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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Saluting the Troops

Aired September 12, 2003 - 10:02   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, let's go to Fort Stewart, Georgia, and listen to President Bush.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all very much. Thanks for the warm welcome.

It's a fine day here in Georgia. Of course, the governor told me every day's a fine day in Georgia.

(APPLAUSE)

It's a great to visit the soldiers and the families of the 3rd Infantry Division -- to visit Fort Stewart.

When I came here in February of 2001, it was my first -- one of my first official trips and first visit to an Army post as commander- in-chief. And my first chance as president to say "Hoo-ah."

(APPLAUSE)

Since we last met, soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division have fought in Afghanistan, and have hunted terrorists in Pakistan. You've launched the coalition offensive into Iraq, defeated the enemy in Najaf and took the Saddam Hussein International Airport. You seized his palaces and you led the fighting into Baghdad the day the statute of the dictator was pulled down.

(APPLAUSE)

Following that day of liberation, 3rd I.D. soldiers have helped the Iraqi people to recover from years of oppression to begin the work of building a free Iraq.

BUSH: Two months ago, the Sergeant Major of the Army, Jack Tilly, spoke to the 3rd I.D. troops in Fallujah. He said this. He said, "Be proud of who you are. Stand up straight. You made history."

As commander in chief, I second those words. You've made history, you've made our nation proud and you have earned the presidential unit citation.

(APPLAUSE)

After a long deployment, the 3rd I.D. is now home. America's grateful for your devoted service in hard conditions. America's grateful to the men and women right here on this base who supported your mission. And we're especially grateful to our military families.

(APPLAUSE)

I know it has been a tough nine months for Fort Stewart families, but you've been loyal and patient and you've looked out for one another. I want to thank for the support you've given your loved ones and thank you for the love of your country. Our nation is grateful.

(APPLAUSE)

I want to thank General Blunt for inviting me here today.

BUSH: I told him -- I said, he's a pretty eloquent speaker for a good warrior.

Appreciate General Ellis. It's good to see him again today, the commander of the U.S. Forces Command.

I'm honored to be traveling with two fine United States senators, Senator Zell Miller and Senator Saxby Chambliss, of the great state of Georgia, stronger supporters of the United States military.

(APPLAUSE)

As well, we travelled down with Jack Kingston and Max Burns, two fine members of the House of Representatives. As well, they are strong supporters of the United States military.

(APPLAUSE)

Of course, I already mentioned the governor once. He said every day is a beautiful day in Georgia. I'm proud to be with him; a good friend, a solid American.

I also am pleased to be here with Brigadier General Joe Rillhaus (ph), assistant division commander, Bob Kaslin (ph) -- Colonel Kaslin (ph), assistant division commander, Colonel Larry Birch (ph), Colonel John Kidd (ph), Sergeant Major Killam (ph) and Captain Vern Tubbs (ph). We thank you all very much for greeting me here today. It's an honor to be here.

Two and half years ago -- or two years ago, this nation came under enemy attack. Two years ago yesterday we were attacked. On a single morning we suffered the highest casualties on our own soil since the Civil War.

BUSH: America saw the face of a new adversary: an enemy that plots in secret, an enemy that rejects the rules of war, an enemy that rejoices in the murder of the innocent. We made a pledge that day, and we have kept it: We are bringing the guilty to justice. We are taking the fight to the enemy.

(APPLAUSE)

In this new kind of war, America has followed a new strategy. We are not waiting for further attacks on our citizens. We are striking our enemies before they can strike us again.

(APPLAUSE)

As all of you know, wars are fought on the offensive. The war on terror will be won on the offensive, and America and her friends are staying on the offensive. We're rolling back...

(APPLAUSE)

We're rolling back the terrorist threat, not on the fringes of its influence, but at the heart of its power.

(APPLAUSE)

In Afghanistan, America and our broad coalition acted against a regime that harbored Al Qaida and ruled by terror. We've sent a message that is now understood throughout the world: If you harbor a terrorist, if you support a terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorists. And the Taliban found out what we meant.

(APPLAUSE)

Thanks to our men and women in uniform, Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terror. And as a result, the people of America are safer from attack.

(APPLAUSE)

We are hunting the Al Qaida terrorists wherever they still hide, from Pakistan to the Philippines to the Horn of Africa. And we're making good progress.

BUSH: Nearly two-thirds of Al Qaida's known leaders have been captured or killed. The rest of them are dangerous but the rest of them can be certain we're on their trail.

Our resolve is firm. The resolve of this nation is clear. No matter how long it takes, we will bring justice to those who plot against America.

(APPLAUSE)

And we have pursued the war on terror in Iraq. Our coalition enforced the demands of the U.N. Security Council in one of the swiftest and most humane military campaigns in history.

Because of our military, catastrophic weapons will no longer be in the hands of a reckless dictator. Because of our military, Middle Eastern countries no longer fear subversion and attack by Saddam Hussein. Because of our military, the torture chambers in Iraq are closed and people who speak their minds need not fear execution. Because of our military, the people of Iraq are free.

(APPLAUSE) And now we're working with the Iraqi people to build a decent and democratic society; a country that is an example of peace, not an exporter of violence. This undertaking is difficult and it is costly, yet it is worthy of our country and it is critical to our security.

You've seen how Saddam hold-outs and foreign terrorists are desperately, desperately trying to undermine Iraq's progress and to throw that country into chaos. You know, they understand that a free Iraq will be free of them, free of assassins and torturers and secret police. As democracy and freedom rise in Iraq, their ambitions will fall just like the statutes of Saddam Hussein.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: The terrorists have a strategic goal: They want America to leave Iraq before our work is done.

You see, they believe their attacks on our people and on innocent people will shake the will of the United States and the civilized world. They believe America will run from a challenge. They don't know us very well.

(APPLAUSE)

They're mistaken.

Iraq is now the central front in the war on terror. This nation will complete our work and we will win this essential victory.

(APPLAUSE)

People of our military have faced many hardships in Iraq and you faced them with courage. You know the names of some who fought our country and didn't come home, who died in the line of duty. You remember them as comrades and friends. This nation will remember them for their unselfish courage, for their sacrifice in a time of danger to America. We honor their memory. We pray for God's comfort on their family and loved ones.

(APPLAUSE)

All who serve understand what this fight is about. Our military is confronting terrorists in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in other places, so that our people will not have to confront terrorist violence in our own cities.

Our strategy in Iraq has three objectives. First, we are destroying the terrorists by swift and decisive action. We continue to launch raids against these enemies. We're rounding them up. We're seizing their weapons. And as for the leaders of the former regime, we're working our way through the famous deck of cards.

(APPLAUSE)

The Iraqi people are helping with critical leads and with each new capture the word gets out. In a letter home this summer, an American soldier described the following scene in Baghdad after two of those cards were dealt with. He wrote, "The whole city was erupting in gunfire. There were tracer rounds flying through the air all over. Everyone was hyped to the max. Then we got the call over the radio: It was celebration fire, because we caught Saddam's sons."

(APPLAUSE)

All together, 42 of the 55 most wanted former Iraqi leaders have been captured or killed; a matter of time for the rest of them.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: Our second objective is to bring in other nations to help Iraq build a free country. That'll make the world more secure. Already two multinational divisions, perhaps you saw, brothers and sisters in combat when you were in Iraq, divisions led by the Brits and the Poles; they're sharing responsibilities with us. And we thank all the nations who have contributed.

It's time for others to join us. Tomorrow Secretary Powell will be in Geneva consulting with friends and allies and the officials of the United Nations. He'll carry a message: No free nation can be neutral in the fight between civilization and chaos.

Terrorists in Iraq have attacked representatives of the civilized world. And opposing them and defeating them must be the cause of the civilized world.

(APPLAUSE)

Our third goal is to encourage the orderly transfer of sovereigning authority to the Iraqi people. We're helping to train Iraqi civil defense forces and police and border guards. In these and other roles, some 60,000 Iraqis are now helping to secure their country. Iraq's new governing council represents the nation's diverse groups. Ninety percent of the communities have local councils. In Baghdad a new city council is at work, chosen by all the neighborhoods in the cities. In the months ahead, the Iraqis will be drafting a new constitution, and this will prepare the way for elections.

With our help and with the great strength of its own people, Iraq is getting rid of the days of dictatorship and terror, is moving toward a future of stability and freedom.

BUSH: And life is returning to normal for a lot of the citizens in Iraq.

The day the regime fell, only 30 percent of the hospitals in Iraq were functioning. Now almost every hospital in Iraq is open. America and our coalition have provided more than 22 million doses of vaccine to over 4 million children and a million pregnant women.

We're refurbishing more than a thousand schools in Iraq. One school in Baghdad is called the Hibba (ph) school. It's founded by a woman named Zoriya (ph) for children with Down's syndrome. The old regime gave the Hibba (ph) school no help. You see Down's syndrome children were viewed as hopeless and useless.

But now a unit of American soldiers has taken the Hibba (ph) school under its wing. They've been collecting donations from home to pay for supplies and clothing for the children and salaries for the teachers.

The effort has been led by Lieutenant Colonel Boyer of the 1st Armored Division. He's got a special interest. You see, his own son, Samuel, has Down's syndrome. Zoriya (ph) calls Colonel Boyer (ph), "Our first friend and our best friend. And at the Hibba (ph) school, the Iraqi children put a picture of Sam Boyer on the wall to thank him, to thank his dad, to thank our country.

You see, the Iraqi people are coming to know the kind of men and women we've sent to liberate their country. And in your courage and in your compassion, the people of our armed forces represent the best of American character.

(APPLAUSE)

When I addressed the nation a few nights ago from the White House, I read a letter I'd received from an Army captain serving in Baghdad. Some of you know him. They gave him a pretty good seat here today, Captain Vern Tubbs (ph). He wrote about his pride in serving a just cause and about the deep desire for Iraqis for liberty.

BUSH: "I see it," he said, "in the eyes of a hungry people every day here. They're starved for freedom and opportunity."

Captain Tubbs (ph) and all of you have helped put Iraq on the path to freedom and opportunity. And every man, woman and child in Iraq can be certain of this: The old regime is gone, and the regime is never coming back.

(APPLAUSE)

As America carries out its strategy for security and reconstruction, we need the resources to do the job in Iraq. Soon I will send Congress a request for additional money. We need to keep our commitments. In this time of challenge of America, as we ask so much of our military, we in government have a solemn responsibility to give you every tool you need to achieve victory.

(APPLAUSE)

This base and all of you serving here are critical to the defense of the United States. You have shown that once again, by enduring a long deployment and performing brilliantly every day under difficult and dangerous circumstances, that you're worthy of the task and you're worthy of our trust.

Our whole nation has been reminded that we can never take our military for granted. I will keep our military strong.

(APPLAUSE)

This was the message of another president, John F. Kennedy, when he visited Fort Stewart in 1962 and spoke to the troops on Donovan Field. President Kennedy said this: "Regardless of how persistent our diplomacy may be in activities stretching all around the globe, in the final analysis it rests upon the power of the United States. And that power rests upon the will and courage of our citizens and upon you in this field."

Soldiers and families of Fort Stewart, those words are still true today. Peace and America's security depends on you.

BUSH: In meeting the dangers of a new era, the world looks to America for leadership. And America counts on the men and women who have stepped forward as volunteers in the cause of freedom.

I want to thank you all for your good service. Thank you for the credit and honor you bring to our country every day.

May God bless you, may God bless your families and may God continue to bless America.

(APPLAUSE)

KAGAN: We've been listening as President Bush as he addresses the soldiers at Fort Stewart, Georgia. This is the home of the Army 3rd Infantry Division. That is the division that suffered more casualties than any other division in the U.S. military during the war in Iraq.

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