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Honoring the Air Force's Special Operators
at the Air Force Special Operations Command Awards Ceremony, Hurlburt Field,
Fla., July 3, 2003 by Dr. James G. Roche, secretary of the Air Force.
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, family and
friends, good morning. It's great to be here today, once again, with the "quiet
professionals" of our Air Force Special Operations Command. I want to thank
Lieutenant General Paul Hester for inviting me here to participate in this very
special event. Today we honor the airmen who serve on the frontlines in the war
on terror -- those who risked much for their mission and their fellow warriors,
and those whose selfless devotion delivered victory in conflict. Tomorrow is our
nation's 227th birthday. We are reminded of the gallant exploits of American
warriors over the years in whose traditions walk those whom we honor this
morning. General Washington would be proud of each and every one of you!
I'm especially delighted to see that so many of you were able
to join us for this ceremony. You are America's "Special Operators," absolutely
vital in delivering the combat capability of our armed forces.
We win in air and space -- and on the ground and at sea --
increasingly because of the high-risk, specialized missions you execute night
and day, in any environment, and despite great risks to your personal safety.
You've performed your missions with a true warrior ethos through Operations
Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and in our continuing Global War on
Terrorism. So, it's indeed a special privilege -- and personally humbling -- for
me to join you to recognize these brave airmen today -- for they represent all
of the 12,000 plus active, guard, reserve, and civilian "air commandos" who
sacrifice so much for our nation.
I am equally honored to be in the company of your family
members -- those here today, and those who could not attend because of family
commitments. To each of them, thank you so very much for your unqualified
contributions to our nation's security. Our special operations teams entail
great personal risk as they carry out their daily duties. You too accept the
consequences of that risk -- bearing the great stress on your families ever so
stoically -- my deepest thanks to each of you for your loyalty, for your
strength, for your love and for your unique and much appreciated service to our
As "Special Operators," our air commandos' contributions to
combat operations have been nothing short of remarkable. If conflict were a
sporting event, we'd label you all as our "Most Valuable Players" for virtually
every engagement with the enemy. That's because you and the capabilities you
deliver are emerging in this era as the lynchpin to fulfilling our vision of a
fully integrated joint warfighting team. One that enables us to rapidly bring
firepower to bear against a range of targets in a variety of environments --
from permissive theaters to enemy controlled territory. You are the capability
that links air and space power to ground operations.
In doing so, you deliver success on the battlefield, and that
translates directly to our nation's ability to assure our friends, deter
potential adversaries, and swiftly defeat our enemies.
Ours is a joint warfighting force the likes of which the
world has never seen in the history of combat. The awards presented here today
are testimony to that fact, and confirm your exceptional value to our nation's
Since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom and
Operation Noble Eagle, the contributions made by members of AFSOC are incredible,
and serve as an indication of your unwavering commitment to service. You have:
- Surveyed, opened and controlled austere airfields and
- Successfully executed thousands of terminal air strikes
resulting in millions of pounds of munitions on target;
- Flew more than 9,600 hours and more than 3,000 sorties in
support of operations;
- And, provided support for thousands of missions to
include unconventional warfare, special reconnaissance, direct action,
airfield operations, and combat search and rescue.
These are extraordinary contributions -- and they continue to
grow every day. Your efforts -- and the firepower you enable -- delivered
multiple victories in our continuing war on terrorism:
In Afghanistan, the Taliban was driven from power, and that
nation is no longer a base for global terrorist operations nor the breeding
ground for radical Islamic militancy it once was. And, the Afghan people have
In Iraq, we have again delivered an oppressed nation from the
yoke of a vicious dictator, protected the community of nations from the
proliferation of dangerous weapons, and have reinvigorated the road to peace for
the entire region. But, as you know better than most, there is much to be done
to secure our victory in Iraq. And, you will continue to be called upon.
In this most recent campaign, the tempo of special operations
reached an intensity not experienced since the Vietnam War. And, more
significant, for the first time, special operators were integrated into the
theater commanders campaign plan as an integral element of the operation.
During this campaign, Air Force special operators have:
Flown nearly 4,000 hours and more than 1,100 sorties in
support of combat operations
Conducted multiple personnel recovery operations -- to
include the rescue and recovery of our POWs
Secured key Iraqi oil fields from the start of hostilities
Provided Unconventional Warfare assistance, terminal attack
control and intelligence support to friendly forces
And, secured the western portion of Iraq -- preventing
enemy missile launches, and seizing airfields vital to the combatant
commander's scheme of maneuver
These operations continue to the present, with Air Commandos
going in harm's way even as we speak. Just last month, 2,500 AFSOC warriors were
deployed, continuing our effort to defend our people in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And rest assured, when the full story of your contributions
to these conflicts are one day disclosed, the world will then become aware of
yet another revolutionary development in the conduct of military affairs. And I
will be proud to bear witness to it.
While we have achieved much in Afghanistan and Iraq, the road
to the future is paved with uncertainty, and our nation must be prepared to meet
the challenges which will emerge. Yet, the brave airmen who stand before us
today -- and those they represent throughout this command -- give us confidence
that America will prevail in the fight against terrorism and those who oppose
our cherished freedoms.
As we honor these heroes today, let us not forget our fallen
comrades and their families, those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the
freedom American's enjoy everyday. Our lost warfighters are with us in spirit,
and inspire those who remain to achieve victory against any threat that stands
in our way.
Thomas Jefferson once noted: "The tree of liberty must
sometimes be watered with the blood of tyrants."
Thanks to your heroic efforts, the liberty tree continues to
be healthy and strong.
I thank you for your honorable and selfless service.
Congratulations again to each award recipient. You and your fellow warriors have
General Jumper's and my utmost respect. Thank you for asking me to join you
today. May God bless each of you and your families, and may he continue to bless
the United States of America.