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Honoring the Air Force's Special Operators

Remarks 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 nation.

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 security.

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 landing zones;

- 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 been liberated.

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.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).