Feb. 29, 2012 - Panetta at Dinner in Honor of the Armed Forces who Served in Operation Iraqi Freedom
March 2, 2012
Thank you very much, General Dempsey.
Thank you for your duty, for your dedication, for your service to this great nation that we all represent here this evening.
Tonight, we are truly in the company of heroes. The honor that we present to all of you is because we care about those who have fought and sacrificed in Iraq.
Mr. President, Mrs. Obama, we thank you deeply for honoring those heroes and welcoming them here into your home.
To all who fought in Iraq, we thank you for your service. You've earned our nation's everlasting gratitude. We are indebted to you for your willingness to fight, your willingness to fight for your country. We are indebted to your families and to your loved ones for the sacrifices that they made so that their loved ones could help defend this nation.
Again and again and again, you left the comfort of family and friends, you left the comfort of this great country, and confronted brutal realities. Places like Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah, Sadr City, Najaf and elsewhere throughout Iraq. Your unflagging commitment and uncommon dedication helped the Iraqis realize a dream of building an independent and sovereign nation that could secure and defend itself.
It is not going to be easy, but the fact is you gave them the opportunity to be a democracy -- because of you. You are part of a generation of Americans -- the new, greatest generation of Americans -- responding to the call of duty by your nation. Deployment after deployment, you've been willing to serve this nation. You've been willing to put your lives on the line and you've been willing to die in order to protect this country.
You have done everything this country asked you to do. You return to a grateful nation. And you can stand proud of all you've accomplished. We owe all of you the honor that your service is deserving. And we owe to you the assurance that we will never forget the sacrifices of those who are not with us this evening -- those who gave their lives to this country. We pledge to their memory and we pledge to all of you that we will never forget and we will never retreat from what you've accomplished.
Last December in Baghdad, we cased the colors of the United States Forces Iraq. And I had the chance to be at that ceremony. And at the time I noted, this is not the end; this is truly the beginning.
For America tonight, this is not the end. It is the beginning of a long-lasting tribute to you and to all who served in Iraq. This country was built upon the service and sacrifice of men and women like you. Our very democracy depends on people like you, who are willing to step forward and defend this country, to salute and, yes, to fight to give each of us a chance to pursue the American Dream, giving our children a better life.
And just as you have recognized and fulfilled your responsibility to this nation, we must do the same for you. It is now our responsibility, the responsibility of communities at every corner of this country, to embrace your return, to welcome you back, and to ensure that you and your families have the support you deserve.
As Secretary of Defense, I can't tell you how proud I am of you, and how proud I am of every American who serves this country in uniform.
And now it is my honor to introduce someone who believes deeply in that American Dream -- we are both products of that, as the children of those who came from other countries. And he is dedicated to defending and preserving that dream. I'm grateful to Vice President Biden and to Dr. Jill Biden for their continued strong support for our men and women in uniform. They have a son, Beau, who deployed to Iraq, so they know what this war is all about and the sacrifices that are required of military families.
Over the past three years, Vice President Biden has traveled to the region extensively and has played a tremendous role in steering Iraq policy. He probably deserves a combat badge for the political battles that he's been involved in. And Jill has led the effort, along with Mrs. Obama, to support our military families.
On behalf of all of us at the Department of Defense, we thank the President, we thank Mrs. Obama, we thank the Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden, for their leadership, for their support and for their dedication to a strong America. Strong in mind, strong in body and strong in spirit.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Vice President of the United States.