During his surprise trip to Afghanistan May 2, President Barack Obama found some time – between signing a strategic agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and delivering a speech to be broadcast back to the United States – to speak with U.S. service members at Bagram Airfield.
The commander in chief started by acknowledging Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO International Security Assistance Force troops in Afghanistan, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, the senior U.S. diplomat there.
Obama then listed the military units represented in the crowd, from 1st Infantry Division to the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing. Assembled service members greeted each unit designation the president listed with an enthusiastic “Hooah!” His basic message to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines was simple; the president said: “All I want to do is just say thank you.”
The sacrifices service members have made are what make America free and secure, the president said. Obama told the troops he had just signed the U.S.-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement, which signals the transition to turning over Afghanistan’s security lead to that nation’s own forces.
“We’re not going to do it overnight,” he said. “We’re not going to do it irresponsibly. We’re going to make sure that the gains, the hard-fought gains that have been made, are preserved.”
U.S. service members and their coalition partners are the reason that agreement is possible, and the reason Afghans “have an opportunity for a new tomorrow,” he said.
“We did not choose this war,” the president said. “This war came to us on 9/11. And there are a whole bunch of folks here, I’ll bet, who signed up after 9/11.” When Americans see their homeland violated and their fellow citizens killed, he added, “then we understand what we have to do.”
Because Americans like those at Bagram Airfield today stepped forward, the commander in chief said, “not only were we able to blunt the Taliban momentum, not only were we able to drive al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, but slowly and systematically we have been able to decimate the ranks of al Qaeda, and a year ago we were able to finally bring Osama bin Laden to justice.”
Troops made that happen by doing their jobs every day, he said, and their families made it happen by loving and supporting them.
“Together, you guys represent what is best in America,” the president said. “And you’re part of a long line of those who have worn this uniform to make sure that we are free and secure, to make sure that those of us at home have the capacity to live our lives.”
Everybody in America knows and appreciates that, Obama said.
“And everybody in America honors it,” he added. “When the final chapter of this war is written, historians will look back and say, not only was this the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, but all of you also represented the values of America in an exemplary way.”
The president said he understands troops’ jobs remain tough.
“I know the battle is not yet over,” he said. “Some of your buddies are going to get injured, and some of your buddies may get killed. And there’s going to be heartbreak and pain and difficulty ahead. But there’s a light on the horizon because of the sacrifices you’ve made.”
The nation will stand behind its troops when war ends, the president said, “because you’ve earned it.”
“You earned a special place in our hearts,” Obama said. “And I could not be prouder to be your commander in chief.”