By Spc. Mary L. GonzalezDecember 19, 2008
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (Dec. 15, 2008) - President George W. Bush paid a visit to the service members of Combined Joint Task Force-101 during his last visit as president to Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Dec. 15.
Hundreds of U.S. service members let out cheers as Air Force One landed on the nearby flight line. Soon after, their commander in chief stood with them in the winter cold, most likely for the last time.
"Many often say, 'what are you going to miss''" Bush said of his presidency, then jokingly said, "I'll miss the airplane of course. But I'm mainly going to miss being the commander in chief of such an outstanding group of men and women."
He went on to describe the great strides made in Afghanistan during the past eight years.
"When I took office in 2001 the Taliban were brutally repressing the Afghan people," Bush said. "Girls were denied access to school, people who did not submit to the regime's radical beliefs were beaten in public or executed in soccer stadiums. Al Qaida had free reign to operate the country."
"It was here in Afghanistan that the terrorists planned the attacks of September 11, 2001," he said. "After that date, America gave the Taliban a choice: you can turn over the leaders of Al Qaida - or you can share in their fate. And when they refused, our just demands were enforced by the United States military."
Thanks to the U.S. service members, Afghanistan's economy has more than doubled in size and Afghans are preparing to go to their own election polls, he stressed.
"As I conclude this final trip, I have a message to you and all who serve our country," Bush said. "Thank you for making the noble choice to serve and protect your fellow Americans. What you are doing in Afghanistan is important and it is courageous and it is selfless. Your generation is every bit as great as any that has come before and the work you do every day is shaping history for generations to come."
After addressing the troops, Bush took the time to talk with several service members before continuing on to the city of Kabul, the capitol of Afghanistan.
"It was good seeing the president come in and give everyone a little holiday cheer and boost moral up," said St. Louis native Spc. Richard Bouras of Headquarters and Supply Company, Special Troops Battalion, 101st Airborne Division. "It was the first time I'd ever seen him..."
Bouras' sentiments were shared by other Soldiers, Saliors, Airmen and Marines there, including Pfc. Kevin Providence of 3rd Explosive Ordnance Battalion out of Fort Lewis, Wash.
"This was a historical event, he came to address us and thank us for all the work that we are doing over here and our sacrifice and the sacrifice of our families," said Providence, a Brooklyn, N.Y. native.
"It was something I can be thankful for because he came himself. He didn't send a letter, he didn't send anyone else, he came himself and said thank you," Providence said. "And I'm thankful to be here serving my country and I know it's rough, but it's the sacrifice we all made."
(Spc. Mary L. Gonzalez serves with CJTF-101 Public Affairs.)