Thank you to my longtime friend, Dick Hewitt and Centurion Alliance, for this warm welcome and to Mr. Gary Koeppel for your leadership in this noble endeavor.... Mr. and Mrs. Eastwood, Colonel (retired) Hunt, Ms. Scoggins, and so many other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good evening. It is my honor to be with you and the Enduring Freedom Foundation this evening. On behalf of the men and women of the US military let me be at least the first to thank you for providing this wonderful statue to be prominently on display in our nation's military headquarters at the Pentagon. Mr. Signorella: it is truly impressive...
This week, as we mark the 5th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, and reflect on the series of attacks we've endured over the past decade and a half, including those in Africa, first in Somalia and then on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and later on the USS Cole, and still other attacks thwarted over that same time period, we recognize that our nation is at war against an enemy determined to destroy our cherished way of life... And between our evil enemy and us, the American people, stand some of the finest young men and women to ever wear a uniform.
As Dick mentioned, I had the privilege to command an Airborne Infantry Battalion Task Force of the 82nd Airborne Division from June 2004 until June 2006, a tour that included two combat deployments to Iraq to support and help secure all three national elections to date. The missions, thank God, were successful. In our zone all three elections were violence-free and Iraqis of all ethnic persuasion turned out in big numbers to cast their vote for freedom. It was a proud moment in the history of the world as ordinary Iraqis, in the face of death threats from Al Qaeda, voluntarily choose to put themselves and their families at risk so that they could live free...they stood up to the terrorists. For my paratroopers those were emotional days...to be part of something truly special. I'm sure many of you saw the scenes on the news - it was a euphoric time to serve.
But the work is not done and, of course, they haven't all been good days. In fact, like all units, we had our share of very hard ones...I'd like to share with you briefly the stories of two of our brave troopers who were killed in action during one of our tours in Iraq. Their stories reflect well on the families and communities that helped shape their character and all Americans should draw strength from their sacrifices.
SSG Zachary Wobler, was a special young man from Ohio with the intellect of a poet, the thoughtfulness of a cleric, and the skills of a warrior. He represented all that is good of the 82nd Airborne Division and America. With his intelligence he could easily have excelled in any of our top-tier universities but choose instead to serve his country. In 2002, he was chosen among 15,000 soldiers, as the paratrooper of the year for the 82nd Airborne. He got to meet the President and travel to special events across the country representing our Division. And in Iraq he was constantly brave and selfless. He was shot and killed on February 6th 2005, while battling a determined enemy insurgent cell in the violence-ridden city of Mosul.
Ten days later only a couple hundred meters away from where Sergeant Wobler fell, Sergeant Chris Pusateri was also shot and killed in an intense gunfight with about 10 enemy fighters from the same cell. Chris Pusateri was a fun-loving outdoorsman from upstate New York who was scheduled to change duty locations from Fort Bragg, NC to Fort Drum, NY where he would be close to home and able to hunt with his high school buddies on weekends. But when our orders came through for Iraq in December 2004, Chris Pusateri requested a delay in his post change so that he could deploy to war with his "brothers" of his company and battalion... Chris Pusateri was always there for his buddies and his last day on earth, 16 February 2005 was no different...Chris Pusateri was born on the 4th of July, which was fitting...because he was "red, white, and blue" to the core.
Now...we went on to defeat that enemy cell over the next several weeks... in the end we were able to help stabilize Mosul, and then later in 2005, Tall Afar and now the conditions for political, social, and economic reconstruction in Nineveh province in northern Iraq at least, seem within Iraqi grasp, but the loss of these men was hard to bear for a Battalion that admired these heroes in so many ways.
My friends, as your attendance here tonight affirms, you recognize that we are engaged in a very difficult struggle...one that will define the opening decades of the 21st century...will it be graced by freedom or enchained by extremists? ... The issue is still in doubt.
But I predict as long as our country produces fighting men like Zach Wobler and Chris Pusateri... and employs them wisely ...coupled with the active support of citizens like those associated with the Enduring Freedom Foundation, we will remain free. ...so let us re-dedicate ourselves tonight to the cause so that men like Zach Wobler and Chris Pusateri, and so many others like them, will not have died in vain.
Thank you again for this opportunity to be with you this evening and to share with you the heroism of our men and women serving all of us everyday in harm's way so that we can remain free here at home. May God bless you all...