Veterans Day Speech
Al Faw Palace
Camp Victory, Iraq
12 November 2007
Thank you very much, Gen. Odierno, Sergeant Major, ladies and gentlemen of the Armed Forces, I have to start I guess with a fashion statement. You'll notice something rather different, besides just our height, between the hairstyles that Gen. Odierno, the Chaplain, the Sergeant Major effect on the one hand and what I do on the other.
Today our country remembers and honors the millions of men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States of America. These veterans who came before you took the same oath you did to defend our nation, placing its security before their own lives. They have been an extraordinary example to all who have followed them and all of us thank all of America's veterans for their service for the nation they built and the nation you defend today.
I come from a military family. My father was a career Air Force Officer whose career spanned three wars. He was proud of his service, and I was proud of him. It was his example that led me into the Foreign Service which, like your own, can sometimes be a hard one.
Together this Veterans Day we're engaged in Iraq, and your efforts and those of your civilian countrymen are tied together in a unique way. Quite literally, we can only succeed of support of each other.
Your work over this past year has been successful beyond all expectations. This time last year, Baghdad and other areas of the country had a level of violence that was literally off the charts. Iraqi citizens not only didn't feel safe leaving their homes for the simplest tasks, they didn't feel safe in their homes, and they weren't.
The surge quite simply has worked. And this Multi-National Corps commanded by Gen. Odierno is what made it work. There will be hard days ahead. This is no time for a victory declaration. There are many, many challenges to be overcome, but your achievements are extraordinary. They are quite literally historic.
Violence is down dramatically, an 80 percent reduction in civilian deaths over where we were a year ago. This is because of what you, your fellow soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen, and your Coalition partners have done. And you've done it street by street, city by city, neighborhood by neighborhood in the only way that determined enemies can be overcome and security given to the people of Iraq.
Here in Baghdad I had the privilege to visit some of the areas where you and your comrades have been carrying forward that fight, in Ghazaliya, in Dora, West Rashid and Adhamiya, in Karkh, localities that very few of us had even heard of a few years ago, names the whole world knows today, and names like other great battles in Anbar, Fallujah, Ramadi, Nasiriyah, Najaf, Diyala, Salah ad-Din, Ninawa, that are going to be part of our history as long as we are a nation.
All of this comes from your commitment, your courage and your patriotism. And once again, we all know we are not done. You have accomplished amazing things. You will hand these accomplishments on to your successors, who will carry forward this fight just as you have built on the achievements, the courage, the hardship and the sacrifice of those who were here before you. And given the demands of this war, the longest war in American history, many of you have been your own predecessors. Some of you will be your own successors. And I know with an absolute certainty that whatever more we are called on to do in this theater for others to register a lasting conclusive victory against those who not only threaten our nation but have struck us in our homeland, you will do it; we will do it.
Today on Veterans Day remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, those that didn't live to be thanked one day as veterans. We remember the men and women, in many cases not only our comrades but your friends, who have laid down their lives for their country and for a cause that goes beyond our own national interest; it is the world's cause. We think of their families and their friends who on this day are reminded of their loved ones. We pray for their comfort.
It is also the day when we remember once again we are not in this by ourselves. We are part of a broad and strong coalition, a coalition many of whose members, as you saw on the video, have stood side-by-side with us in the conflicts of the past. We now call this Veterans Day in America for our comrades. In the United Kingdom, in Australia, in Canada it's Remembrance Day. And I was very proud yesterday to be at Maude House on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month 2007 remembering our comrades in the commonwealth who have died for our common values.
In the course of my career, I've had that privilege to stand in commonwealth cemeteries throughout this region, in Pakistan, in Lebanon, in Syria. And one day when this final peace comes to Iraq, our successors will stand in commonwealth cemeteries in this country remembering the campaigns of the past that our commonwealth comrades fought so valiantly, again, for the values we all uphold today. We remember their sacrifices; we remember their achievements; we pray for their families.
We especially remember this November 11th our Iraqi comrades who have laid down their lives fighting for their country in numbers far greater than ours. After 35 years of Baathi oppression, this is the first generation of Iraqis who have had the opportunity to fight and have been ready to die for the dream, division and the reality of a free and democratic Iraq.
Especially I thank all of you in this building and throughout this country who are serving in Iraq today. You've all left family and friends behind. You've missed the births of your children, their birthdays, their graduations, your anniversaries. You've missed the big events in the lives of those you love to be here, half the world away, helping this country and this people achieve stability and security knowing that that stability and security is for all of us. The enemy we fight here is the enemy who struck us at home.
And we know that you've all lost friends, the men and women who gave their lives for universal freedom. Your sacrifices have been great. We all know that freedom isn't free. You live it. You personify it. It must continually be fought for, defended and held up as the precious gift that it is.
As President Roosevelt said in 1941, "Liberty and freedom and democracy are prizes awarded only to those who fight to win them and then keep fighting eternally to hold them." And that is what you are doing this day, the days that preceded, and what you will do in the days that follow.
So I thank you. I thank you for your courage, your patriotism, your contribution to the security of Iraq, to the security of our country, to the security of our allies. Years from now you will look back with real pride at what you accomplished here. Others will wish they had been here with you. And you will be seen as veterans as you truly are, America's newest, greatest generation.
Thank you for your service. God bless our war veterans. God bless all of you from America and from our coalition partners who wear the uniform on this day. And may God bless America and Iraq.