News: Obama Salutes Servicemembers' Duty, Sacrifices
WASHINGTON, D.C. - President Barack Obama today thanked U.S. military members for their service and sacrifice to the nation during his visit to a Florida Navy base.
America has the best military in the world, "because we have the finest personnel in the world," Obama told service members at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
"You are the best-trained, the best-prepared, the best-led force in history," Obama said. "Our people are our most precious resource."
Obama then cited the 11 U.S. service members and three U.S. civilians who perished today in Afghanistan as a result of two separate helicopter crashes.
"Fourteen Americans gave their lives. And our prayers are with these service members, their civilian colleagues and the families who loved them," Obama said.
Relatives and friends of the departed may find some comfort, Obama said, in knowing that their loved ones died to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for al-Qaida terrorists and their extremist allies. Those who perished in the helicopter crashes in Afghanistan "gave their lives to protect ours," said the president added.
Obama told the military members that he is humbled by their service to the nation.
"The American people thank you for your service," he said. "We honor you for your sacrifices. And just as you have fulfilled your responsibilities to your nation, your nation will fulfill its responsibilities to you."
Of all the presidential privileges and responsibilities, Obama said, his highest honor is to serve as commander in chief of the U.S. military. "You inspire me," he said. "And I'm here today to deliver a simple message — a message of thanks to you and your families."
Earlier today, Obama conducted a sixth White House meeting with his national security advisors to discuss the way ahead in Afghanistan. As deliberations continue, the president emphasized in Jacksonville, he will never rush the decision to send America's service members into harm's way.
"I won't risk your lives unless it's absolutely necessary," Obama told service members. "And if it is necessary, we will back you up to the hilt, because you deserve the strategy, the clear mission and the defined goals as well as the equipment and support that you need to get the job done."
Obama pledged that U.S. service members always would be fully supported back home, noting he will soon sign a $680.2 billion defense authorization bill for fiscal 2010 that contains added funding for the military.
Obama also vowed to take care of U.S. service members' families, noting First Lady Michelle Obama has been visiting bases across the country to connect with military families. Recent actions, the president said, have increased military pay and education benefits and improved child care and hospital facilities as part of efforts to improve quality of life for servicemembers and military families.
He also cited initiatives designed to reduce military families' stress while loved ones are deployed and efforts that bolster medical care for wounded warriors.
"We're improving care for our wounded warriors, especially those with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries," Obama said.
And to take better care of the nation's veterans, Obama said, the Department of Veterans Affairs budget is being increased by the highest percentage in more than 30 years. Service members, their families and veterans deserve these initiatives and more, the president said, because of their service to the nation.
"You have always taken care of America; America must take care of you, always," Obama told service members.
Obama recalled Jacksonville's recent welcome home for previously missing Navy aviator Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, whose remains were discovered in August in Iraq and returned to his family for burial. Speicher was shot down over Iraq in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War.
As Speicher's flag-draped casket lay in repose at the naval base's chapel before his burial, Jacksonville's military members and civilians "gave Scott back to the city he loved," Obama said.
"That's what you do," he added, "not only for Scott, but for all the fallen warriors you bring home."
While in Jacksonville, Obama also met with 11 sailors and Marines noted for their leadership, high achievement and excellence during performance of their duties.