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'We will prevail' President addresses MacDill on Operation Iraqi Freedom

by Airman 1st Class Andrea Thacker
Thunderbolt editor

Gratitude, honor, pride and perseverance were the heart of the message delivered by President George W. Bush, who visited MacDill Wednesday to address the troops on Operation Iraqi Freedom.

More than 9,000 men, women and children from MacDill gathered inside Hangar 3 to hear their commander in chief, who expressed thanks to members of the military and coalition forces for their continued support in the War on Terrorism and to free Iraq.

"Laura and I are really proud to be here with the good men and women of U.S. Central Command and MacDill," said Bush. "And I want you to know your nation appreciates your commitment and sacrifice in the cause of peace and freedom."

"We're also proud to be here today with our friends and allies, representative of the 48 nations across the world who have joined America in Operation Iraqi Freedom," said Bush. "Over the last week, the world has witnessed the skill and honor and resolve of our military in the course of battle. We have seen the character of this new generation of American armed forces. We've seen their daring against ruthless enemies and their decency to an oppressed people. Millions of Americans are proud of our military, and so am I. I am honored to be the commander in chief."

As an activated reservist deployed to CENTCOM from Maryland, Army Lt. Col. Michael La Violette, believes in the president's decision, but is anxious to get back to his family.

"He is my commander in chief and I am behind him 110 percent," said Violette.

Holding a picture of his son Alex and daughter Amelia that were signed only moments before by Laura Bush, La Violette reminded himself the sooner this war is over the sooner he can go home.

The 43rd president expressed his condolences for the family and friends of the fallen American and coalition soldiers and thanked God that liberty found such brave defenders.

Because MacDill is host to U.S. CENTCOM and Coalition Village, Bush conveyed his happiness with the progress coalition forces are making in Iraq but reminded the audience that the war is far from over.

"We cannot know the duration of this war, but we are prepared for the battle ahead," said Bush. "We cannot predict the final day of the Iraqi regime, but I can assure you, and I assure the long-suffering people of Iraq, there will be a day of reckoning for the Iraqi regime, and that day is drawing near."

He went on to say, "In Iraq today, our military is focused and unwavering. We have an effective plan of battle and the flexibility to meet every challenge. Nothing - nothing - will divert us from our clear mission. We will press on through every hardship. We will overcome every danger. And we will prevail. Day by day, Saddam Hussein is losing his grip on Iraq; day by day, the Iraqi people are closer to freedom."

Staff Sgt. Tee Hayes was pleased to be one of many to listen to the president.

"It really made me proud to be part of the armed forces," said Hayes. "It made me feel good to know he supports his troops and to know he took time to address us especially with everything going on in the world today."

He told the people that every victory in this campaign and every sacrifice serves the purpose of defending innocent lives, in America and across the world, from the weapons of terror.

"We will not wait to meet this danger, with firefighters and police and doctors on the streets of our own cities. Instead, we are meeting the danger today with our Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines."

Not only did President Bush thank the U.S. military, he thanked the members of the 48 nations fighting alongside America, here and abroad.

"Coalition forces are skilled and courageous, and we are honored to have them by our side," said Bush. "This band of war criminals (the Iraqi regime) has been put on notice: The day of Iraq's liberation will also be a day of justice. Our enemy in this war is the Iraqi regime, not the people who have suffered under it.

"We have no ambition in Iraq except the liberation of its people. We ask no reward except a durable peace. And we will accept no outcome short of complete and final success."

He again reminded the crowd the path the U.S. is taking is not easy and may be long.

"We know our destination. We will stay on the path - mile by mile - all the way to Baghdad, and all the way to victory."

Before his departure from MacDill, Bush ate lunch with 125 military members from CENTCOM, U.S. Special Operations Command and the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

As one of the 35 wing members selected to enjoy lunch with the president, Staff Sgt. Patrick Cleland was honored to sit at his table.

"I was a little intimidated because of the shear magnitude of sitting across the table from the president of the United States," said Cleland. "That has, and will be, the greatest honor of my military career. It was my responsibility to represent wing personnel and that was a responsibility I was not going to fail."




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