11:00 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Please. Thank you very much. I’m thrilled to kick off the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride, and to be in the presence of — really, to be with you folks is such an honor. I know some of you. We’ve been dealing together for more than a year. I’ve watched you get better and stronger, and you’re stronger than all of us. So I want to thank you all for being here. Thank you. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
So on stage with me are Wounded Warriors from the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps. We salute you, we thank you, and we will forever be grateful for the sacrifices you made for all of us. Really incredible sacrifices. A nation is sustained through the service and sacrifice of patriots. Each of you is part of the long, unbroken chain of courageous Americans who have answered the call in every generation, defending our families, our freedoms, and our great American flag, which we love. Right? (Applause.)
You are the backbone of our liberty. You are the protectors of our community. And you are the proud and beating heart of our magnificent nation.
I want to welcome the many members of Congress who are with us and joined us today to cheer on these incredible, brave warriors, and give special recognition to members of my Cabinet who are with us. Secretary Zinke. Where’s Ryan? Ryan, stand up. (Applause.) Sit down. (Laughs.) Thank you, Ryan. (Applause.) Secretary DeVos. Betsy, thank you. (Applause.) And Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie, who is doing a great job over at the VA. I can tell you that. Thank you. (Applause.)
And a great friend of mine, and a woman who — I’m getting reports from everybody, who’s doing well. Who’s doing — I always ask “Who’s doing the best?” And always right near the top or at the top is Linda McMahon. Thank you, Linda. Great job you’re doing. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
And, Bill, Senator, please stand up, and Congress — Bill, stand up. Please. A lot of good congressmen. My friends. There’s a brave one. (Applause.) These guys — and they fight for you. They fight for you. You fought for them; they fight for you. That I can tell you. Especially this group. Thank you, Bill. Thanks, everybody.
We also want to thank our really amazing — these are amazing people — the military spouses and families. Could the families and spouses please stand up? Incredible people. Incredible people. (Applause.) Their love and dedication and support is really the foundation of our military might. We give them a lot of credit. Right?
So I especially want to thank Mike Linnington and everyone at the Wounded Warrior Project. Thank you, Mike. And Mike has done an incredible job. Mike spent 35 years leading soldiers as an infantry soldier, reaching the rank of lieutenant general. And I know Mike agrees that there is no more important job than supporting the warriors who have fought and bled to keep us free. So I want to thank you very much. We all want to thank you. (Applause.)
That’s why we are fighting to reform the VA. And that is why we signed VA accountability legislation into law. I want to thank you folks, because that’s been — they’ve been trying to get that through for over 30 years. Accountability. We want accountability. They don’t treat our vets good, we want them out. And that’s what we can do now. We couldn’t do it before.
That was a tough one to get through, but we got it through. And now we’re going for choice. And we’re going to get choice. And that’s another one that I’ve wanted right from the beginning. And we’ll get that done too.
So I’m so happy with accountability. It’s been worked on so long. We have people that were terrible working there and they’re gone. And before we couldn’t do anything about them. But we’re very happy and we’re going to have the finest choice program that you’ve ever seen. In fact, we turned down one program because we truly didn’t think it was good enough. Is that right? We could have gotten it passed, and I said, “Nope, not good enough. We’re going to go for the real deal.”
So we’re going to have choice. There’s no more waiting on lines for 12 weeks, and you can’t get the doctors, you can’t get what you need. So we’re going to have choice. It’s going to be a really good one and these folks are going to be responsible for it. So I want to thank you all.
This month marks the fourth anniversary of the Phoenix VA scandal. Horrible scandal. And we must make sure that this kind of tragedy never ever happens again. We must always protect those who protect us. The heroes in this room today come from every background and every single walk of life. But they are united by the sacred bonds of duty and loyalty that hold us together as one nation, under God. Your devotion, your endurance, and your unbreakable will are all a great inspiration to every single American.
Each of you has endured life-changing injuries. Each of you has conquered adversity with resolve — never giving in, never giving up, and never ever backing down. Have you ever given in, anybody here? I don’t think so. (Laughter.) This is not a stage of those that gave in. Is that right? Would you say — do we have any giver-iners? I don’t think so. (Applause.)
They don’t know what that word — those words — mean. They don’t know. They are winners.
As the nation and all nations watch you ride today, they will see the fighting warrior spirit that thrives in your souls. And by the way, our military — recent budget — General Mattis asking — $700 billion — never happened before. And next year — we don’t’ even talk about it — already approved $716 billion. So that’s really something. That’s what we had to get. That was number one on our list even though we had to approve a couple of things that we weren’t so happy with because of some folks that are not friendly to our military. $700 billion, and $716 million, and $6 million for opioid.
We’re going to fight that opioid situation harder than anyone has fought it before. We’ve already begun. But $6 billion for opioid and stopping that scourge, and also for working with those that have unfortunately met with the opioids in a very bad fashion. So we’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort, and now we have the money. So thank you all, fellas. That’s great. (Applause.)
With that, we will be able to see you through — that brave example, that out nation can defeat any hardship, meet any challenge, beat any setback, and rise from our trials stronger and more determined by far, by far, than ever before. Our military will be stronger, more powerful than at any time ever before. Better equipment — we make the greatest equipment in the world.
It also means jobs. By the way, far secondarily, jobs. Jobs are a benefit, but that’s far secondarily.
One warrior with us today is someone I first met years ago. His name is Dan Nevins and his incredible story embodies the long journey of recovery and triumph that each of you represent so beautifully. Each of you just represent it beyond what anybody can do. It’s incredible.
Dan served as an Infantry squad leader of Task Force Tacoma in Iraq, in 2004. While on a combat mission, his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. Dan was severely injured, ultimately losing both legs. Through countless surgeries, Dan refused to give in. He is a fighter and he is a champion. (Applause.)
And the Wounded Warrior Project was there to help Dan along his difficult journey, where he’s had such tremendous success. Dan is now a nationally-recognized motivational speaker, and works to serve other veterans and their families.
I also know from personal experience that Dan is a great golfer. (Laughter.) How do you think that makes me feel? (Laughter.) He’s a great — he really is, he’s a really good golfer. Right? (Applause.)
So, Dan, I want to thank you for everything. You’re really an inspiration — everything you’ve done and will continue to do for our beloved nation. We love this nation. We’re in your debt, and we are in the eternal debt of every single person on this stage — the Wounded Warriors. These are our most incredible people, our most incredible people.
As you set out on your Soldier Ride, all of America will be cheering you on and watching. And all of America will be celebrating your strength, and your tenacity, and your unwavering love of your country. My pledge to you, our noble warriors, is that my administration will support you, and your loved ones, and your amazing families every single day, now and always. We’re never going to forget. That is our sacred commitment.
As Dan comes to the podium, I want to again thank you all for honoring us with your presence today. Thank you all, and thank you all for the help, everybody. It’s a tremendous help. This group, in particular, has been of great help.
May God bless you. May God bless our Wounded Warriors. May God bless our military. And may God bless America. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)
STAFF SERGEANT NEVINS: Thank you, Mr. President. You know, I actually remember the first time meeting you, Mr. President. It happened to be at one of your golf properties, and you were hosting a charitable fundraising tournament for Wounded Warrior Project.
And I remember coming up to the par 3, and you were stationed there greeting all your guests and saying thank you, and being a gracious host. And I stepped up and just felt all this pressure. I have to hit a good golf shot.
And I stepped up to the tee, I hit a beautiful shot. And I was, like, just remembering the reality of the situation. (Laughter.) It nestled maybe two feet from the pin. And I was so excited I just — under all the pressure of you watching, I just nailed it. (Laughter.) And then everybody else went, and then it was your turn. And you hit your golf shot, and it landed on the green well away from mine. (Laughter and applause.) Wait, it gets better. But then the ball released and starting rolling right past mine and almost in the hole. (Laughter.) So great. It was a great shot. Like, really a great shot is a great shot. And it was an honor to be on the tee box with you then.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
STAFF SERGEANT NEVINS: And it’s even a greater honor to share the stage with you now as you graciously host Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride and these amazing warriors who’ve served the cause of freedom with distinction.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
STAFF SERGEANT NEVINS: Yeah, you’re welcome. (Applause.)
And it really — it’s truly a privilege for me to be here to celebrate 15 years of Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that has done so much for me and countless other warriors and families through the lifesaving programs and services that they provide every single day.
You know, Soldier Ride, what we’re here for, this event is very near and dear to my heart, as it is for thousands of warriors who’ve graced the roads and bike paths across this great nation from right here in our nation’s capital, and from sea to shining sea. This event has been changing and saving lives since its creation.
You see, as you heard, I’m a Wounded Warrior. And my life was changed forever 13 years ago when an improvised explosive device detonated beneath my vehicle and shattered life as I knew it. As a result of the blast, I lost my good friend, Sergeant First Class Mike Ottolini. I ultimately lost both legs below the knee, and I live with the effects of a traumatic brain injury. And if it weren’t for the quick action of my brothers on the battlefield and my brothers and sisters in the military medical community, I would not be standing here today. I’m so very grateful for all the love, support, and help I received in my transition from the battlefield back to civilian life.
And I’m certainly grateful for how Wounded Warrior Project intervened and showed up for me. From my first day at Walter Reed to how they show up for me right now, these are the ones that helped me learn that disability didn’t define me, but that I get to define what the rest of my life was going to be like. And they helped me learn that anything is possible when I put in the work.
And I vividly remember my first Soldier Ride in 2006. And I was a recent amputee and I was wrestling with the visible and invisible wounds of war. And I thought that I couldn’t. And then, through their motivation, I put in the work. And I finished the almost-400 miles with a new understanding with what was possible for my life, and what was possible for everything that laid out as a journey defining my new normal.
Wounded Warrior Project has been helping our nation’s finest in the journey to healing since 2003, when they delivered backpacks filled with comfort items to our Wounded Warriors in military hospitals in Germany and across the nation. Today, they deliver over a dozen life-changing and lifesaving programs that deal with mental health, physical health and wellness, economic empowerment, and engagement with each other as warriors, with our families, and our communities when we return home.
They’ve invested more than $1.1 billion into these life-saving programs and services. They ensure and they are ensuring that we have the most successful, well-adjusted generation of Wounded Warriors in our nation’s history. And I couldn’t be more proud to stand on this stage and represent this organization here today. And this is a message to the amazing Wounded Warrior Project team, to the volunteers and the technicians that make the impossible happen on each and every single Soldier Ride: You are all my heroes, and I love you. (Applause.)
And to the warriors here today, thank you for everything you’ve done, and for who you are and everything you continue to do, and how you continue to serve and be an example of the very best our nation has to offer.
Mr. President, it’s been an absolute honor to be here with you today. And on behalf of myself, the warriors and our families, and Wounded Warrior Project, thank you for hosting us so graciously and for continuing to champion the men and women that have proudly defended this great nation.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Dan.
STAFF SERGEANT NEVINS: Thank you. (Applause.)
And now I have the distinct honor to introduce the lead of Wounded Warrior Project — the team that is Wounded Warrior Project. An outstanding man and a great friend, Lieutenant General Mike Linnington. (Applause.)
LIEUTENANT GENERAL LINNINGTON: Thank you. Thank you, Dan. Dan is what really is the epitome of success in our warrior population. His service, his sacrifices, his inspiration, and most importantly, his commitment to his fellow warriors — brothers and sisters in arms that earned our great thanks and deserve our very best efforts to assist in their continued recovery and rehabilitation.
Mr. President, thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL LINNINGTON: On behalf of our Wounded Warriors, and their families, and their caregivers, our Wounded Warrior Project team, and all our amazing partners, thank you for graciously hosting us as we celebrate and honor these brave Americans and the families and caregivers that love and support them.
These men and women are truly exceptional, strong, capable, and successful. As the President said, “their strength and resilience in the face of insurmountable odds is an inspiration to all Americans and a reminder — a stark reminder of our responsibilities to assist in their journeys of recovery.” And that’s exactly why we’re here at the White House today.
What a great honor it is to do what we do to provide support, healing, and hope to our Wounded Warriors who have made our very freedoms we enjoy as Americans a reality. Mr. President, thank you for your leadership, and taking the time to honor and empower our nation’s finest, and the work you have done and will continue to do on behalf of our military and our veteran’s community. Thank you, Mr. President. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Mike.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL LINNINGTON: Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: I thought while we were here — first of all, hello, Elizabeth Dole. Hi. How you are sweetheart? Thank you very much for being here. Such a great, great husband and a great family. We appreciate it and all you do. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
And I thought I could just bring up to the stage for a second our great representatives who have — Bill, everybody, Brian — if you could just come up for a second. I think you certainly deserve to be on this stage. You’ve really worked so hard to get all of this done and we appreciate it. Come here.
REPRESENTATIVE PETERSON: Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much. Go on up. Thank you much. Thank you. You ran for office, nobody’s going to beat him. I’ll tell you. Right? (Laughter.) Nobody.
REPRESENTATIVE MAST: That’s right. Yes sir.
THE PRESIDENT: How about saying a word on behalf of —
SENATOR CASSIDY: I have the privilege to speak on behalf of Congress. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: It’s not easy.
REPRESENTATIVE ISSA: Don’t screw it up.
THE PRESIDENT: Not easy. (Laughter.)
SENATOR CASSIDY: We have at least two men of combat here and maybe more. I don’t know your story. Oh, hey, Ted. (Laughter.) I didn’t recognize Ted since he became a skinhead. (Laughter.)
And it’s hard to speak for Congress — not because we’re different, not because we’re Congress, but because when you’re in the presence of folks such as these, no word is adequate to express our appreciation, our humility between our fellow Americans who sacrificed so much, and for their families who sacrifice so much to truly bless us all.
From the founding of our nation until now it has been those such as these who have made this country the greatest — the greatest in the world.
And I will close by saying this: First, Mr. President, it was an incredible state visit that you just hosted for President Macron. And President Macron, as he spoke to Congress, emphasized that of all the challenges facing our world, without U.S. leadership, none of our — it is not possible to have the success that we need.
I would add to that — as I think both President Trump and President Macron would — at some point, U.S. leadership becomes the U.S. military enforcing values on those who would seek to destroy us. As long as we have those such as these protecting our values, we will win. And more importantly, so will the cause of freedom, the cause of equality, the cause of — the cause of the average man and woman being able to achieve his or her dreams. On behalf of that average man and woman, I once more thank you all. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, fellas. We’re with you always. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)
11:24 A.M. EDT