By Sgt. Steven Peterson, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry)May 27, 2014
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (May 26, 2014) -- As service members filed into an aircraft hangar, rumors filled the crowd. Some were talking about who might be the surprise band coming to play Sunday night, while others talked about work for the following week. However, not many of those in the attendance knew who would show up.
After a concert by country music artist Brad Paisley, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the International Security Assistance Force commander, introduced President Barack Obama to the crowd, and on the eve of Memorial Day, the President spoke about the "heavy price" paid by the American service members and how grateful the entire nation has been for their sacrifices.
"I know you've stood in front of those battle crosses. I know many of you carry the memories of your fallen comrades in your heart today. We will honor every single one of them -- not just tomorrow, but forever."
Along with remembering those who have fallen, he also made it his mission to thank those who currently serve and in hostile areas.
"To all of you, I'm here on a single mission, and that is to thank you for your extraordinary service," Obama said. "I thank you as your commander-in-chief, because you inspire me. Your willingness to serve, to step forward at a time of war, and say 'send me,' is the reason the United States stays strong and free. Of all the honors that I have serving as president, nothing matches serving as your commander-in-chief."
For Pfc. Ian Duncan, a tech support administrator with the Division Support Company, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), in his first combat deployment, the visit was an unexpected treat.
"I would have never expected to meet the president of the United States in Afghanistan," said Duncan, of Norfolk, Va. "I liked that he took the time to mention the family, and he was really nice."
Obama also spoke about the state of the Afghanistan mission and the strategic progress made by Afghan security forces during the past few years leading up to their first democratic transfer of power that were, in large part, to the many contributions made by deployed service members.
"We said that we were going to strengthen the capacity of Afghan forces so they could take more responsibility for their own security," he said. "So you've been training Afghan forces and building Afghan forces up. And we know they've still got a long way to go. But for nearly a year, Afghans have been in the lead, and they're making enormous sacrifices. You look at the casualties they're taking on. They are willing to fight. Afghan forces are growing stronger. Afghans are proud to be defending their own country -- and, again, so much of that is because of you."
As this year marks the end of the combat mission for American troops in Afghanistan, Obama emphasized that the American commitment to the people of Afghanistan will endure and with the strategic partnership, America will stand with Afghans as they strengthen their institutions, economy, and they improve their lives.
For 18-year veteran Chief Warrant Officer 3 Andrea Ebanks-Joyner, a human resources technician with Intelligence and Sustainment Company, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), of Miami, the presidential visit was the first in her career, and the experience of meeting and shaking hands with her commander-in-chief was not only an "honor," but also humbling.
"I agree with the President, in regards to our commitment to the Afghan people; we have empowered the Afghan people to take a stand against tyranny and vote," she said. "Women are gaining a voice, and the Afghan military is well trained and ready to defend its citizens. We are committed to their continued success."