By The Honorable Pete Geren, Secretary of the ArmyOctober 4, 2007
Secretary Geren: Good morning, and thank all of you for joining us here this morning as we honor outstanding young men and women.
In the years since his death in 1826 IAca,!a,,cm convinced thereAca,!a,,cs no founding father whose name and reputation have been borrowed more often and more indiscriminately than Thomas Jefferson to endorse one political cause or another. To claim his endorsement is risk-free since heAca,!a,,cs not around to repudiate it. His absence and our historical amnesia allow us to play pretty fast and loose with his endorsement, with his imprimatur, frankly with his reputation.
But weAca,!a,,cre here today to celebrate five men and women who have answered our nationAca,!a,,cs call to duty. But I cannot stand on the steps of this magnificent memorial and not invoke the name of Thomas Jefferson. I hope IAca,!a,,cm successful in not playing fast and loose.
Before Thomas Jefferson died he gave explicit instructions regarding his gravesite and I quote, Aca,!A"On the grave a plain die or a cube of three feet without any moldings surmounted by an oblesque of six feet, each with a single stone. On the faces of the oblesque, the following inscription and not a word more. Aca,!EoeHere was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, of the statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.Aca,!a,,cAca,!A? The Declaration of Independence, the Father of the University of Virginia, the statute of Virginia for religious freedom. Everyone knows him for the authorship of the Declaration of Independence. Fewer perhaps, for the founding of the University of Virginia. And fewer still as the author of the statute of Virginia for religious freedom.
Let me read from the statute. This is Section 2. These are his words. Aca,!A"We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in matter of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.Aca,!A?
His vision of religious freedom and individual liberty for Virginians and ultimately for Americans stands in stark contrast to the vision of liberty and freedom offered by the Taliban and al-Qaida.
I will not draw Thomas Jefferson into the debate on the war. I will say simply that his immortal words, Aca,!A"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.Aca,!A? These words stand as a challenge to those who in the name of religion brutally oppress the exercise of the unalienable rights of men and women anywhere in the world today.
Today a fine group of men and women join our United States Army and reenlist in our United States Army. Shortly they will take an oath to protect and defend our Constitution. Let me take a moment and talk about each one of them.
First is Cynthia Pearl Johnson Scotty from Fort Worth, Panther City, Cow Town, Texas. Excuse my indulgence there. SheAca,!a,,cs the mother of four children. At 31 Cynthia is enlisting in the Army as a 25U Signal Support System Specialist to further her career and to pursue her education using military tuition assistance and the GI Bill.
Future soldier Janita Lopez Guerrero. She comes to us from Kissimmee, Florida and was born in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. SheAca,!a,,cs married for seven years to an Army spouse. SheAca,!a,,cs traveled extensively as part of the Army family. SheAca,!a,,cs learned first-hand how the Army takes care of its soldiers and their families, and for this reason she enlisted in the United States Army Reserves so that she could become a member of the Army team.
Recruits like Logan Billieu, age 20, born at Landstuhl Air Force Base in the former Federal Republic of Germany whose father was a cavalry scout, and Staff Sergeant in the Oregon National Guard in 2006. From Bend, Oregon, Logan is going into the Reserves as an infantry soldier, and heAca,!a,,cs also signed up for advance training as an Airborne Ranger.
ThereAca,!a,,cs Daniel Otigari, born in Nigeria, who is coming to us from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Daniel represents one of the nearly 15,000 active, Guard and Reserve immigrants who are proudly serving in the Army today. Enlisting under the 09C Foreign Language Recruiting Initiative, Daniel will be completing his English as a Second Language Training at Lackland Air Force Base. He believes serving in the Army will give him the opportunity to pursue his career dreams. His family is very proud of him and supports his decision.
Recruits like Erica Hambury from Virginia Beach who was working as a cashier and saw the new National Guard office in the same shopping center. Having always loved the military she wanted to get involved so she walked in to get information. She liked what she heard. She signed up to serve.
ThereAca,!a,,cs 17 year old Paul Stewart from Fairfax, Virginia who is carrying on a proud family tradition of military service. HeAca,!a,,cs also in the College First program and is using the Army National Guard to assist in financing his college education.
Then there are the soldiers who reenlist today, hardened by battle, who have served us during one of our nationAca,!a,,cs most difficult times.
Reenlisting from the Reserves with 19 years of service is 39 year old Sergeant First Class Williams. [corrected for record] SheAca,!a,,cs a career counselor in Gaithersburg, Maryland with a tradition of family service. Williams formerly served on active duty as a satellite systems operator and has since served in the Reserves as a supply technician. Her father retired from the military, having served as a mechanic. She has two sons on active duty. One who will deploy to Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division soon; and the other who is attending Advanced Individual Training at Fort Lee, a proud tradition of generations of service to our nation.
Also reenlisting is Staff Sergeant Kirkado Rolbes, a 13 year, 10 month veteran who is a human relations specialist in one of our 32 Warrior in Transition Brigades stationed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He represents the triad of care for our wounded warriors -- taking care of those who have borne the battle.
Sergeant Barry Braun of Alexandria, Virginia with eight years of service who signed up for three more years in the Virginia Army National Guard in order to continue service to his nation and remain in uniform.
Lastly, IAca,!a,,cd like to especially recognize three soldiers reenlisting here today from the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment, the Old Guard. The U.S. ArmyAca,!a,,cs official ceremonial unit and escort to the President of the United States.
Staff Sergeant Christopher Brown, an ammo specialist and 16 year veteran from Springfield, Ohio.
Twenty-two year old Sergeant Christopher Errington, an 11B infantry soldier whose hometown was Camp Zama, Japan.
And Sergeant Travis Baker, also a 22 year old infantryman signing up for another four years from Tustan, California.
Fine men and women, and we thank you for your commitment to serve our nation.
IAca,!a,,cd like to close with a poem that hangs in the halls of the Pentagon. It hangs there today. ItAca,!a,,cs titled, Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs the Soldier.Aca,!A? It was written by Charles Provence, an Army veteran.
Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs the soldier, not the minister, who has given us freedom of region.
It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of press.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to protest.
It is the soldier, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the soldier, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag and who serves beneath the flag and whose coffin is draped by the flag who allows the protester to burn the flag.Aca,!A?
When you look across the landscape of our national mall youAca,!a,,cre inspired by the sight of the memorials that dot the landscape. This magnificent Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial -- honoring three Americans who shaped our great nation.
But were it not for the American soldier, the Declaration of Independence likely would have been Exhibit 1 in Thomas JeffersonAca,!a,,cs trial for treason in a British courtroom.
Were it not for the American soldier, George Washington would likely be remembered as the most famous traitor to Mother England.
And were it not for the indominatable American soldier, we would remember Abraham Lincoln as a failed President who lost the Union.
Today we honor the American soldier. Today we honor me and women who are about to become American soldiers. And we honor men and women who rejoin the ranks and can claim the title of American soldier.
All of you today join or rejoin generations of Americans who have answered our nation when our nation called.
Thank you, and God bless each and every one of you.