FORT STEWART, Ga. – The roar of more than 10,000 “Dog Face” soldiers, family members and members of the Marne Division’s community rose above the melody of "Hail to the Chief" to announce the arrival of President Barack Obama and first lady, Michelle, to Fort Stewart, Ga., April 27.
The event marked the first appearance of a president on Marne Division soil in almost 10 years; President George W. Bush visited the installation in 2003 to present the Presidential Unit Citation to the division for its role in the military campaign in Iraq that ended the reign of former dictator Saddam Hussein.
After thanking soldiers and their families for their sacrifices in this era of conflict, the first lady said she and the president are continuing their campaign to ensure veterans are never forgotten.
“I want you to know that America does have your backs,” Michelle Obama said. “We’re going to keep on working every day to serve all of you as well as you have served this country. I know that your service doesn’t end when you hang up your uniform. For so many of you, your whole life is a tour of duty, and as you become leaders in our communities and continue to give back to our country, you keep serving.”
The first lady said she and the president were prepared to show their—and the nation’s—gratitude, with action.
Before signing an executive order targeting the “bad actors” in the higher education industry who have used aggressive and deceptive tactics to fleece money from veterans, the president fired up the crowd by sharing his appreciation for the “Dog Face” soldiers who have, and who continue to play a pivotal role in the nation’s security.
“You have performed heroically in some of the most dangerous places on earth,” President Obama declared to the troops assembled before him. “You have done everything that has been asked of you, and more.”
The president said “Dog Face” soldiers have earned a special place in the nation’s history and that future generations will speak of their achievements.
“They’ll speak of how the 3rd Infantry Division’s thunder run into Baghdad signaled the end of a dictatorship and how you brought Iraq back from the brink of civil war,” President Obama said. “They’ll speak of you and your service in Afghanistan and in the fight against al-Qaeda. History will remember what you did, and so will we — we will remember the profound sacrifices that you have made in these wars.”
The commander in chief harkened back to the generation of returning World War II veterans who attended college in droves thanks to a grateful nation who supported and created the original GI Bill. President Obama said it hasn’t been as easy for today’s veterans returning to the civilian world.
President Obama expressed that while most higher learning institutions provide quality educational services to service members and veterans, there are some institutions who have used the creation of the Post 9/11 GI Bill to “swindle and hoodwink” soldiers out of their benefits.
The commander in chief said the executive order he would be signing was designed to change the way higher learning institution’s conduct business with veterans, beginning with requiring that the institution’s present clear, accurate information about program requirements and cost. Furthermore, the president said, the executive order would require that schools provide enhanced counseling services to service members and veterans, to ensure they can remain on clear degree paths throughout and after their military careers.
Finally, the president said, the executive order would put an end to dishonest recruiting by higher learning institutions, and would increase the government’s oversight of improper recruitment practices.
“Your generation—the 9/11 generation—has written one of the greatest chapters of military service that America has ever seen, but I know that for many of you a new chapter is unfolding,” President Obama said. “The war in Iraq is over; the transition in Afghanistan is under way. Many of our troops are coming home, back to civilian life, and as [they] return I know that [they’re] looking for new jobs … and new ways to serve this great country of ours.
“Those of you who want to pursue a higher education and learn new skills … deserve that opportunity,” the president continued. “Higher education is the clearest path to the middle class—that’s progress. We’ve got to make sure you’ve got every tool you need to make an informed decision when it comes to picking a school.”
At the beginning of the ceremony, Sgt. Johnnie E. Marshall, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2-3 Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Inf. Div., told the crowd his story about his struggle to find a higher learning institution that would take his education seriously. The soldier stood by the president’s side as the commander in chief sat at an official desk and signed the executive order into action.
“I’m thankful the president and the first lady are here to address this issue,” Marshall said. “I’m glad they are taking action.”
President Obama and the first lady ended their visit by shaking hands with the soldiers and family members they promised to continue to serve.