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Special Event

President Bush Delivers Remarks at Fort Stewart, Georgia

Aired February 12, 2001 - 11:12 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to now take you live to Fort Stewart, Georgia, President Bush making his first appearance as commander-in-chief. We're expecting comments on the situation of the submarine running into the fishing boat. Let's go ahead and listen in to the president.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Gen. Sharp (ph).

Before I begin my remarks today, I would ask for your prayers for those still missing after the tragic accident involving one of our naval submarines and a Japanese fishing vessel off the coast of Hawaii. Please join me in a moment of silence for those missing, their families and our friends, the people of Japan.

(MOMENT OF SILENCE)

Amen.

Major General, thank you for your kind introduction and your outstanding leadership. Secretary Rumsfeld, Senator Cleland and Senator Miller of the great state of Georgia, other members of the United States Senate, Representative Kingston and other members of the House, thank you all for traveling with me today. General Hendrix (ph), Major General Poytris (ph), Command Sergeant Major McFowler (ph), Commander Sergeant Major Ruhl (ph), soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division, the 48th Infantry Brigade, as importantly, family members...

(APPLAUSE)

... and all those who make up the Fort Stewart home. It's a great privilege for me to be here today.

You are among the first in the Army to hear me extend: (ARMY CALL)

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: I proudly do so, for there is no greater duty for the president and no higher honor than to serve as the commander in chief.

(APPLAUSE)

I'm especially honored to be here at Fort Stewart with the dogface soldiers...

(ARMY CALL)

... of the 3rd Infantry Division. You've written history with your courage, from the forest of the Marne to the front lines of the Cold War, from Casablanca to the Balkans, from Korea to Kuwait.

Today you carry on this proud tradition, ready to project American power wherever America's interests are threatened.

You've been called the most highly trained and rapidly deployable mechanized force in the world. That is high praise, and you have earned it.

I deeply respect your service. I appreciate your sacrifice. And I know what your service and sacrifice achieve for our nation. In a dangerous world, our men and women in uniform give America safety. In a world of fast-changing threats, you give us stability. Because of you, America is secure. Because of you, the march of freedom continues.

The freedom and security you make possible improve the quality of our lives every day. Our nation can never fully repay our debt to you, but we can give you our full support. And my administration will.

(APPLAUSE)

We owe you and your families a decent quality of life.

(APPLAUSE)

We owe you the training and equipment you need to do your jobs.

(APPLAUSE)

And when we send you into harm's way, we owe you a clear mission with clear goals.

(APPLAUSE)

You and your families are the foundation of America's military readiness.

But while you're serving us well, America is not serving you well enough. Many in our military have been overdeployed and underpaid. Many live in aging houses and work in aging buildings. You see some of this right here at Fort Stewart.

Twenty-four thousand troops have been processed through Hunter Airfield in the last 12 months, deploying everywhere from Bosnia to the Bahamas. Some members of the 3rd Infantry Division are now in Bosnia for a second or even third time. In a few months, the 48th Infantry Brigade of Georgia's National Guard will also deploy there. Others in the 3rd Infantry are getting ready to deploy to Kosovo. You are among the most deployed units in the Army, but you live on a base that has some of the least developed infrastructure. Two- thirds of your barracks need renovation. Some of your workshops are housed in wood buildings built in 1941, buildings that were designed to last 10 years, which are now having their 60th birthday.

These problems, from low pay to poor housing, reach across our military. And the result is predictable: Frustration is up; morale, in some places, is difficult to sustain. Recruitment is harder.

This is not the way a great nation should reward courage and idealism. It's ungrateful, it's unwise, and it is unacceptable.

(APPLAUSE)

We will do better. You deserve a military that treats you and your families with respect. And America needs a military where our best and brightest are proud to serve and proud to stay.

I have great goals for our military, to advance its technology, to rethink its strategy. But as always, our strength begins with our people.

(APPLAUSE)

Today I'm announcing that our proposed 2002 budget will add $5.7 billion in new spending on the people of our military.

(APPLAUSE)

Our budget will include $1.4 billion for military pay increases...

(APPLAUSE)

... pay increases on top of the pay increases the Congress passed the last couple of budget cycles -- $400 million in funds to improve military housing and $3.9 billion to improve military health benefits.

(APPLAUSE)

If our military is to attract the best of America, we owe you the best. You volunteered for this job, you decided to serve a cause greater than yourself, and I'm proud to lead you and I'm committed to serve you.

In the years ahead, I will have the opportunity to visit with thousands of our men and women in uniform, and I look forward to each opportunity to express my thanks on behalf of our nation.

I'll never forget that my first visit as commander in chief was here to Fort Stewart, home of the dogface soldiers.

(APPLAUSE)

You were the rock of the rock of the Marne and America is rock- solid behind you.

God bless you and God bless America.

(APPLAUSE)

KAGAN: We've been listening to President Bush has he makes his first appearance at a military base as commander-in-chief. He's at Fort Stewart, Georgia today. The president started his comments by asking for prayers for those who are still missing after the accident between a U.S. Navy submarine and a Japanese fishing boat off the coast of Hawaii, that accident taking place on Friday.

And then he got to the main point of his speech, talking about increased support for the military, telling these soldiers they deserve a decent quality of life, that they deserve decent equipment and training, and missions with clear goals. And then he got to the money, the money part, saying that for the next fiscal budget he's proposing $5.7 billion on new spending for the military, including $1.4 billion in military pay raises, $400 million in housing, and $3.9 billion to increase military health benefits.

With more on this and other topics of the week, we're going to bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, joining us from Washington.

Bill, good to see you made it back from Israel safely.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I am here, Daryn.

KAGAN: Very good. Let's start with this defense week. The Bush administration so far has been a very tightly scripted operation with a different theme every week, and this kicking off the week of defense week.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. And as you just heard, the president had a very responsive audience. I think it's fair to say that this president is very popular with the military. We do know that military service people voted overwhelmingly for George Bush, and they got something from him today. They wanted him to show them the money and he certainly did.

KAGAN: And yet how is this going to coexist, this proposal for more money, along with his proposal to review everything that the military's doing right now before really increasing spending?

SCHNEIDER: Well, here, this is apart from that review. He wants to review mostly spending on technology and weapons system to see what makes sense and what doesn't. And the one issue that is most controversial certainly outside the United States is the issue of a missile shield, which a lot of scientists will say may not work. It's been tested and hasn't passed all those tests.

President Clinton supported it but said we have to test it to make sure it works. President Bush seems very strongly committed to that missile shield, and that's a controversial issue, though more so outside the United States than domestically.

KAGAN: Well, I was going to say, not just controversial on whether or not it'll work. It's causing a lot of problems in discussions with U.S. allies.

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's right, because they're worrying that it will change the whole system of deterrence that has really kept peace in the world, for the most part, for the last 50 years. And they worry that this will essentially destroy all arms control agreements. So the allies are very nervous about that.

KAGAN: Let's talk about a place that you just got back from, as we mention: the Middle East. The U.S. role in trying to find peace in this area of the world is going to have to change drastically now that Ariel Sharon is going to be prime minister of Israel.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. I think that Colin Powell, the secretary of state, has said he doesn't want people talking about the Middle East peace process because that process has essentially been put on hold for the time being. He's going to make his first trip outside the United States to the Middle East.

I think the priority of this administration is going to be to try to reconstruct the anti-Saddam Hussein coalition among the more moderate Arab states and essentially put the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians really on the back burner for the time being. But they have to be concerned because they have to control the violence. If that situation heats up, if you have terrorism and reprisals between Israel and the Palestinians, it's going to make it very hard to hold moderate Arab states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia in a coalition against Iraq.

KAGAN: One thing this administration has been able to control in its short tenure is the discussion and what is on the agenda, and as I mentioned off the top, these theme weeks that they've come out with. First it was education, and then the faith-based initiative, and then it went on to tax cuts, and now defense. They seem to have been very successful so far in controlling the agenda and what America is talking about.

SCHNEIDER: Well, they've been very selective in the themes they chose. The first one was education, which is the top priority to voters. And in each case, the issues that the administration has stressed have been really above controversy. There have been controversial issues like vouchers associated with education, church- state relations...

KAGAN: And faith-based had some controversy with it, not a lot of people agreeing with that.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. Well, it had some issues of controversy, but I think overwhelmingly Americans believe that it is not inappropriate to use faith-based programs to achieve social objectives. Essentially, the controversy came from the more liberal elements of the population, which are worried in advance about the possibility of breaking down the wall between church and state. Taxes: Well, after Alan Greenspan's comments, even Democrats found themselves having to support a tax cut. The only question is, how big? And on defense, the president talked today about a pay raise for the military. I don't think that is intensely controversial.

KAGAN: And all this meant and helping his popularity.

SCHNEIDER: Well, certainly it's all part of the honeymoon. There -- he touched on some matters of controversy -- let's be clear: John Ashcroft, of course, the abortion issue -- but he got over those really fairly quickly. So I can say it's reasonable to say the honeymoon is still very much on.

KAGAN: It is still going. Bill Schneider in Washington, D.C., thanks for joining us.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

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