Naval Air Station Jacksonville
Jacksonville, Florida

2:59 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Secretary Norquist, Admiral Mays, Captain Connor, Captain Weaver, Captain Mattingly, Captain Campbell, and all the honored guests here.  Please, take a seat.  Be at ease.

It’s my great honor to be with all of you today and with two great champions of our armed forces, two great members of the United States Congress who are with us today.  Would you join me in thanking Congressman Waltz and Congressman Rutherford for being with us and for all they do to support our armed forces?  (Applause.)

And it’s my great honor to be here with all of you, extraordinary Americans who every day “serve the fleet” and serve our country — the men and women of Naval Air Station Jacksonville.  America is proud of you.  (Applause.)

And as I begin, allow me to bring greetings from a great champion of our armed forces and a tireless champion of all of those “forged by the sea.”  I bring greetings and gratitude and admiration from your Commander-in-Chief, the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.  (Applause.)

You know, as the President said, in his words, “American sailors are the best warfighting sailors anywhere in the world,” and the United States Navy is the greatest force for good the Seven Seas have ever known.  (Applause.)

So it’s my honor to stand before you today, on behalf of your Commander-in-Chief and on behalf of a grateful nation to pay a debt of honor and a debt of respect to each and every one of you who serve here.

You step forward.  You step forward to protect our families, and our freedom, and our very way of life.  You put on the uniform of the greatest all-volunteer military in the history of the world.  You counted our lives as more important than your own.  And, every day, you keep America safe.  And for that, I promise you: You have the thanks and admiration of all of the American people.  Thank you for your service.  (Applause.)

You know, while you come from the rest of us, we know you are the best of us: “Always Courageous.”  But the President and I also know that none of you serve this nation alone.  Your loved ones stand alongside you and give you the strength to do your duty.  The moms and dads who supported you when you decided to step forward and put on the uniform.  The spouses and the kids who stand alongside, who pray you through those long deployments, who hold down the home front.

So would you all mind — I know we’ve got some family members here with us today.  Would you all mind, those of you in uniform, can we just show these families how much we appreciate what they do every day to support your service to America?  (Applause.)  God bless our families and our military spouses.

You know, it’s amazing to think that, for nearly 80 years, Naval Air Station Jacksonville has stood watch over our nation’s coastline and our seas.  This is the third-largest naval base in the country.  And, here, 20,000 patriotic Americans work tirelessly every single day and deliver “effective and efficient readiness from the shore.”  You do your job and you do America proud.

You know, I got a tutorial in just how you do that only a few moments ago.  I got to fly the “Triton” simulator a little bit, with the Skipper LeVoy, and meet the VUP-19 junior sailor of the year.  Join me in congratulating Intelligence Specialist Katalena Honeycutt!  Katalena, where are you?  (Applause.)

It’s amazing to think, as that team prepares to deploy around the world — headed for Okinawa and keeping an eye on what’s going on in the East China Sea and the South China Sea — that they’ll be operating from a ground base, but they’ll be 24/7 eyes on, giving us all new capabilities — all new capabilities to hold accountable those promises that have been made by our allies in the region and also to ensure the freedom of navigation across the South China Sea.  It’s a vitally important mission, and we’re proud.  We’re proud that Naval Air Station Jacksonville is going to be at the center of it.

I also had the chance to go into a P-8 aircraft and I learned just about how the Coast Guard helps defend these shores.  And I got to tell you, we couldn’t be more proud — couldn’t be more proud of the men and women who take to the airwaves and see to the safety and security of the American people on the Seven Seas.

And I’m also very proud — let me just say — of the incredible partnership that the Navy has forged with Customs and Border Protection; they’ve got a hangar right next door.  But to see our armed forces and law enforcement working together to keep America safe is an inspiration to every American.  So thank you for that great partnership.  (Applause.)  It’s great.

You know, it really is here that America’s maritime supremacy is forged and strengthened every day.  This is the home of Patrol Squadron 16, which just got back from working with the 7th and 4th Fleet out of Misawa, Japan.  Let’s give them a welcome-home round of applause, how about it?  (Applause.)  Well done.

This is also the home of Patrol Squadron 26, which just got back from supporting the 6th Fleet in Europe, which, I’m told, pulled off an impressive feat by being the first operational squadron to refuel a P-8 in air.  That’s worth a round of applause and a great deployment.  Welcome home.  (Applause.)  Great job.

And while our national security comes first, Naval Air Station Jacksonville, I’m also proud to say, makes a real difference in the local economy and the prosperity of this whole region — $1.8 billion to the local economy to support businesses and to support enterprises that continuously support this great base.

So to all the men and women who serve here, let me assure you, the Commander-in-Chief and I and the American people see the work you do here as vitally important to our national security.  Your work here does not go unnoticed as well.

You know, I understand one of your brothers-in-arms is a marksman in the Coast Guard Interdiction Squadron.  I’m told he recently returned from his first counterdrug patrol in the Eastern Pacific off Central America.  While he was there, he worked tirelessly to dismantle a transnational criminal organization — one of the organizations that is actually fueling violence in the region.  In fact, during his patrol, he and his crew helped capture over four tons of cocaine, preventing it from coming to our streets, harming our children, and tearing apart our families.  Would you all just join me giving a round of applause for Second Class Petty Officer Mike Rule?  Well done, Mike.  Great job.  (Applause.)

And the story of another sailor — I heard about on my way here — who has time and again put himself in harm’s way to protect his fellow Americans.  In 2017, with less than 24 hours’ notice, he volunteered to go aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln as Hurricane Irma was approaching.  In fact, at that very moment when he was preparing to help his fellow Americans in need, I’m told that his wife Becca, the command ombudsman, was single-handedly protecting their home from floodwaters and helping neighbors and friends prepare for the onslaught of the hurricane.

As maintenance control chief and flight deck coordinator during those 11 days, he led a team of helicopter squadrons that delivered 15,000 pounds of supplies to the citizens of Central Florida.  And his courage and selflessness in the face of such danger and hardship, and the selflessness of his family, is an inspiration to us all.  Would you join me in recognizing Senior Chief William Vince Antweiler?  Where are you?  Where are William?  (Applause.)  Great job — you and your family.  Thank you.

And speaking of remarkable response and service, there’s just one more story I’ve got to tell.  And you all know it well, and America knows this story.

Two weeks ago, May 3rd, a passenger aircraft coming back from Gitmo was landing during a thunderstorm when it crashed through a wall and slid into St. John’s River.  And I remember I got word of it in Washington, D.C. a little bit after the President was notified.

And like every American, when we first saw those images, we feared the worst.  But what happened next really could’ve been a tragedy, but thanks to the professionalism and the teamwork of the men and women of Naval Air Station Jacksonville, what followed was an inspiration to the nation.  It really was.

After receiving the initial call for help, firefighters rushed to the scene, jumped into the water without regard to their personal safety, and sped to the passengers.  All told, I heard nearly 80 members of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department also joined the effort.  Jacksonville Fire Office rescued 143 people.  I know many of those heroes are here with us today.

And can we just have all the first responders from Naval Air Station Jacksonville and the local community — would you all just stand up and let us show our appreciation and admiration for a job well done?  (Applause.)

You know, the men and women of Naval Air Station Jacksonville and all you first responders made America proud.  Job well done.  Give them another round of applause.  That was a great moment for this base and for this community.  (Applause.)  Thank you all.

You know, I couldn’t be more proud to serve as Vice President to a President who cares so deeply about the men and women of our armed forces.  And I promise you, this is a President who fights every day on behalf of all of you who wear the uniform.

After we saw, in the last administration, a depletion of military spending, a depletion of budgets available to all the branches of our service, I’m pleased to report to all of you gathered here that this President has taken decisive action to rebuild our military; restore the arsenal of democracy; and, last year, President Trump signed the largest increase in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan.  (Applause.)  It’s true.

President Trump has called for the construction of a 350-ship Navy, and we’re already well on our way.  In fact, just a few months ago, your Commander-in-Chief proposed the largest defense budget in American history — more than $750 billion.  And we’re going to work with this Congress and with leaders in both parties, and we’re going to ensure that the strongest fighting force in the history of the world is stronger than ever before.  (Applause.)

Members of the Navy will be glad to know the President’s budget for shipbuilding is the largest shipbuilding request in more than 20 years.  Actually, the request from the budget — of our budget — would give the United States Navy the resources to buy 12 new battle force ships.  We’ll fund 55 ships over the Future Years Defense Program, and we’ll bring the United States Navy to 355 battle force ships in a little bit more than a decade.  We’re going to fund an end strength of more 2 million active and reserved military personnel.

And in the midst of all of that, I’m pleased to report this President also signed the largest pay increase for members of our armed forces in more than 10 years.  And you deserve every single penny.  (Applause.)

I’m just going to promise you, under this President’s leadership, we will always give our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard the resources and the support you need to accomplish your mission and come home safe.

And with that renewed American strength, I’m proud to report: Thanks to the courage of our armed forces, the United States is once again embracing our role as leader of the free world.  We’re standing with our allies and standing up to our enemies.

Our NATO Allies are contributing more to our common defense than ever before.  And our extraordinary armed forces, including strong support from the United States Navy, has taken the fight to radical Islamic terrorists, on our terms, on their soil.  And two months ago, the last inch controlled by the Islamic State of Syria was liberated.  The flag of ISIS no longer flies over territory in Syria or Iraq.  (Applause.)

That’s extraordinary.  It’s extraordinary when you think about where we were a couple of short years ago — when these ISIS barbarians overran not just areas of Syria, but hard-fought, hard-won areas of Iraq were literally trampled under.  The American Armed Forces, with our allies across the region, across the world, stepped up.  And we ended the territory of the ISIS caliphate.

The fight is far from over.  And I want to promise you, we’re going to continue to give you the resources and the support to confront and defeat radical Islamic terrorists wherever they arise anywhere in the world.

But in this time of widening challenges around the world and unknowable threats, President Trump and I know you’ll be ready.  All of you know, as the Good Book says, that the soldier “does not bear the sword in vain.”

Frankly, the work you do here has never been more important.  As we increase our support for our military, I want to assure you that it’s a reflection of the challenges that we face and the need for America to be stronger than ever before.  This President, our administration, the American people know: The best way to ensure peace is through strength, and you are that strength.  (Applause.)

So on behalf of your Commander-in-Chief, I want to urge each one of you here at Naval Air Station Jacksonville:  Be vigilant.  Mind your mission.  Take care of one another.  Respect the unified chain of command.  Keep executing your mission here with the extraordinary professionalism that is synonymous with Naval Air Station Jacksonville.  And you will continue to serve this nation with distinction.  You will continue to be a vital part of our national defense.  And you will continue to enjoy the gratitude of the American people.

In fact, that’s just really why I wanted to come by.  I hope to have a chance to meet as many of you and your families as I can before I leave.  But I really just came here to say thanks.  Just to assure all of you that the American people are grateful.

I know you hear it when you have the uniform on and you stop by a grocery store, and maybe walk into a local drug store, or stopping down the street, and you always reflect that modesty that men and women of our armed forces show.  But I want to tell you, the support that you see from this administration is simply a reflection of the support that I know that you have from all of the American people.

You step forward in an all-volunteer military.  And as I said before, I say again, you considered our lives more important than your own.

It was no ordinary job that you volunteered for; you knew that.  You still know it.  This coming weekend, in quiet ceremonies, we will pause as a nation to other great Americans who, throughout our history, already also knew that.  Their duty was to serve; our duty is to remember.  And this Memorial Day, we will remember.  But we’ll remember from grateful hearts — grateful for each and every one of you.

Those of you who service in uniform, you make sacrifices, you bear a burden.  But I just want you to know, you do not bear that burden alone.  You carry with you the pride of this nation and the gratitude of the American people.  They’re grateful for your service every single day.

I can promise you, you also carry with you the confidence of your Commander-in-Chief and all of those in our chain of command in the leadership and the extraordinary professionalism of the men and women here at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

And lastly, also, let me say with confidence: I know that you serve with the prayers of millions of Americans.  I know there’s millions of Americans that pray every day for you and your families as you serve, as you deploy, as you prepare and make ready those who are going into harm’s way.  And I know that they pray often in those ancient words.  And so I’ll close, that “No harm [would] befall you… [No harm would] come near your tent.  [That] He [would] command His angels concerning you, to watch over you in all your ways.”

Since the founding of this nation, the American people have been grateful, have supported, have stood with, and have prayed for the men and women of our Armed Forces, and they do it to this day.

Men and women of Naval Air Station Jacksonville, you’ve chosen to serve our country in a world that remains all too dangerous.  We’re counting on you, and we know we can.  And I promise you, this Commander-in-Chief and this Vice President will always have your back.

Thank you for the honor of being with you today.  Thank you for answering the call to serve America.  God bless Naval Air Station Jacksonville.  And God bless America.  (Applause.)

END

3:20 P.M. EDT