Monday, May 25, 2009

Troops Become Citizens During Memorable Naturalization Ceremony

By U.S. Army Pfc. Cody A. Thompson
American Forces Press Service

May 25, 2009 - One hundred and six servicemembers, including 94 soldiers, 10 Marines and two sailors, from countries from Mexico to Japan, celebrated their first Memorial Day as U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony here today. After a long naturalization process, emotions ran high as the servicemembers' journey finally came to an end.

"It's very overwhelming, I'm in harm's way every day and have worked very hard to get to this point," said Army Spc. Rhett Cayobit, a Philippine native. "I was very lucky that my unit supported me from day one." Cayobit is an engineer with the 68th Combat Support Equipment Company, 62nd Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade

Servicemembers stood proud as they heard trumpets sound their new national anthem. After the last note fell and the servicemembers took their seats, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, commanding general for Combined Joint Task Force-101 spoke about what it means to be a U.S. citizen.

"This is a privilege, but one you've earned," Schloesser said.

Corinna Luna-Benavides, the field office director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for the Middle East spoke to the audience of about 325 people.

"Historically this is the largest group to gain their citizenship in Afghanistan, hopefully on Veterans Day in November we will have even more," she said.

The naturalization process involves detailed applications, interviews, and reviews that normally takes nine months. For Sgt. Young Kim, a South Korea native and a transportation non-commissioned officer with the 154th Transportation Company from Fort Hood, Texas, it took eight years.

"It's so relieving because now I can bring my family over to the U.S.," said Kim. "I had to submit my packet four times but now that I have my citizenship. I plan on getting my security clearance and going to Officer Candidate School."

For the first time in Afghanistan, a taped video message from President Barack Obama was shown, congratulating the newest citizens of the U.S.

"This now officially your country," said Obama. "In America, no dream is impossible. Together we can keep the beacon of America bright enough for all the world to see."

(Army Pfc. Cody A. Thompson serves with the 40th Public Affairs Detachment)

Today's Troops, Families Best Ever, Chairman Says

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

May 25, 2009 - As the nation prepares to enjoy its Memorial Day holiday, the military's top officer asked that U.S. troops and families be remembered for their sacrifices. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made appearances this morning on the major network morning shows broadcasting from the Pentagon.

Mullen called today's fighting force and its families the best he's ever been associated with.

"I've been wearing the uniform for over 41 years. This is the best military we've ever had, and they are making a big difference in these two wars that we're fighting," he said. "And we're in our eighth year of war, our sixth year of fighting two wars simultaneously, and they've just been incredible."

The holiday serves as the unofficial start of summer with many community pools opening for the weekend. Many enjoy the typical three-day weekend boating, cooking out and in other outdoor recreational activities.

But Mullen asked that the nation take pause to remember the sacrifices of the troops and families, and to renew its commitment to supporting those in their communities who are serving.

"Today's a day we need to remember their sacrifice -- those who've paid the ultimate sacrifice as well as the families of the fallen," Mullen said.

Nearly 5,000 troops have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since they began, Mullen said. More than 36,000 troops have been injured.

"We've got some 240,000 young men and women of the United States deployed around the world today ... and many of them in harms way who we really need to take pause and remember their sacrifice," the chairman said.

"They represent the best of America. They're the best young people I have ever been associated with and they really do make a difference," Mullen said.

Mullen Salutes Servicemembers, Vets at Memorial Day Concert

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

May 25, 2009 - Memorial Day is a time for Americans to "honor all those who have sacrificed and still sacrifice today for our freedom," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a large audience gathered on the U.S. Capitol grounds here yesterday evening for the 20th annual National Memorial Day Concert. The nation's top military officer especially saluted warriors who've been wounded during the performance of their duty. The admiral cited the bravery and sacrifice of concert attendee New Hampshire National Guardsman Staff Sgt. Jose Pequeno, who'd been severely wounded in Iraq.

Pequeno's mother, Nellie Bagley, and his sister, Elizabeth, are helping him as he continues his recovery.

America needs "heroes like Jose," Mullen said, noting it is important for citizens to recognize and appreciate the sacrifices made by servicemembers and their families.

"Let our gratitude carry on to every corner of this land, and every day of the year," Mullen said of the appreciation of servicemembers' work and sacrifice on behalf of the nation.

"May God bless our veterans and all our armed forces," Mullen said.

President, Top U.S. Military Denounce North Korean Nuclear Test

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

May 25, 2009 - The president and the nation's top military officer today denounced North Korea's claim that it carried out a powerful underground nuclear test, much larger than previous such tests, to "bolster its nuclear deterrent for self-defense." "North Korea's nuclear ballistic missile programs pose a great threat to the peace and security of the world and I strongly condemn their reckless action," Obama told reporters this morning in the White House Rose Garden.

North Korea's actions they are a blatant violation of international law, and they contradict North Korea's own prior commitments, he said.

"The record is clear: North Korea has previously committed to abandoning its nuclear program," Obama said. "Instead of following through on that commitment it has chosen to ignore that commitment. These actions have also flown in the face of United Nations resolutions.

"As a result, North Korea is not only deepening its own isolation, it's also inviting stronger international pressure -- that's evident overnight, as Russia and China, as well a our traditional allies of South Korea and Japan, have all come to the same conclusion: North Korea will not find security and respect through threats and illegal weapons."

Obama said the international community must take action in response to North Korea's threatening activities.

"We will work with friends and our allies to stand up to this behavior and redouble our efforts toward a more robust international nonproliferation regime that all countries have responsibilities to meet."

"In this effort, the United States will never waiver from our determination to protect our people and the peace and security of the world," he said.

In a statement issued by the White House earlier this morning, the president said U.S. officials have been and will continue working with allies and partners in the Six-Party Talks as well as other members of the U.N. Security Council in the days ahead.

Broadcasting from the Pentagon, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared on the major network morning shows. The chairman typically is interviewed as part of the networks' Memorial Day coverage.

But the reported nuclear tests quickly overshadowed the chairman's message of troops' and families' sacrifices, and turned to questions about any proposed U.S. military response and whether it could afford another conflict on top of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While Pentagon officials could not yet confirm the reports of the test, Mullen said, it was not "unanticipated."

Mullen said the nuclear test is indicative of "the growing belligerence of North Korea, the growing isolation of a country that continues to defy the international norm and international law, and actually, the growing concern that I and many others have for their ability to destabilize a really vital region of the world."

Mullen said the international community "must continue to bring pressure on (North Korea) to ensure that in the long run they don't achieve a nuclear weapons program that could threaten the region and actually threaten the United States as well."

Mullen said the six-party talks, in place to attempt a peaceful resolution to the security concerns of North Korea's nuclear weapons program, are especially critical moving forward after this reported test.

North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States make up the six parties. The talks have been stalled since the United Nations Security Council condemned North Korea in April for a failed missile test. Following the condemnation North Korea expelled United Nations inspectors from the country.

Mullen also said that the test puts North Korea in a position where its own security position is on less stable ground internationally.

"As [Jong] becomes more and more defiant I think he puts himself in a much more difficult position while he clearly continues to try to seek this ... very dangerous capability of a nuclear weapons program," he said.

Mullen said though that diplomatic efforts should be continued, but expressed confidence that the U.S. military can deal with any threat posed by North Korea.

"The issue of a third war would be a huge challenge," he said. We've got reserve capacity in our military, a very strong Navy, a very strong Air Force. So I would not want anybody to think that we don't have the capacity to respond, even though our military is very, very pressed and very, very stretched right now."

Obama Honors Servicemembers' Ultimate Sacrifices for Freedom

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

May 25, 2009 - President Barack Obama today hailed U.S. military members' unselfish service and willingness to lay down their lives on behalf of their fellow citizens during the annual Memorial Day observance at Arlington National Cemetery. White House offiicials said the president returned from Camp David last night so that this morning he could have breakfast with Gold Star Families in the State Dining Room, participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and speak at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery.

After being introduced by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Obama told an audience gathered inside the Memorial Amphitheater that Arlington's hallowed grounds contain the remains of, "presidents and privates, Supreme Court justices and slaves; generals familiar to history, and unknown soldiers known only to God."

The annual Memorial Day observance has been held at Arlington "in moments of peace, when we pay our respects to the fallen and give thanks for their sacrifice," Obama said, and also "in moments of war, when the somber notes of Taps echo through the trees, and fresh grief lingers in the air."

And, "today is one of those moments," the president continued, "where we pay tribute to those who forged our history, but hold closely the memory of those so recently lost. And even as we gather here this morning, all across America, people are pausing to remember, to mourn, and to pray."

Moments before he entered the cemetery's amphitheater, Obama laid a ceremonial wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, which contains the remains of unidentified soldiers from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. There was also a crypt for a Vietnam War unknown, but genetic forensics later identified him as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael J. Blassie. The crypt is now empty.

More than 300,000 people are buried at Arlington Cemetery, including veterans from all the nation's wars -- the American Revolution through Iraq and Afghanistan.

Arlington's wreath-laying ceremony, Obama said, salutes "the legacies of an unbroken chain of proud men and women who served their country with honor; who waged war so that we might know peace; who braved hardship so that we might know opportunity; who paid the ultimate price so we might know freedom."

The generations of servicemembers that are buried at Arlington "fought in every American war," Obama pointed out.

"They overthrew an empire and gave birth to revolution," Obama said of Arlington's dead. "They strained to hold a young union together. They rolled back the creeping tide of tyranny, and stood post through a long twilight struggle. And they took on the terror and extremism that threatens our world's stability."

Next week, Obama will visit Normandy, France, he said, to "address some of the brave men who stormed those beaches 65 years ago" as part of the D-Day landings during World War II.

Arlington Cemetery, Obama said, is "a testament to the price our nation has paid for freedom." The thousands of marble headstones that march up and down the cemetery's hilly grounds and cover its flats, he said, are arrayed "in perfect military order, worthy of the dignity of those who rest here."

Section 60 is where the "fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan rest," Obama said. Servicemembers buried at Arlington who gave their lives during previous wars and the fallen from Afghanistan and Iraq, he said, shared a common dedication to duty and country.

"What is thing, this sense of duty?" Obama asked. And why, he continued, in today's self-indulgent times, have "soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of this generation volunteered all that they have on behalf of others" and "bear the heaviest burden?"

And, just as their predecessors, today's military members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan "felt some tug; they answered a call; they said, 'I'll go,'" Obama said.

That's why, Obama said, America's servicemembers "are the best of America, and that is what separates them from those of us who have not served in uniform -- their extraordinary willingness to risk their lives for people they never met."

Obama said his grandfather had served in Army Gen. George S. Patton's Army in World War II.

"But I cannot know what it is like to walk into battle," Obama said. "I'm the father of two young girls -- but I can't imagine what it's like to lose a child. These are things I cannot know."

Yet, Obama declared that he "is humbled" to be the commander-in-chief "of the finest fighting force in the history of the world."

As U.S. president, Obama pledged "to keep our country safe, even as I face no harder decision than sending our men and women to war -- and no moment more difficult than writing a letter to the families of the fallen."

Obama also said he'd only send troops into battle "when it is absolutely necessary, and I will always provide them with the equipment and support they need to get the job done."

Military families "sacrifice more than we can understand," Obama said, and those who've lost loved ones to war "feel an absence greater than we can comprehend."

America owes much "to those who serve under its proud flag," Obama said. "And, that's why I promise all our servicemen and women that when the guns fall silent, and you do return home, it will be to an America that is forever here for you, just as you've been there for us."

The death of a loved one who died in service of their country is a heart-breaking experience for those loved ones left behind, Obama said.

But, such a tragic event, he added, also "reminds us all the meaning of valor; it reminds us all of our own obligations to one another; it recounts that most precious aspect of our history, and tells us that we will only rise or fall together."

During his introduction of the commander-in-chief, Mullen also saluted U.S. servicemembers' sacrifices on behalf of the nation.

Memorial Day is a time for Americans to remember and honor its fallen heroes who've given the nation the gift of their ultimate sacrifice, Mullen said.

"What we do understand as it is revealed to us more fully each passing spring," Mullen said, "is how precious and very rare these gifts truly are, in and above this world."

Mullen also praised Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their support of America's servicemembers and families.

"In every possible way, he and our First Lady make our troops and their families first; first in their daily lives, first in their thoughts, and first in their hearts," Mullen said.