Vice President's Remarks at the Association of the United States Army Sustaining Members Luncheon
Washington D.C. Convention Center
1:02 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, General. Distinguished guests, sustaining members, soldiers, I want to thank you for asking me to join you today. I see some old friends in the hall. And it's good to be with all of you, and I appreciate the warm welcome.
I also want to thank my former colleague, General Gordon Sullivan, for the introduction, and for his many years of service, both in uniform, now as president of the AUSA. It's also great to see the Secretary of the Army, Fran Harvey, here today.
I am a great admirer of the United States Army, of its contributions to our liberty, its history and traditions, and above all the men and women who take up the profession of arms. As General Sullivan probably remembers, while serving as Secretary of Defense I kept in my office a portrait of a predecessor and a personal hero, General George C. Marshall, who served, of course, more than 40 years on active duty and retired with five stars on his shoulder. To me, Marshall embodied the ideals of our nation and the character of our armed forces. And I have always counted it a privilege to work with the soldiers and the civilian employees of the Department of the Army.
The year Marshall was appointed Secretary of Defense, 1950, was also the year that a group of fine citizens founded the Association of the United States Army. And in all the years since, this organization has provided outstanding support for America's Army -- active, National Guard and reserve, civilians, veterans, retirees, and Army families. AUSA members are men and women comfortable with responsibility, and devoted to serving others. You remind fellow citizens of the Army's critical role in preserving our national security, and you share a dedication to ensuring that our soldiers have the best possible equipment, training, and leadership to carry out their missions. AUSA members speak with conviction, and with credibility, on behalf of the Army's noble traditions -- traditions that reflect the wisdom and the experience of 230 years of history, and which give a sense of purpose and pride to every new generation of soldiers.
The AUSA is a committed, reliable, and articulate voice for America's soldiers, but never more than in this time of war, when so much is being asked of the men and women who serve. Your conference theme is "Call to Duty," and for you, I know this represents more than just words but a way of life. And I want to thank all of you for the extraordinary support you provide to soldiers and Army families through your chapters, not only across the nation but overseas, as well.
American soldiers are currently serving in 120 countries, and the Army remains an active, visible sign of America's commitments -- defending our interests, standing by our friends, keeping patient vigil against possible dangers, and, above all, directly engaging the enemies of the United States.
For many in this generation of soldiers, service to the country has involved accepting some extremely perilous missions. The war on terror is a new kind of war against the most ruthless of enemies, and the fight we are waging is every bit as urgent as it is dangerous. Those who attacked America have proven their eagerness to kill innocent men, women, and children by the thousands. They are looking to obtain weapons of mass destruction by any means they can find, and would not hesitate to use such weapons at the first opportunity. After 9/11 this nation made a decision: Having been attacked by stealth inside our own country, we will not sit back and wait to be hit again. We will prevent attacks by taking the fight to the enemy.
Although we have been in the struggle against terrorism for four years now, the terrorists were actually at war with this country before 2001. For a long time, they were the ones on the offensive. And they grew bolder in their belief that if they killed enough Americans, they could change American policy. In Beirut in 1983, terrorists killed 241 Americans. Following the attack, the United States forces were withdrawn from Beirut. Time and time again, for the remainder of the 20th century, the terrorists hit America and America did not hit back hard enough. In 1993 we had the killing of American soldiers in Mogadishu, and the first bombing at the World Trade Center in New York. We had the murders at the Saudi National Guard Training Center in Riyadh in 1995, the killings at the Khobar Towers in 1996, the destruction of two American embassies in Africa in 1998, and the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. The terrorists came to believe that they could strike America without paying any price.
And so terrorists continued to wage those attacks, making the world less safe and eventually striking the United States directly on 9/11. Now terrorists are making a stand in Iraq, testing our resolve and trying to shake our commitment to democracy in that part of the world. There is still difficult work ahead, because the terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against the civilized world. We are dealing with enemies that recognize no rule of warfare and accept no standard of morality, and they are determined to continue waging a campaign of terror against coalition forces, Iraqi security personnel, and other innocents.
Though random and merciless in their tactics, the terrorists in Iraq obviously have a strategy. They have a history of stepping up attacks whenever Iraq approaches a political milestone. Next week Iraqis will vote on a democratic constitution, and if that constitution is approved, they will return to the polls later this year to elect a fully constitutional government. As the Iraqi people take these next steps on the path to a free and democratic country, the terrorists will continue doing anything they can to stop the progress.
By their methods of murder, the terrorists hope to overturn Iraq's democratic government and return that country to the rule of tyrants, and then use Iraq as a staging area for ever greater attacks against America and other civilized nations. Their aim is to remake the Middle East in their own image of tyranny and oppression -- by toppling governments, driving us out of the region, and by exporting terror. As President Bush has said, the only way the terrorists can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon our mission. But this nation has made a decision: We will stand by our friends; we will help Iraqis build a nation that is free and secure and able to defend itself; we will confront our enemies on this and every other front in the war on terror; and with good allies at our side, we will prevail.
Last week, General Abizaid came back to Washington and presented a detailed briefing on the war on terror, particularly the situation in Iraq. Our own strategy for victory in the conflict remains clear: We are hunting down high-value targets like Zarqawi and his lieutenants, and last week Iraqi and coalition forces tracked down and killed Abu Azzam, the second most-wanted al Qaeda leader in Iraq. Our soldiers and Marines are conducting smart, focused, aggressive, counterterrorism operations in the areas where the terrorists are known to be concentrated. And our coalition continues to train more Iraqi forces to assume increasing new responsibility for their country's security. As more and more Iraqi security forces complete their training, they are taking on greater responsibilities in these efforts. Iraqi troops are increasingly taking the lead in joint operations, conducting independent operations and expanding the reach and the effectiveness of coalition forces.
As Iraqi security forces grow in their size and capabilities, we're becoming better able to keep urban centers out of the hands of terrorists. One of the challenges we faced was that after clearing out terrorists, there weren't always enough trained Iraqi forces to maintain control. So when coalition forces moved on, terrorists would move to get back in. More and more, however, we're able to leave Iraqi troops in charge, and because they're equipped, properly trained, familiar with the territory, and often know who the terrorists are, these Iraqi units are able to maintain order and safety. Meanwhile, coalition forces are able to go forward and deal with terrorists in other parts of the country, as well as control the borders.
At present, Iraqi forces are in control of more parts of Iraq than at any time in the past two years. Significant areas of Baghdad and Mosul -- once violent and volatile -- are now more stable because Iraqi forces are helping keep the peace. In these and other areas, Iraqi personnel are collecting good intelligence, working with civic and religious leaders, and gaining greater confidence among the people. This is an ongoing process, and standing up a capable, effective military force requires a patient and sustained effort. Yet progress is steady, it is moving in the direction we want, and the people in charge of the effort are doing a superb job. The goal we share with Iraq's government and the Iraqi people is a full transition to security and self-reliance, a nation with a constitutionally elected government and capable security forces, an Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors and can be an ally in the war on terror.
By staying in this fight, we honor both the ideals and the security interests of the United States. The victory of freedom in Iraq will inspire democratic reformers in other lands. In the broader Middle East and beyond, America will continue to encourage free markets, democracy, and tolerance, because these are the ideas and the aspirations that overcome violence, and turn societies to the pursuits of peace. And as the peoples of that region experience new hope, progress, and control over their own destiny, we will see the power of freedom to change our world, and a terrible threat will be removed from the lives of our children and our grandchildren.
Like other great duties in history, it will require decades of patient effort, and it will be resisted by those whose only hope for power is through the spread of violence. Yet the direction of events is clear. Afghanistan has held the first free elections in the nation's 5,000-year history. In Iraq, voters turned out in incredible numbers and elected leaders who are now preparing the way for the new constitution and a representative government. The Palestinian people have chosen a new president and they have new hope for democracy and peace. In Lebanon, citizens have poured into the streets to demand freedom to determine a peaceful future for their own country as a fully independent member of the world community. We are seeing the power of freedom to change our world, and all who strive for freedom can know that the United States of America is on their side.
The current generation of our armed services will witness many changes in the years to come -- improvements in the tactics, strategies, and technologies of warfare -- all with the goal of building a more modular, standardized, and flexible force. A military that was designed for the latter half of the 20th century needs to be a force that is lighter, more adaptable, more agile, and more lethal in action. A transformed military will build upon traditional advantages such as technological superiority, our ability to project power across great distances, and our precision strike capabilities. We're committed to building a more relevant and ready force, designed around more compact, self-contained organizations, so that in the future we can employ smaller, tailored forces in missions that once required large units. At the same time, we're going to do more for our military families, who deserve a more stable, predictable lifestyle and better support in housing.
As always, the key to our security and our freedom will be the character of our men and women in uniform. We could have the finest technology and equipment -- and thanks to many in this room, we do have the finest and we will continue to have it. But the success of our efforts always come down to the soldier who carries a pack and goes straight at the face of the enemy.
In today's Army, everybody is a potential combat soldier, with the training, expertise, and mental toughness needed to be on the ground in a 360-degree battle space. And right now in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is still tough fighting, in conditions ranging from urban to desert to high mountains. We have lost some of our finest, and those losses are irreplaceable. We are a nation that values every life, and we reserve special honor for the soldier who defends our freedom at the cost of his own life.
In military hospitals we also have many soldiers recovering from serious injuries in battle. Some are facing a very hard road ahead, and they can be assured of the finest care we can possibly give them. These Americans can know with absolute certainty that they have contributed to the future safety of this nation, and to the peace of our world. They can be proud of all they have done for America, just as we will always respect their spirit of sacrifice and their courage under fire.
There have been so many stories of heroism in this conflict, and so many battle decorations earned by American soldiers. The highest award of all, the Medal of Honor, has also been given, and it was given to a member of the United States Army. In April of 2003, during the campaign to liberate Iraq, a task force led by Sergeant Paul Ray Smith came under attack in Baghdad by a company-size force of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard. Under constant enemy fire, with his unit pinned down and a number of men wounded, Sergeant Smith climbed onto a damaged armored vehicle and manned a 50-caliber machine gun -- all the while in a completely exposed position. Sergeant Smith remained in that spot, subjecting himself to greater danger than the Army or his country could ever ask, firing incessantly at the enemy until he took a fatal round to the head. After the firefight, the Army concluded that this one soldier had personally killed as many as 50 Republican Guard, and saved the lives of more than 100 other Americans.
On the second anniversary of the incident, President Bush presented Sergeant Smith's Medal of Honor to his wife and ten-year-old son. One of Paul Ray Smith's men said he "was hard in training because he knew we had to be hard in battle." For as long as citizens step forward to wear the uniform of the United States, our nation will remember this man and his courage.
In this new generation we are seeing once again that the American soldier in battle places the mission first, never accepts defeat, never quits, and never leaves a fallen comrade. The spirit of the American soldier is to be honorable and just, and, even amid the cruelties of battle, to be decent and humane. And these are the reasons why, in every corner of the earth, to people who struggle and suffer, the sight of an American in uniform has brought relief, hope, and deliverance. They know that we are a nation that seeks not to conquer but to liberate, and to spread the freedom that leads to peace.
Recently I saw a quote from a 107-year-old veteran of World War I, who was living out in Oregon. This gentleman told a reporter that he recognized the same sense of duty in today's Army that he saw when he put on the uniform nearly 90 years ago. "There's not too much difference," he said, "and there shouldn't be."
Ladies and gentlemen, it speaks very well of the Army, and of America, that the men and women who have served under Tommy Franks and John Abizaid would -- in their courage and their honor -- be recognized by George C. Marshall, or Douglas MacArthur, or Black Jack Pershing, or even George Washington himself. And it's another reason for all of you to be proud of your association with the United States Army. In a time of such great challenge for our country, we are reminded, and we are grateful, that the greatest nation on earth is defended by the greatest volunteers on earth. This Army at war is a permanent credit to the United States of America. As Vice President -- and more than that, as a citizen of this land -- I am grateful to the men and women who defend us all. And I am grateful to you, ladies and gentlemen, for standing with our soldiers.
Thank you very much.
END 1:20 P.M. EDT
Richard B. Cheney, Vice President's Remarks at the Association of the United States Army Sustaining Members Luncheon Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/282343