncle of mine served. And when they first arrived in the U.K. in '43, the unit took such heavy losses, it earned the moniker that has been passed down to this day: "The Bloody Hundredth." The Bloody Hundredth. So let me hear it for the 100th Air Wing—Air Refueling Wing, a.k.a.—known as the "The Bloody Hundredth." [Applause] And what about the 352nd Special Operations Wing? [Applause] There's Team Reconnaissance. Members of the Air Mobility Command.
Do we have any folks from the 48th Fighter Wing, over from RAF—by the way, look how—[applause]. I think maybe. The 501st Combat Support Wing from RAF Alconbury. [Applause] And this may be a historic first for an Air Force base, but I hear there just might be a few members of the United States Army here tonight with us. [Applause] Come on, man.
To all of you airmen and soldiers, I want to just say thank you. We owe you. We're so damn proud of you. So proud. And I only wish my major was here to thank you as well. Thank you—everything you do, for everything that you are.
There's nothing that Jill and I enjoy more than spending time with our troops and their families, wherever we go in the world. I had the great honor of being in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq well over 27, 28 times. I think Jill is the only Second Lady in American history who has gone into a war zone, into Baghdad with me as well.
You're the best—you're the best—of our country. That's not hyperbole. You're the ones who sign up and run toward danger when duty calls. Less than 1 percent of Americans make the choice that you make—that you made. But the rest of us—the other 99 percent of us—we owe you. We owe you big.
I've long said that, as a nation, we have many obligations, but we only have one truly sacred obligation—only one—and that's to properly prepare and equip the women and men we send into harm's way and to care for you and your families, both while you're deployed and when you come home. And now that I have the incredible honor of serving as your Commander in Chief, I believe that even more strongly. You know—and I want to give an extra special thank you to all the families.
As you heard from Jill, we Bidens are a proud military family, and we know there's not just the person who wears the uniform who serves; the whole family has to step up, the whole family makes sacrifices. There's a famous Irish poet who said, "They also serve who only stand and wait."
I watched all those months Beau was in Kosovo. And then, I watched all those—that year he was in Iraq. She would stand at that sink, leaving for school, drinking her coffee, and I could see her lips moving, saying that prayer, hoping that car never drove up in front of the house, hoping you never got that phone call.
And that's even more true this past year during the lockdowns and safety precautions to curb the spread of COVID-19. Everyone in this room knows that our military families are essential—essential—to our strength.
It's the key reason Jill relaunched Joining Forces: to make sure we're doing everything we can to support our military spouses and children and their mothers and fathers as well, just like they support all of you.
You know, you not only did an amazing job keeping COVID-19 under control on the base, you took care of each other and your mental health throughout the initiatives like your Spouse-to-Spouse Connection and your Wellness Advocacy Team. [Applause] Thank you. Thank you. As you all know, this is a team sport.
And my mother would kill me if she were here. She'd say, "Joey, you shouldn't have"—I should have turned around and apologized for by back to you. I apologize. [Laughter] I haven't figured out how to turn in 360 yet. [Laughter]
But, folks, thousands of hours spent volunteering to make sure everyone got through this. It was so important. I know that these last 15 months added a lot of new pressure, but all of you rose to the task together as one team, Team Mildenhall. And you never let up on your mission.
And I'm so proud to be here with all of you to kick off my first overseas trip as President. I've been in and out of here many, many times. I've visited well over a hundred countries as President or as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee—or I meant as Vice President or chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. This is my first overseas trip as President of the United States.
I'm heading to the G-7, then to the NATO Ministerial, and then to meet with Mr. Putin to let him know what I want him to know. [Laughter] And, at every point along the way, we're going to make it clear that the United States is back and democracies of the world are standing together to tackle the toughest challenges and the issues that matter most to our future; that we're committed to leading with strength, defending our values, and delivering for our people.
America is better positioned to advance our national security and our economic prosperity when we bring together like-minded nations to stand with us. These nations that have shed blood alongside of us in defense of our shared values. Our unrivaled network of alliances and partnerships that are the key to American advantage in the world and have been. They've made the world safer for all of us, and they are how we are going to meet the challenges of today, which are changing rapidly. We're going to meet it, though, from a position of strength.
Our alliances weren't built by coercion or maintained by threats. They're grounded on democratic ideals, a shared vision of the future, and where every voice matters—where the rights of all people are protected. It's the same reason so many of you signed up to serve, to proudly defend and honor the democratic values that are the wellspring of our national strength.
If our British friends will excuse me quoting the Declaration of Independence—[laughter]—America is unique in all the world in that we are not formed based on geography or ethnicity or religion, but on an idea—an idea. The only nation in the world founded on the notion of an idea: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men"—and women—"are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights," including "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." We mean it. No nation can defeat us, as long as we stick to our values.
It's our American creed. It's what makes us who we are. And it's what draws friends and partners to our side. And for hundreds of years, American patriots have fought, and sometimes died, defending those values.
Folks, look, I'm often quoted by the press as saying, "America leads not by the example of its power, but by the power of our example." All of you—our servicemembers stationed around the world—you are the solid steel spine of America around which alliances are built and strengthened year after year.
These partnerships have hardened and have been hardened in the fire of war, and generations of Americans and servicemembers who fought them, like the original Bloody Hundredth and those RFA [RAF]* pilots, and their shared mission in World War II: flying, fighting, winning. It was done together.
These bonds of history and shared sacrifice run deep and are strong, based on values. And they endure. The connections and camaraderie between our troops, this community of American citizens stationed in the U.K.—U.S. visiting forces and families, 20,000 strong—are not only warriors, you're diplomats, and you're bridge builders. You are the essential part of what makes up this "special relationship" between Great Britain and the United States.
Over the next few days, as I said, I'll be participating in meetings with many of our closest partners at the G-7 in Cornwall, and then on to Brussels and NATO summit—of the EU—and the EU summit. This diplomacy is essential, because no single nation acting alone can meet all the challenges we face today, because the world is changing. To quote another Irish poet, he said: "The world's changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty has been born."
We're in a different place than we were 10 years ago, a better position, but a different place. We have to build the shared future we seek: a future where nations are free from coercion or dominance by more powerful states; where the global commons—the seas, the air, the space—and space—remain open and accessible for the benefit of all.
To tackle this century's most pressing challenges, we have to do it together. We have to end COVID-19, not just at home—which we're doing—but everywhere. There's no wall high enough to keep us safe from this pandemic or the next biological threat we face—and there will be others.
That requires coordinated, multilateral action. We must all commit to an ambitious climate action if we're going to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, and lead the global transition to clean energy technology.
You know, when I went over in the Tank in the Pentagon, when I first was elected Vice President, with President Obama, the military sat us down to let us know what the greatest threats facing America were—the greatest physical threats. And this is not a joke: You know what the Joint Chiefs told us the greatest threat facing America was? Global warming. Because there'll be significant population movements, fights over land, millions of people leaving places because they're literally sinking below the sea in Indonesia; because of the fights over what is arable land anymore.
With the G-7, we've planned to launch an ambitious effort to support resilience and development around the world by investing in high-quality, high-standard physical, digital, and health infrastructures.
We have to make sure that new technologies and norms of conduct in cyberspace are established, including addressing the growing threat of ransomware attacks, that are governed by our democratic values, not by the autocrats who are letting it happen. These are all critical national security issues in 2021, and we're going to be driving this agenda together with our G-7 partners.
In Brussels, I will make it clear that the United States commitment to our NATO alliance and article 5 is rock solid. It's a sacred obligation we have under article 5. The U.S. and the U.K. are both founding members of NATO, the strongest military and political alliance in the history of the world. And that's not hyperbole. Our troops have stood shoulder to shoulder around the world, including serving bravely in the mountains of Afghanistan for the past 20 years.
Our NATO allies have had our backs when it mattered, just like we've had theirs when it's mattered. And now we need to modernize our alliance, investing on our critical infrastructure, our cyber capabilities, and to keep us secure against every threat that we've faced over the last decade and the new challenges we're about to face as well.
With the European Union leaders, I'll discuss how the United States can work with Europe to address the full range of issues that require the full strength of our transatlantic partnership, including working together to shape the new rules for the 21st-century economies.
And only after these meetings with our closest democratic partners to develop a common agenda and renewed purpose, I'll travel to Geneva to sit down with a man I've spent time with before: President Vladimir Putin. We're not seeking conflict with Russia. We want a stable, predictable relationship. Our two nations share incredible responsibilities and among them ensuring strategic stability and upholding arms control agreements. I take that responsibility seriously.
But I've been clear: The United States will respond in a robust and meaningful way when the Russian Government engages in harmful activities. We've already demonstrated that. I'm going to communicate that there are consequences for violating the sovereignty of democracies in the United States and Europe and elsewhere.
I'm going to be clear that the transatlantic alliance will remain vital, a vital source of strength for the U.K., Europe, and the United States. And I'm going to make sure there's no doubt as to whether the United States will rise in defense of our most deeply held values and our fundamental interest.
Here's why this all matters so much right now: I believe we're at an inflection point in world history, the moment where it falls to us to prove that democracies will not just endure, but they will excel as we rise to seize the enormous opportunities of a new age.
We have to discredit those who believe that the age of democracy is over, as some of our fellow nations believe. We have to expose as false the narrative that decrees of dictators can match the speed and scale of the 21st [century]* challenges.
You know and I know they're wrong. But it doesn't mean we don't have to work harder than ever to prove that democracy can still deliver for our people. For the many who think things are changing so rapidly, democracies cannot get together and form a consensus to respond like autocrats can, but you know better than anyone that democracy doesn't happen by accident. We have to defend it. We have to strengthen it, renew it.
And I know that the American people are up to this job. I know because I look around this hangar and what I see is, I see America. I see America: people of different backgrounds coming together in a share mission. Our democracy has never been perfect. Never been perfect. But Americans of all races, religions, sexual orientation, immigrants, Native Americans all have spilled their blood to defend the values that we talk about.
Generation after generation of American heroes have signed up to be part of the fight because they understand the truth that lives in every American heart: that liberation, opportunity, justice is far more likely to come to pass in a democracy than in the emerging autocracies in the world.
I promise you that's what this is going to be all about for your generation and those of your children. And here's what else I know beyond a doubt: There is not a single thing—nothing—nothing beyond America's competence to accomplish when we do it together, when we do it as one people. You're proof of that. You're proof of that every single day. Your bravery, your decency, your honor, your commitment to duty.
You can send more fuel through a boom of a KC-135R in 8 minutes than a civilian gas pump can pump in 24 hours, and you do it in midair, and it's all a normal day for this team. So don't tell me we can't win our race to the future across the board.
We're the country that cracked the physicals and the physics of human flight, then crashed through the sound barrier, then put a man on the Moon and flew a helicopter on Mars. I could go on and on and on. There is nothing, nothing, nothing beyond our capacity.
So I want to thank you again for welcoming Jill and me today. It's great to be here in the U.K., but it's greater being here and seeing you first. Seeing all of you is the best possible way to start this trip.
Well, let me end where I began: by saying "thank you." I mean it from the bottom of my heart. I give you my word. Thank you all for what you do. Thank you all for your understanding that we're a Nation based on values. Thank you all for protecting us all.
May God bless you all, and may God protect our troops. Thank you, and God bless.
NOTE: The President spoke at 8:45 p.m. In his remarks, he referred to Col. S. Troy Pananon, USAF, commander, and CMS Kathi W. Glascock, USAF, command chief master sergeant, 100th Air Refueling Wing; and Sydney Glascock, daughter, and 1st Sgt. Jerry Glascock, USAF, human resources manager, 48th Component Maintenance Squadron, Royal Air Force Lakenheath, United Kingdom, husband, of CMS Glascock.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks to United States Servicemembers at Royal Air Force Mildenhall in Suffolk, United Kingdom Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/350310