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Remarks by the Vice President to USS Ronald Regan Sailors and their families

Office of the Vice President
For Immediate Release                               May 14, 2009
Aboard the USS Ronald Reagan
Coronado Naval Base
San Diego, California
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Admiral. And all you folks up on board, I'll tell you what, that's a platform for liberty -- I'm sure glad you're manning it. Thank you very much, and excuse my back.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's a great, great honor to be here on behalf of President Barack Obama and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen. I bring you their greetings.
But I also have to tell you a little story. Admiral Mullen, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral, is supposed to be even-handed in terms of all the military services -- and he is. But I got to tell you a story, and I asked his permission to tell the story. I can't tell you the event because it's classified, but I can tell you what happened.
Not long ago we were down in the Situation Room with the President presiding -- and members of the Joint Chiefs, as well as the National Security Advisor, Secretary of State, myself, the Secretary of Defense. And there was a particular mission that was incredibly risky and required an immense -- immense amount of skill to pull off. And several of my uniformed brethren who weren't wearing Navy colors sat there and said, I think that's almost impossible. I'm not sure that can be done.
And this is a true story, Admiral. Without missing a beat, spontaneously, not his prejudice but his pride showed through, and he said, gentlemen, they're Navy SEALS. That was it. It could be done, no matter what it was, with regard to the Navy. And you've all proven him to be right.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I look out at all of you and look behind me, I see standing here -- and I think of what a former Navy man, the former President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, said when in fact -- in how he viewed his service. He was asked how he viewed it. And he said, "I can imagine no more rewarding career -- no more rewarding career. Any man, any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: 'I served in the United States Navy.'"
Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a new century. And this new century faced with immense challenges and bold new goals, President Kennedy's words are equally appropriate and applicable to you. When you are asked what did you do in this century to make your life worthwhile, you, too, can respond without hesitation, with pride and satisfaction, that you served in the United States Navy, and knowing that your nation is indebted to you and that it feels an immeasurable amount of respect for all you stand for.
Folks, those of you assembled before me in uniform, your generation is the most powerful, best disciplined, best-trained group of warriors the United States of America has ever produced. And don't you every forget it. Give yourselves a round of applause because you deserve it. (Applause.)
This Strike Group proves my point, as you prepare to deploy for your fourth time in four years. Your ops tempo has been incredibly demanding, but you’ve handled it with such skill and grace. You’ve been decorated for your service achievements "underway" -- a Battle "E" Winner for the most combat-efficient carrier in the Pacific for 2006 and 2008.
I know -- I know you're looking ahead to this new mission. But you should take time to pause and look back at what you’ve already done: extensive air operations over Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom; humanitarian assistance operations following a devastating typhoon in the Philippines; a counter-piracy operation off the Horn of Africa. You are agile, you're capable of a variety of missions, and you're brave enough to succeed every time you're deployed.
And for that I thank you. And for that a grateful nation owes you -- owes you. And I want to make it clear, when I say "owe," I am not exaggerating. We owe you.
That’s why our administration has focused so much of our nation’s resources in such difficult economic times -- not only on your training, your pay and your equipment, but on your health, your education, as well as the quality of life for you and your families. And I say families because your families are making significant sacrifices, as well.
The poet John Milton wrote: "They also serve who only stand and wait." They also serve who only stand and wait. We understand that; the sacrifices your families make and continue to make -- not just your sacrifices, the sacrifices they make to allow you to proudly wear that uniform and serve our country in such time of great need.
That's why we're working so hard to improve the quality of life on bases all across America. Ladies and gentlemen, that's why the Recovery Act which you read about includes more than $7 billion, in addition to the regular yearly budget, more than $7 billion for military construction projects: new hospitals, child care centers, better housing at all our defense installations across this entire country.
And here, at Coronado, that means immediately $138 million for 11 new projects to modernize your facilities and generally improve your quality of life, building everything from a new bachelors' quarters to a 24/7 child care center; replacing roofs and lowering energy costs. Just as we're doing for civilian workers, we're also using the Recovery Act money as an important means to give you what you need to do your job.
But our commitment doesn't end with this legislation, nor does it end when your time on this base comes to a close. That's why we've dramatically increased health care coverage, providing resources to give 5.5 million veterans timely and high-quality health care; expanding health care eligibility, bringing in an additional half a million veterans into the VA system. That's why we passed the most extensive GI Bill since World War II, allowing not only you but your children and your spouses to use those benefits if you choose you do not need them or you are not going to exercise them.
That's why today I'm so proud to announce that the Department of Defense, after strong support from a former Senate colleague named Jim Johnson from South Dakota, is dedicating over half a billion dollars from this Recovery Act to extend a program to assist military and Defense Department -- military as well as civilian Defense Department employees who are homeowners when they sell their homes at a loss, which many of you are faced with.
In the middle of a credit and housing crisis, we recognize that military families cannot generally choose, to put it mildly, when they move. So we used this half a billion dollars to dramatically expand what was once a fairly small program assisting your families forced to relocate due to base closures and/or normal assignment rotations. And that's why we give priority access to this program to the survivors of those killed while deployed and those who were wounded or injured while they were deployed.
President Obama and I are extremely proud that in our first budget in these very tough times, we've increased funding for veterans to the tune of $25 billion. It's the biggest budget increase in a generation. And when we proposed it -- as you may have read, if you are on -- stateside -- people said, how can we do that in the midst of this great economic crisis? And our response is simple: How can we not do that, while we're waging two wars and relying on you -- relying on you -- to protect the United States of America?
But as parents, as mentioned earlier, of a son deployed, Jill and I understand it's not just the big things that make a difference in your quality of life, it's a lot of little things. Jill and the First Lady have been using their influence to remind the nation of the incredible sacrifices so many are making while their loved ones are at war. Jill's comment was, she never again wants to see what she saw as a young woman when soldiers and sailors, getting off aircraft coming home, walking through airports, and having people turn their backs on them, as they did in my generation. We want to guarantee that every American knows the sacrifices you're making. So few are serving and so few are giving so much, so many should appreciate.
And, ladies and gentlemen, Jill feels passionately that we have to use all of our power to give both the emotional as well as the physical support, of those who, as Milton said, "only stand and wait."
We owe you. But we owe, as you all would agree, an inordinately large debt to the families of the 4,295 fallen angels in Iraq, and the 679 fallen angels in Afghanistan -- and the 34,084 wounded in both theaters -- all of them -- all of them. We say to those families we're indebted to you more deeply than we are to any other group of Americans under any other circumstance.
For as Jill said, we have only one -- we have only one sacred obligation as a nation, an obligation that exceeds all others. And that's to care for those we send, and care for those who come home. If we only have $10 to spend as a nation, and it takes $8 to meet the needs of the families who have served, then we will spend that $8 before we'll spend a penny on anything else, whether it's education, health care, or all those important items. It's the single, only obligation that is sacred that we have as a nation.
So, from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of every one of those young men and women -- like you, and my son's outfit in Iraq -- serving the nation on the ground, in the air, at sea -- I say to all of you I admire you, the President admires you, and the nation is grateful for what you do. And we will make sure that everything you need when you deploy is available, and with the grace of God, when you come home everything you need is available as well.
If you sailors will forgive a Vice President for quoting an Army general on a Navy base, I would like to quote something General Washington said. He said: "It follows, then, as certain as night succeeds the day -- that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive -- and with it, everything honorable and glorious."
So when you reach these shores after deploying, after another successful mission, our country, as a consequence of your deployment will be even more honorable, more glorious than it is today. The USS Ronald Reagan, named for a great and patriotic American, a man I had the opportunity to serve with eight years and came to know well -- we were in opposite parties. We often were on opposite sides of issues, on social issues. But he was a man whose personal warmth and generosity my family and I felt in our time of need.
He said it best when he said: "Peace is the highest aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it, but we will never surrender for it" -- never, ever, ever.
Ladies and gentlemen, we will never have to surrender for it because of all of you. May God bless you and keep you safe, and may God protect all of our troops.
Thank you. Thank you for your service. (Applause.)