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Heroes--then and now.

Remarks to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Conference, Washington, March 8, 2005

It's certainly a pleasure to be here today as the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, but more important to me really is I'm also here as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and hopefully I represent everyone in uniform out there today serving. And it gives me the right to tell a joke.

So there were three guys standing in front of the Pearly Gates--a Soldier, a Sailor and an Airman. They were arguing about which service was the best.

St. Peter on hearing this argument came out and said "Gentlemen, gentlemen, gentlemen. This is very unseemly. Please come on in. We're going to submit this petition to the man himself, to God, and we're going to have him rule on which service he thinks is the best."

So the guys come on in and they wait a couple of weeks and then St. Peter hails them and gets them together. They're standing there and St. Peter pulls out this glowing white piece of paper. There's stardust emanating from all around it. And he reads:

Memorandum from God. Paragraph one. I carefully deliberated the virtues of each of the services of the United States of America and I have determined that no one service can be deemed superior to the other. All over the generations of the history of the United States of America have demonstrated courage and bravery and contributed significantly to the continuing freedom of that great nation. Signed God, United States Air Force, Retired.

To be fair, I first heard that from a Marine and the ending wasn't the same.

I'd like to particularly thank the VFW for its military assistance program and its partnership with the Air Force Aid Society in taking care of the many Airmen out there who find themselves struggling in need in this time of stress on our military. Your service has been magnificent. You give everything from your time to telephone cards and it makes a big difference out there among the ranks and among the morale of our Airmen.

Sitting here reflecting, I just had my 60th birthday, I've just entered my 39th year of service in uniform. And my dad before me was a fighter pilot and he served for 28 years. Reflecting on my life, he was typical of that generation, brought up in the Depression era and worked at Cord Cotton Farm with his family in Paris, Texas.

He signed up for the Army Air Corps during World War II and didn't get in on the war itself, but right after the war, we found ourselves, I was two-years-old, over in Japan during the occupation.

I caught the flying bug early because my first memories as a two-year-old were sitting in my dad's lap in a P-51. His job as a second lieutenant at the time was to take all these great World War II fighters off of barges as they came in during the occupation. And before I was three-years-old I had time in the P-1, P-47, P-38, the British Typhoon, and the British Spitfire. I wish I could remember it--all I can remember is the noise.

I grew up in this magnificent setting of the heroes in the early days of aviation. My dad's War College classmate was Chuck Yeager. When I was a senior in high school we lived at Langley (AFB) in Virginia and there was an onery old guy and he was the commander of the Tactical Air Command at the time. His name was Frank K. Everest. And he had in his garage one of these magnificent cars that you don't see any more, a Mercedes Benz 300 SL Goldwing Roadster. Do you remember that? You only see pictures of them any more.

Well, I lived at 2A Egan Avenue, and from 2B Egan Avenue on down at Langley AFB during that time lived the Mercury 7 astronauts. That's how I grew up. I got to know these guys and their way of life. I remember when Alan Shepherd first went into space, when he got back down the Chevrolet Motor Company gave him a Corvette--the rules were a little bit different then. He and Frank Everest--General Everest took the speed limit signs down from all over Langley AFB--and they'd go racing around the runway in those two cars. I said whatever those guys are doing, I like that and I want to do that for the rest of my life.

But it was a magnificent period. We were in love with our heroes then. There were plenty of heroes to go around. I left Hampton High School, went off to Virginia Military Institute and on into Vietnam. My first tour in Vietnam I flew the C-7 Caribou. We had just inherited those from the Army and my first tour was servicing the 18th Special Forces Camps out there in the hinterlands of Vietnam. You could have had no greater experience as a second lieutenant, let me tell you.

And through those years I knew the heroes of World War II, the heroes of Korea, and I got to be there with some of the heroes of Vietnam.

I just finished reading a book by Rick Atkinson called "An Army at Dawn." It's a great book about the invasion, our experience in North Africa in World War II. But the most memorable part of that book is in the introduction he reminds us that during World War II, for 2,167 days starting in September 1939, and for each and every day of that war, 26,700 people died. That adds up to 65 million. Sixty-five million people.

And it reminds us of a world gone wrong. What happens when things spiral out of control in the world we live in today? It's a lesson we have to pay attention to today in this era of weapons of mass destruction, and terrorists who care not about our lives, but they also care not about their own lives. And it puts us in a situation that we've never really been in before as a nation.

If you go down to Guantanamo and talk to the prisoners down there, they will tell you, don't let me go because if you do I will come back and kill you. This is what we're up against.

And when you take guys like Osama bin Laden and people like him, we have no room to negotiate with these people. There is no middle ground. There is only one answer to them and that's to hunt them down and take them out, and that's what we are going to do.

These people are not at war against our Army or our Marines or our Air Force or our Navy. They are at war against our way of life and we need to remember that. They want us all dead. Not because they have a better vision of what to do with their populations or how to elevate the human spirit or serve their people better, it's only because we're different, because we're free, because we vote, because we have an opinion, because we're allowed to express it.

When I was in Afghanistan in November, every Afghani you met, their proudest possession was to pull out their voting card. On that voting card they had their signature and a fingerprint. And even though they couldn't speak a word of English, they put this out and I don't know what they were saying, but I bet it was, "I'm just like you. I can vote." And they were so proud.

You can't even imagine--we're sitting here at this great distance, sitting here today, sitting in this comfortable hotel, you have no idea the impact that this had on the normal person in Afghanistan and Iraq to be able to go out and to vote. Even on the most venomous TV stations, al-Jazeera and al-Arabia, you saw pictures of people lined up to vote in Iraq and exercise that right for the first time in their lives.

It's huge, ladies and gentlemen. And who's making that possible today? You go over there, and again, as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff I get to go over and I get to see the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. I get to see them all, Coast Guardsmen, in action. And they are magnificent.

They're bright, they're inventive, they're committed, they are patriotic and they're putting things together and making things happen in ways that are absolutely unbelievable.

During the war in Afghanistan you saw pictures in the newspaper of the young kids out on the horse with the Afghani guides and they're hunting down the Taliban and they're out there on horseback. One of those kids on horseback is a young Air Force sergeant named Markam. He happened to have his picture in the paper a few times out there with some of these Afghan warlords hunting down the bad guys. You sit and look at that picture, and there dangling off the saddle horn of that horse is an INMARSAT, a satellite communication system. Strapped over the butt of the horse is a pair of laser range finding goggles. As a matter of fact we got a message from Sergeant Markam, one of the first messages we got from him saying, "You know, I don't know when we stopped riding horses in the U.S. military, but we shouldn't have stopped, because I don't know much about riding a horse and these guys down here have wooden saddles. And I don't know much about saddles, but I bet this is the most uncomfortable one they ever made. So please drop me a leather saddle and some Vaseline." And we did.

Sergeant Markam would take that satellite communication system and those laser rangefinding goggles, and on one memorable sortie, he set it up--they were taking fire from the next ridge line. There was a big long trench line they found that was full of Taliban. He zeroed in on them and datalinked the data right up to a B-52 at 32,000 feet dropping laser-guided bombs, marched them right down this trench line, killed 110 of these guys in one pass.

The old Afghan warlord who was with him said, "I've been fighting these guys for 15 years and I didn't think we'd ever kill that many total and I've never seen anything like it."

Just think about it. This is a B-52 built by General Curtis E. LeMay in 1957 to go drop nuclear weapons in the heart of the old Soviet Union. You've got the horse that I think we stopped riding in the cavalry in about 1932. You've got a laser rangefinder and you've got satellite communications. You're putting all this together, shooting it up to a satellite-guided bomb. These kids are putting this stuff together, the old and the new, to do what it takes to get the job done.

When I was over there just a couple of months ago for the first night of Fallujah. I was in the hospital there, in one of our Air Force field hospitals when the first of the wounded came in. You look at the technologies and what these young Soldiers and Marines are using today. They're using these unmanned air vehicles and having a God's eye view of what they're up against. You're watching these UAVs that are armed with Hellfire missiles--that if they've got a sniper problem--this UAV comes in and helps them take it out, or somebody with a bomb to help out, anybody that needs the help on the ground. They're putting it together and networking in the way it needs to be done. It's unbelievable, the way they're doing it.

When they're not fighting, the thing that you don't see on the news is you watch them help the Iraqi people. You watch these young engineers out there of all services rebuilding mosques, rebuilding schools.

One of our tanker refueling outfits stationed in United Arab Emirates put together a program where they just took a bunch of backpacks and school supplies up to kids in Northern Iraq. And when they went up there to that village, it was a small village, but it was sectioned off into where the Sunnis lived, the Shiites lived, the Kurds lived, and the Turkamen lived. What they did was get everybody in the middle of town and pass out these backpacks and school supplies and the villagers said you know, this is the first time we've ever really gotten together because we really don't mingle very much. The village is not much bigger than this room.

It's that sort of stuff that Americans do when they're in this environment. It's absolutely magnificent. You should have seen the response that we had to the events of the tsunami. What a tragedy that is. But when you see this constant stream of C-130s and C-17s going in there for the relief of these people, and you see the Indonesian people who really were very suspicious of us saying you know, this is pretty overwhelming, as Americans do, go in to help people in times of need.

Well ladies and gentlemen, I'd tell you that I have been spending my life around heroes, and I want you to know that today there are no fewer heroes than there have ever been before. Every service has a story. I'm going to tell you the story of Jason Cunningham, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham. He's a pararescueman.

You may remember the story of Roberts Ridge during Afghanistan when a CH-47 was going in with a helicopter full of Rangers and SEALS and combat controllers and they took fire and this Navy SEAL named Roberts actually fell out of the helicopter. They didn't know what happened to him, so they went back and regrouped, got a bunch of volunteers, filled up another helicopter and went back to try and find Seaman Roberts.

On that helicopter, which was mostly Army Rangers, on that helicopter were three Airmen. Senior Airman Cunningham was a pararescueman, he was one of them and stationed at Moody AFB, Ga.

As he approached, the helicopter got shot down. As it hit the ground there were a lot of people injured, they were taking fire from 360 degrees and Airman Cunningham pulled the injured away from the helicopter as best he could and started to treat them. They started to work on getting some close air support in there and getting some help to get them out. In the ensuing time Senior Airman Cunningham was mortally wounded.

After this was all over I went out to Kirtland AFB, N.M., where his family lives, and we had a ceremony where I presented his widow the Air Force Cross. And all the Army Rangers that were on that helicopter were there for that ceremony and they told me that when Jason Cunningham knew he wasn't going to survive, he spent his last few minutes making sure that the other people around him knew how to take care of the wounded. He was telling them what to do for this wounded guy and that wounded guy.

I presented his wife, Theresa, with the Air Force Cross. They had two daughters ages two and four. She'd been going to night school at Valdosta State College there in Valdosta, Georgia and was in ROTC. I went back the next January and commissioned her into the Air Force as a second lieutenant. She serves today. These are the kind of people I'm talking about.

Master Sgt. Alan Machita is a combat controller in our Special Operations, lost the use of his right arm. The system, of course, was going to medically discharge him and we said, "No", he wanted to stay in so he stays in. As a matter of fact anybody today, if they want to with their injuries, can stay in the Air Force, and believe me, they all want to do it. Most of them do.

We put him to work with our developers to try and put some high tech stuff into the equipment that our special operators use and he's doing a magnificent job doing that.

Just last week I pinned a Purple Heart on a Lieutenant Theresa Forasce who was hit in an IED attack, an improvised explosive device along the side of the road. She was burned over 30 percent of her body. Her first question, just like most of them are for any of us who walk in the room, and I'm talking about any service, they want to stay in. And it's a magnificent thing to see.

So who are these youngsters out here today? When you see MTV and half-time at the Super Bowl, and you sit and wonder what's going on with these kids. Who are these kids? I'll end with one final story.

When I get good and fed up with what's going on in Washington, D.C., I go out to Lackland AFB in Texas. Every Friday morning at Lackland AFB we bring a thousand new Airmen into the Air Force. They just finished their basic training. And it's always a big crowd. You have a thousand on the parade field and you've got two or three thousand parents and loved ones out there in the audience. It's a pretty big crowd.

So they come off the parade field and you sit back in the shadows and watch them as they come back together with their parents for the first time in several weeks, and you'll see the same scene every single time. Mothers walk right by their kids, don't recognize them. Some kid's standing in front of his or her mother or father saying, "Mom, Dad, it's me."

I heard one dad say, "That ain't the kid I brought here." He said the kid I brought here looked like he fell down the steps with his tackle box in his hand with the pierced eye and the pierced nose and the pierced lip

But it is his kid. And what you do is you go out there and you shake these kids' hand. I always ask them the same question. I say, "Are you proud of yourself?" And the answers you get are amazing. "Sir, this is the first time I've ever been proud of anything I've done." "Sir, this is the first time my dad ever told me he was proud of me." And one 19-year-old female that I quote all the time said, "Sir, this is the first time I've ever felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself." That's pretty powerful from a 19-year-old in this day and age.

And what is the difference? Again, the same in every service. The difference is they're exposed to a little bit of leadership, a sense of commitment, and most of all, they're exposed to being proud. They're exposed to pride. And once you feel that first ounce of pride, everybody in the room has experienced it, you can't ever turn back.

I like to tell audiences like this, have no fear. This generation of youngsters when properly led and motivated is no less dedicated, committed, or patriotic than any generation that ever served and we need to be proud of them.

So ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor for me to stand before you here today. I'm always humbled to stand in the presence of great Americans, and that's what we have here is a roomful of great Americans who have given a lifetime of service to their nation and done so, so selflessly. God bless each and every one of you, and God bless this great United States of America.

Thank you all very much.
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Title Annotation:Veterans of Foreign Wars National Conference
Author:Jumper, John P.
Publication:Air Force Speeches
Article Type:Transcript
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 8, 2005
Words:3315
Previous Article:Toward new air and space horizons.
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