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Armed Forces Day

SAF/PA 2005 Air Force Public Affairs

Armed Forces Day, 2005

Armed Forces Day was established on August 31, 1949, when then Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace the separate Army, Navy and Air Force days. In a speech announcing the creation of the unified Armed Forces Day, President Harry Truman "praised the work of the military services at home and across the seas," and reminded us that the service of the men and women of the armed forces "is vital to the security of the nation and to the establishment of a desirable peace." 

Around the globe, more than 2.4 million of our country's greatest, best-trained men and women are taking responsibility for securing our nation's freedoms and securing a future of peace, stability, prosperity and justice. Whether serving on the ground, in the air, or at sea; whether serving overseas or at home; and whether active-duty, Guard or reserve, their sacrifice and unflinching willingness to put service before self are truly extraordinary. 

We are here to honor these extraordinary people from all the services today: our Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and the Coast Guardsmen. They wear different uniforms, have a unique set of traditions, and perform different missions. But when I think of those serving in our Armed Services - regardless of what branch or what duty they perform - I think of one word: sacrifice. 

In doing their duty, they all are making great sacrifices - ready to deploy at a moment's notice, and prepared to put their lives on the line to defend our freedoms and our way of life. They endure so the rest of us can live freely. No matter where these men and women are serving or what mission they are supporting, all are making sacrifices for a better world. 

You should know that today there are no fewer heroes than there have ever been before. Each service has a story. Let me share with you the story of Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, an Air Force pararescueman. 

This is the story of Roberts Ridge in Afghanistan. A CH-47 Chinook was going in with a helicopter full of Air Force combat controllers, Army Rangers and Navy SEALS. The helicopter began taking enemy fire, and during an evasive maneuver, a Navy SEAL named Roberts fell out of the helicopter. In the initial confusion, the crew on the helicopter didn't know what happened to Seaman Roberts, but his fellow servicemembers were determined to find out. Shortly after returning to base, a group of men volunteered to go back to the battle scene to retrieve Seaman Roberts. Three Airmen were among those volunteers, including Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, who was deployed from Moody AFB, Ga. 

Moments after arriving at the battle scene, the helicopter carrying Airman Cunningham was shot down, and the impact with the ground injured a number of the troops. While the helicopter took enemy fire from 360 degrees, Airman Cunningham pulled the injured away from the helicopter as best he could and started to treat them. The helicopter crew urgently called for close air support and transportation for the injured, but before aid could arrive, the enemy shot and killed Senior Airman Cunningham. 

Later, Air Force Chief of Staff General John Jumper went to Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, where Airman Cunningham's family lives, to present his widow the Air Force Cross. All the Army Rangers that were on the helicopter were there for that ceremony. They said that when Jason Cunningham knew he wasn't going to survive, he spent his last few minutes making sure that the other people around him knew how to take care of the wounded. 

General Jumper presented Airman Cunnningham's wife, Theresa, with the Air Force Cross. She'd been going to night school at Valdosta State College there in Valdosta, Georgia, and was in ROTC. General Jumper returned to commission her into the Air Force as a second lieutenant. She serves today. 

There are many heroes that we recognize on Armed Forces Day. The men and women who were away from their families during holidays, birthdays and other family events are heroes because they were in the desert giving the citizens of Iraq an opportunity to vote in the first free elections that country has seen in more than six decades. The men and women in uniform who put their winter vacations on hold or cancelled them so they could help the people in Asia recover and begin to rebuild from the devastating earthquake and destructive tsunamis that struck the Indian Ocean region, where the death toll estimates are more than 150,000 with hundred of thousands injured, missing, sick, and homeless. 

Our forces are extremely busy - they are performing more global missions - combat, contingency response, counter-drug operations, humanitarian assistance, and weather reconnaissance - than ever before and doing so with the smallest active, Guard, and Reserve force in decades. And they are doing so the best trained and disciplined force the world has ever seen. 

This force is deployed or stationed on every time zone around the world. They are in places such as the Middle East, Korea, Guantanamo Bay, Bosnia, Ecuador, and Kosovo. They're bringing medical assistance to clinics in South Africa, offering free medical care to hundreds of people who cannot afford to see doctors in local hospitals. They are in Central America participating in the fight against narcotics growth, production and trafficking and the security threat that creates. These brave men and women are in Iraq and Afghanistan building roads and bridges, utility systems, schools and hospitals, so these countries can establish their own democratic governments. 

Whether on the ground, in airplanes or submarines, aboard ships or in Intercontinental Ballistic Missile launch control centers 60 feet underground, our men and women in uniform are defending America's interests in a world of high-tech weapons, fast-moving small-scale warfare, and global terrorism. 

But it's not just our aircraft carriers or our attack submarines, it's not our F-16 Fighting Falcons or our C-130 Hercules, and it's not our Bradley fighting vehicles or our Patriot missile systems that make our military strong. It is the strength, the dedication, and the idealism of our Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen that make this nation strong. 

They're not out there fighting for glory. They don't care how many medals they earn, or how many times they see their names on TV or in the paper. They're out there every minute of every day fighting for what they believe in. They're fighting for peace and security for their families. They're fighting so the rest of us don't have to. They're fighting for the freedoms that make these United States of America the greatest nation on earth. And they're fighting for the oppressed who can't fight for themselves. 

We should all be very proud of them. But being proud isn't enough. We must remember that they're continually facing challenges and they need our support. Our forces are smaller than our Cold War force, but the workload isn't any lighter. We can't forget that it's our neighbors, our children and our brothers and sisters who are serving for us, and they deserve our support. 

Please thank them and their families for their willingness not only to defend us, but also to have the courage to step in to help those around the world who need our assistance. Let them know their hard work and dedication aren't in vain, but are admired and appreciated. Remind them that the values and ideals they fight for every day are worthy and that they are making this world a better and safer place. 

We admire the discipline, bravery and compassion that our military people demonstrate in even the most undesirable conditions. They have sacrificed their lives and time away from their families for all of us, and they're eager to get back ... but not until they've completed their mission. 

On any given night, the American flag flies on the tail of an American Air Force aircraft on every continent around the world. They are backed by thousands of maintenance, security and support people that make that happen. In fact, the sun never sets on your Air Force. America .... sleep well... Your Air Force is most definitely awake, thanks to the many people we honor today on Armed Force Day. 

So today we take time to thank our servicemen and women for preserving our freedom. We thank them for their service, their sacrifice, and their commitment, while remembering that they need us to stand with them, and their families, while they are standing guard for us. We must continue to do our best for them, as they give their all for freedom. I am very proud to represent your great Air Force and the people that make it great. Thank you very much for your support.