Saluting Those Who Serve

SAF/PA 2008 Air Force Public Affairs

Armed Forces Day, 2008 

Thank you for joining me to recognize our country's 58th Armed Forces Day. 

Before the first Armed Forces Day on May 20, 1950, the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps each had its own celebration. The theme for the first Armed Forces Day was "Teamed for Defense." 

President Harry Truman led the effort to establish a single holiday for citizens to come together and thank our military people for their patriotic service in support of our country. 

His desire for a single-day celebration stemmed from the unification of the Armed Forces under the Department of Defense. His effort allows us to give America a day to recall the efforts of those in uniform today whether their boots are on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world. 

Armed Forces Day is different from Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Armed Forces Day recognizes the men and women of the Armed Forces throughout the world. 

Memorial Day is for remembering those who died in uniform, those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Veterans Day is for paying tribute to all of those who have ever worn a military uniform in service of our country, past and present. 

It's easy for us to look back and say 1950 was a simpler, quainter time and it some ways it was. Popular movies that year included Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve. Nat King Cole had a hit with Mona Lisa and Guys and Dolls premiered on Broadway. Something called television was sweeping the nation, with 14 million TV sets sold in the U.S. that year, a tenfold increase over 1949.

But the world, and even our own country, had problems in 1950. 
While many things in today's world are different - one thing is the same - we are a nation still at war. 

On Armed Forces Day, let's pause to remember the great work done by our nation's Airmen. Airmen like Master Sergeant Mark Hurst, a tactical air control party operator currently serving on a joint task force in Afghanistan. Sergeant Hurst faces danger daily as he battles terrorists by calling in air strikes 

Sergeant Hurst was injured on an Afghanistan battlefield in 2004. As a result of those injuries, this American hero lost his left eye. He fought to receive a waiver to return to duty as a joint tactical airlift controller, and one was granted. He has since deployed at least twice more. 

We honor the work of great Airmen like Staff Sergeant Tracy Davidson of the 732nd Combat Stress Control Unit in Balad Air Base, Iraq, who cares for Iraqi children in a special burn clinic, and Senior Airman Diane Lopes, a security forces specialist who fought insurgents in and around Kirkuk Air Base, Iraq and was wounded during a rocket attack. 

These are incredible Airmen, and they and their fellow Soldiers, Sailors and Marines, are doing an amazing job. 

It's a day to recognize the young adults who have just joined the military and face the real possibility of going off to war next fall instead of to college. Right now they are in basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, at Fort Dix, New Jersey, at Parris Island, South Carolina, or at the Navy's Great Lakes facility in Illinois or one of the other basic training sites the services operate. 

Armed Forces Day is for us to remember those who are now faced with making the tough decision as to whether to continue to serve their country. They are weighing the demands continued military service brings with it, whether they are active duty or one of our Citizen Airmen or Citizen Soldiers who serve in the reserves or National Guard. 

Americans today are overwhelmingly confident in our military branches. 

Each year, the Gallup Poll takes a telephone sampling of people in the U.S. and asks them to express their level of confidence in a list of institutions in American society. 

For years, the U.S. military has been at the top of that poll. In 2003, we reached a high of 82 percent of respondents saying they had "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the military. The latest poll shows us at 69 percent, 3 points above where we were prior to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 

In his speech announcing the formation of Armed Forces Day, President Truman praised the work of the military services at home and across the seas. He said each branch is "vital to the security of the nation and to the establishment of a desirable peace." 

Those same words could have been spoken on any Armed Forces Day since then. 

President Truman said the initial Armed Forces Day 58 years ago marked the first combined demonstration by America's defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, toward the goal of readiness for any eventuality. 

A 1952 New York Times article summed it by saying that - to many GIs -- Armed Forces Day wouldn't be "a matter of parades and receptions...They will all be in the line of duty and some of them may give their lives in that duty." 

Sadly, that, too, rings true today. 

Many things have changed in the daily lives of Americans in the last 58 years, but the reasons to recognize Armed Forces Day aren't among them. 

It's a day when we pause to remember all of the men and women who have volunteered - and it's been an all-volunteer force for 35 years now - to put on a military uniform and head into harm's way when called. 

Please join me on this special day -- Armed Forces Day - and say thank you to those great Americans who proudly serve this great nation by volunteering to serve in our military!