11:07 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Please.
I am thrilled to host the Wounded Warrior Project. It’s been a long relationship I’ve had. And the Soldier Ride is something very, very special. Few people could do it, including me. (Laughter.) I hate to admit it. I hate to admit that, General, but including me. (Laughter.)
We’re deeply honored to be in the presence of true American heroes. I want to thank our great Vice President Mike Pence and Karen Pence for being with us today. Thank you, Mike and Karen. (Applause.) Stand up. Mike, stand up. And theirs is really a fierce devotion, I can tell you that. Speaking — I deal with Mike and Karen, and they have a fierce devotion to America’s veterans. And we all do. And thank you very much.
We’re also grateful to be joined by Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. Patrick, thank you very much. Great job you’re doing. (Applause.) One hundred percent of the caliphate. So that’s — that was great. That was one of our early assignments, right? A few. So, I appreciate it. Great job, Pat.
General Counsel of Veterans Affairs, Jim Byrne. Jim. Thank you very much, Jim. Great job. (Applause.)
And Army Vice Chief of Staff General James McConville. James. Thank you, James. (Applause.)
I also want to thank two great congressmen for being here. And if we had room, we would’ve had a lot more. Phil Roe and James Baird. Thank you very much. Thank you, fellas. (Applause.)
And they’re having a good day. I’m having a good day, too. (Laughter.) It was called, “No collusion. No obstruction.” (Laughter and applause.) There never was, by the way, and there never will be.
And we do have to get to the bottom of these things, I will say. And this should never happen. I say this in front of my friends, Wounded Warriors. And I just call them “warriors” because we just shook hands and they look great. They look so good and so beautiful. But I say it in front of my friends: This should never happen to another President again. This hoax — it should never happen to another President again. Thank you.
With us on stage today are the Wounded Warriors from the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, the Coast Guard, the National Guard, and the Marine Corps. Each of you is a living testament to the outstanding determination, persistence, and patriotism that made this the greatest nation ever to exist on the face of the Earth.
And, as you know, we’re spending the biggest number of dollars we’ve ever spent. Not even close. You know that very well, General. Seven hundred billion my first year. I won’t even tell you how much higher than before we got here. And then, $716 [billion], and this year we’re even trying to up it.
We’re rebuilding our military like never before. Brand new fighter jets. Brand new ships of all kinds. Every soldier has the best equipment. In the Army, we’re even getting new uniforms and those beautiful new uniforms with the belt. It was a big deal — the belt. (Laughter.) And if you think those uniforms were inexpensive, they were very expensive. (Laughter.) They were very. But they wanted it and we got it. We have equipment now like we’ve never had before.
We have research going on for the new and greatest equipment in the world. Nobody is even close. Nobody can do what we can do. And we’re at a level that we have really never been. So a lot of progress has been made.
When I came in with Mike, we were a depleted armed forces. We were depleted. We had planes that were 50, 60 years old. And we had things going on that you wouldn’t believe, that the General knew; that, General, I think we all knew, and we weren’t happy about it. And we took it and — I’m a big budget person but there’s one thing more important than the budget — maybe a couple of things — but there’s one thing in particular, and that’s our military and our defense of our nation. Because without the defense of our nation, our budget doesn’t matter.
And we have done a real job. And I think when I go to the bases and I’m with the soldiers and the sailors and everybody, the Marines — we spent a lot of time with Marines the other day. Coast Guard — doing the most advanced icebreaker in the world. They were trying to get it for 20 years. They couldn’t get it. We’re doing it. It is expensive, I will say. Built in the USA, by the way.
But all of the things that we’re getting — and I think in particular the Air Force, with the planes, we’re ordering vast numbers of F-35 fighter jets. I’ve tried to keep the price as low as possible. I got involved personally. I don’t even know if I’m supposed to do it. I’ll probably get in trouble because I cut the price, you know. But we cut it very substantially. Very, very substantially.
And the F-18s and every kind of plane you can think of — the bombers, the tankers. We have the greatest equipment in the world. Everybody wants it, and we only give it to those that are working with us. And they pay for it, by the way. That’s always nice.
You know, in the old days, they weren’t paying so much. Now, at least they pay. And they’re happy about it. They respect us again. They respect our country again.
Today, America proudly salutes you and all of your fellow warriors. You are incredible warriors. And when I took pictures just a little while ago, some of the guys walked in. Where are they? Are they here? Where are they? They walked in, they said hello. They were so — could you stand, please? Where are they?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL LINNINGTON: Ones right behind you.
THE PRESIDENT: What happened? Okay, they’re there, but I had some out here, too. Everybody stand, please. Please. Fellas, you are — fantastic job. (Inaudible.) (Applause.)
There’s great admiration in this room and all over the country for all of you. For all of you and for all of you. And we really appreciate it very much. Thank you very much. Great job.
We’re in awe of your courage, and we are forever grateful for your noble sacrifice.
I also extend my deep gratitude to the amazing military spouses and the families that are here today. A lot of families here, yes? (Applause.) Stand up please. Spouses, stand up please. Please. Thank you.
Without the families, the spouses, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work. It’s not the same.
Your love sustains our warriors and our nation. And we want to thank you so much. You are incredible people.
We’re also delighted to have a distinguished World War II veteran in attendance: Corporal James Blane, who was wounded in action at the famous Battle of Iwo Jima. And that was a battle. Where’s James? Hi, James. Please. (Applause.) Thank you, James. A real hero. We’re honored by your presence. Thank you.
Tomorrow, the Wounded Warriors onstage with me will complete the final miles of their more than 30-mile Soldier Ride through Maryland and Virginia. On battlegrounds all over the world, these brave patriots risk their lives and shed their blood to defend our nation, our people, and our great American flag. Nobody defends our country like those people — representing all others — but those people in the room today. A very, very special group.
Here at home, they’ve beaten back injury — and illness, in some cases — beyond anybody’s wildest imagination, and persevered through pain, and adversity, and hardship. The word “comeback” — greatest comeback — but it’s a word even beyond; it’s just courage. Pure and simple courage.
Their legacy of service is a gift to every single American. Through their example, we witness the daily triumph of the human spirit and the unmatched valor of the American patriot.
Among our Wounded Warriors here today is 23-year-old Justin Day. While clearing towns in Afghanistan of terrorist fighters, in July, Justin stepped on an IED. Not good. Since then, he has endured more than a dozen surgeries, including the amputation of his right leg. Today, Justin continues his recovery at Walter Reed, where, by the way, they do an incredible job. I’m there a lot to say hello to the folks. They do unbelievable work. There is nothing that I’ve ever seen like they do.
And they have cutting-edge technology. They have the best doctors. And that’s why I think I’m going to have to be President for many, many years, because I never want to use a regular doctor again. (Laughter.) One of the benefits I get: Walter Reed. They have great doctors, right? I mean, they are just incredible people.
And Aubry is here — Justin’s wife. And where is — stand up, please. (Applause.) Wow. Wow. I have a little bad news: He looks like Justin, right? (Laughter.) Looks like Justin. Too bad. That is a beautiful baby. Thank you. Thank you very much. Congratulations.
Just days ago, Justin got on a bike for the first time since his injury. Tomorrow, he will finish the grueling course alongside of his fellow warriors — and it is really grueling. Justin, your story, like so many others’ in this room, is an inspiration to all of us and to all Americans. Honestly, I really think it’s an inspiration all over the world. People, right now, are watching all over the world.
Also with us today is Lieutenant General Mike Linnington, who serves as CEO of the Wounded Warrior Project and has done an incredible job. Hasn’t been there that long but, boy, you took it and you just — what a job you’ve done. What a job you’ve done. (Applause.)
In a moment, General Linnington will introduce another truly remarkable Wounded Warrior, Jose Ramos. Before we hear from General Linnington and Mr. Ramos, I want to thank every veteran in the room for your patriotic service and selfless — really, I mean the selfless sacrifice that you put out on a daily basis. You are so respected, so loved by our country. You are the guardians of American liberty, you are foundation of American strength, and you are the greatest source of American courage, honor, and pride that we have.
So I just want to say to everybody: May God bless you. May God bless our incredible — which is what they are — Wounded Warriors and all of our veterans. And may God bless our military and, very importantly, our great country, the United States of America. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you.
So, General, please come up and say a few words. Thank you, General.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL LINNINGTON: Thank you, Mr. President. President Trump, Vice President and Mrs. Pence, Secretary Shanahan, Cabinet and congressional leaders, fellow veteran service organizations — and the room is packed with many of the leaders from our veterans service organizations that we work with together — and most importantly, our warriors and families: Thank you all for joining us today.
On behalf of the entire team at Wounded Warrior Project, we’re honored today to celebrate this exceptional group of wounded warriors standing behind me. It’s truly an honor to be here at the White House for Soldier Ride D.C., our 12th year in a row. How about that? Twelfth year in a row. (Applause.) And we’re grateful for having such a great group of American patriots behind me.
As the President said yesterday, the Wounded Warriors behind me rode through the streets of Annapolis, Maryland, and the campus of the U.S. Naval Academy, where they received the incredible encouragement and recognition for their service and sacrifice.
Tomorrow, they’ll ride through Northern Virginia, an uphill, hilly ride, and it’s going to be raining. How about that? (Laughter.) Continuing to challenge themselves physically while strengthening bonds of friendship and cohesion with each other and with the grateful citizens they’ll meet along the way, we know that with the right support, wounded veterans regularly overcome the adversity of their injuries and either return to duty in uniform or lead full, productive lives as citizen leaders in the communities in which they settle.
And that’s really what today is all about: providing a venue for wounded service members to bond, continue healing, and realize that we are all here for them.
Mr. President, thank you for honoring and empowering our nation’s finest and for the work you have done and will continue to do on behalf of our military and our veteran community.
I now have the honor of introducing our next speaker, Hospital Corpsman Jose Ramos, one of Wounded Warrior Project’s legislative directors from our office right here in the nation’s capital.
A native of El Paso, Texas, Jose joined the Navy in 2000 to become a corpsman — a medic — where he was assigned to several Marine Corps infantry battalions as their platoon doc.
Jose served one tour in Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq. And you can only imagine the difficult conditions Jose faced while he was deployed multiple times and in very difficult circumstances.
In 2004, Jose was hit a by a rocket while serving as a member of a Marine sniper team. His injuries were near fatal, causing devastating damage to his left arm. Despite his critical injuries, Joes was not only able to direct a fellow service member in applying a tourniquet to this arm, but he continued to assist other wounded personnel before he was himself medevacked.
Jose thankfully recovered and retired from the military in 2005. And amazingly, within months of his injuries, he ran and completed the New York City Marathon.
Jose is a former member of the U.S. Paratriathlon Team and a former appointee to the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors. He is also a steadfast advocate for his brothers and sisters in arms and is joined today by his beautiful wife, Jodie, and children, Donovan and Luke, sitting right here in the front row. Let’s give Jose a big round of applause, everyone. (Applause.)
RAMOS: Well, first and foremost, I want to say thank you to General Linnington for those kind remarks and for recognizing my beautiful wife and my children. You know, my nine-year-old asked me if I could bring them to the White House one day, and I did today. And now I just got to make sure the Capitals win the playoffs, and I think I’m good for the year. (Laughter.)
So, no, it truly is an honor and privilege to be here today, to be at the White House amongst all our distinguished guests and particularly amongst the warriors behind me. Not too long ago, I was standing in their shoes and it feels like it was yesterday, obviously a few years back, but it definitely brings back some memories.
I also want to thank the White House staff for putting this together. It’s a lot of work, and we really appreciate what you’ve done.
The Soldier Ride is just one of the many programs the Wounded Warrior Project has, but it’s a program that’s particularly special to me. It’s played a significant part in my life.
And as General Linnington indicated, I joined the Navy in 2000. In 2004, I was seeing myself serving in my third tour overseas as a Corpsman attached to a Marine sniper team when I was severely injured by a rocket attack. Fast forward a little bit: I’m at Walter Reed, waking up, recovering — you know, going through the process as anybody who was injured at the time.
And unbeknownst to me, you know, there was a group of friends somewhere in New York coming up with this crazy idea. How about we ride a bicycle across the country — right? — to raise awareness and some money for a young organization doing great work. And that was the Wounded Warrior Project.
Soon afterwards, in 2004, Chris Carney decided to do just that, and he rode over 5,000 miles across the country from coast to coast. And then the second — or, following that, he decided to do it again, this time going in the opposite direction. That was really the birth of Soldier Ride. Right? That year, we had two leg amputees join him — two service members still at Walter Reed: Ryan and Heath. And so they trekked, starting from San Diego, all the way across back towards New York.
On their route, they stopped at Walter Reed where they met up with, and picked up, a group of newly injured service members to join them the rest of the way. And I was one of the privileged to be able to join through that route. We did about 400 miles in about seven days.
And in that ride, I learned three important lessons. Number one, Pennsylvania is not flat. (Laughter.) Right? It is extremely hilly. And if it wasn’t for the Amish pastries and the Yuengling — (laughter) — I don’t think I would’ve made it through the state. I did say I was a Corpsman with the Marine Corps, right? (Laughs.)
Number two, going downhill full speed with one arm is not easy. Did not realize that. And, oh, by the way, if you’re going to go on long bike rides, make sure you’re wearing cycling shorts and make sure they’re not inside out. (Laughter.)
And number three — the most important lesson of them all — is no matter how difficult the challenge is, whether you fall down or crash, whether you need to get off the bike or walk –right? — or if seems like the miles never end, if there’s someone holding you or helping you get back up, walking along your side with you, if there’s someone supporting you and helping you realize the finish line is just a little bit further, anything is possible. Right?
Those days grinding it out on those roads made me realize — it made us all realize — that recovery takes time and it takes hard work. But at the same time, if you’re willing to put in the time and with the support, you can overcome everything. You might fail, but you will eventually succeed.
Now, it’s not possible unless you have a great supporting team next to you. That’s what the Wounded Warrior Project does. And it also provides great company with you. So anything you set to accomplish is possible, and anything that you want to do, you can, if you so choose to.
So, Mr. President — where did you go? (Laughter.) I wanted to, again, say we appreciate your generosity and your hospitality and your willingness to have us here today to help us remind our nation and our fellow Americans that our nation’s wounded warriors still need our compassion and our support and that the mission of Wounded Warrior Project is to support them along the way, on their ride, no matter how long it takes. So thank you again for having us here today. (Applause.)
LIEUTENANT GENERAL LINNINGTON: Thank you. Jose Ramos is the epitome of what it means to be a Wounded Warrior. And as we say in our land, he’s truly living the logo of a warrior that starts being carried off the battlefield, and, through his recovery and rehabilitation, is carrying others in their recovery.
So, Jose, thank you for your dedication and your commitment. And, Mr. President, a small token of appreciation for you and the White House staff.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Beautiful.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL LINNINGTON: Please accept this small memento on behalf of all of us and especially the warriors standing behind me. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Well, this is really beautiful. This will find a permanent place, at least for six years — (laughter) — in the Oval Office. Is that okay? (Applause.) I was going to joke, General, and say at least for 10 or 14 years, but we would cause bedlam — (laughter) — if I said that, so we’ll say six.
I want to thank you very much. This is fantastic. Thank you very much. And I want to thank everybody here. Incredible, incredible people. Thank you. I’ll see you around. Okay? (Applause.)
Thank you, everybody.