Fighting for Freedom

SAF/PA 2007 Air Force Public Affairs

Armed Forces Day, 2007

Today marks the 57th Armed Forces Day, recognizing the value and strength of our Armed Forces: the Army, the Marine Corps, the Navy, the Coast Guard, and the Air Force. Today, we honor all members of our Armed Forces. As an Airmen, I want to take this time for special attention to my fellow Airmen--in the air and on the ground, fighting for freedom, on all fronts. 

In 1949, then Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day, replacing the separate service days. This day signified the unification of the Armed Forces under one department--the Department of Defense. Prior to the creation of a unified department, however, our armed forces learned the true meaning of unity during World War II with the success of the Tuskegee Airmen. These dedicated and determined men became America's first African American military airmen as members of the Army Air Corps. This year marks the 65th Anniversary of their first aviation cadet class graduation in 1942. Five men, of the original thirteen, fought overt bigotry to successfully complete the training; and these five men set the precedent for the 989 men that were to follow in their footsteps over the next four years. This past March, President George W. Bush, the United States Congress, and members of the U.S. Air Force and Army honored these great men for their accomplishments and their service to our great nation. 

This year also marks the 65th Anniversary of the raid on Japan during World War II by the Doolittle Raiders. At a time when America's morale had slumped from numerous Japanese successes, the brilliant strike by these men boosted American morale and served as a critical turning point in the war. Men and women from our collective histories, like the Tuskegee Airmen and the Doolittle Raiders, add to the armed forces' proud legacy of fighting for freedom at home and abroad. This year especially, as the 60th Anniversary of the United States Air Force, we proclaim our heritage and pay homage to those who laid the foundation for today's operations. 

The first Armed Forces Day, celebrated on Saturday, May 20, 1950, came at a time of increased world tensions, political volatility, and communist aggression. Today, we find ourselves in another tumultuous period of time in the world, battling threats of terrorism,.sectarian violence, weapons of mass destruction, and military and technological expansion of countries competing with U.S. influence on the world stage. Despite these challenges, our Armed Forces remain on the front lines with courage and determination. 

Exactly two months ago, on March 19th, we marked the fourth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom. With lightning speed, our fighting forces swept toward Baghdad aided by our unprecedented satellite and other real-time intelligence and by our well-known ability to put bombs directly on target. Indeed--Airmen had a leading role in ending Saddam's brutal regime and his chapter in Iraqi and Middle East history. Our people used today's technology to defeat today's enemy. Now, we're implementing a far-reaching plan to prepare for tomorrow's adversaries by recapitalizing and modernizing our aerial refueling capability, our ability to rescue warfighters, our space systems, and our ability to deliver firepower when and where it's needed with new fighter and long-range strike aircraft so the Air Force can continue to uphold our nation's sacred trust to defend it in air, space, and cyberspace. 

Through Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm to the skies over Bosnia and now with the Global War on Terror, our Air Force has been fighting for our freedom for nearly two consecutive decades. At every turn, Reservists, Guardsmen, and active duty Airmen are not only in the air, but are also on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan--the Air Force is in the fight. 

Airmen like Captain Craig D. Prather exemplify the contribution of our Air Force in the joint fight. While trying to deliver much-needed reinforcements and supplies to soldiers in Fallujah, his helicopter came under heavy fire from insurgents hidden in ditches below. Capt. Prather's skill and determination allowed him to dodge hostile fire, from two directions, in a disabled aircraft. In a helicopter riddled with bullets, no right engine cover, and damaged rotor blades, Capt. Prather was able to successfully deliver the provisions to Fallujah and safely return his crew of 14 to Baghdad. None of Capt. Prather's crew were injured on the mission. 

Our armed services, however, are not just working with one another, but they are also working side by side with Iraqis. Airmen serving in Iraq as members of the Coalition Air Force Transition Team are helping the Iraqi Air Force literally get off the ground. The team is comprised of four Air Force military transition teams and focuses on enabling the Iraqi Air Force to build and sustain itself. There are currently four squadrons in the Iraqi Air Force that each performs different missions throughout various regions of the country. For the past few months, fully-trained Iraqi Air Force crew chiefs and pilots have flown missions fighting for freedom. 

In addition to working jointly with the other armed services and the Iraqi forces, our Airmen provide some of the best medical care in the world. Our Air Force medical teams are treating the wounded--military and civilian alike. They are providing some of the most advanced medical care available, and they're doing it very near the front lines. Our aeromedical evacuation teams have perfected techniques for transporting critically injured patients to hospitals in Germany and stateside in record time. The result is a survival rate unmatched in any previous conflict. 

These achievements happen not only on foreign soil, but at home as well. In 2005, Airmen rushed to offer aid to the evacuees and victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the Gulf Coast region. They delivered meals, water, and medical supplies. Most importantly, bases offered their capability to conduct search-and-rescue missions throughout the region. Guardsmen and reservists, our "citizen Airmen," labored side-by-side with their active-duty counterparts, working security, aircraft maintenance, communications, civil engineering, and dozens of other specialties. At home and abroad, Airmen have been there in times of need, and every day Airmen are finding ways to enhance their ability to protect and serve America. 

We set aside today as the day we support our Armed Forces, including our Airmen, as we continue to carry out our assigned missions. Those missions include supporting the Iraqi people and their armed forces in their battle with insurgents, so that a free and stable government can take root and survive. 

This fight is not just the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan--it's the fight to save lives through our humanitarian relief operations, it's the fight to dissuade and deter our adversaries, and it's the fight to provide for the strategic defense of our country now and in the future. 

All across the nation, thirteen stripes and fifty stars soar high in the sky: the banner of freedom; our flag. For centuries, our Armed Forces, including men and women in flight, have fought valiantly to protect this banner. Today, the fight continues. Today, we take a vow of unity in the interests of security and peace. Today, we say, "Thank you," to all the members of our Armed Forces that are fighting for freedom.