By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 4, 2008 - President Bush praised troops for their efforts to help others "realize the blessing of a free society" during remarks today to servicemembers in Alaska. Stopping at Eielson Air Force Base ahead of his scheduled trip to Asia, Bush addressed a group of airmen and soldiers, which included one of the first Army brigades to serve an extended 15-month deployment in Iraq.
"It's ... in our national interest to help others realize the blessings of a free society, so that when we look back at the initial chapters of the 21st century we will say we've done our duty; we defended the United States of America, and we laid the foundation for peace to come," he said.
In addition to praising Alaska Air National Guardsmen, the president thanked the more 200 airmen from the base currently deployed around the world, including many in the Middle East, and expressed gratitude for their families' sacrifice.
"Their service in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere is making this nation safer," he said. "And for the family members of those airmen: God bless you, and thank you for standing with your loved one."
Among soldiers in the audience were members of the Task Force 49 Stryker Brigade from Fort Wainwright, Alaska. The unit was one of the first to spend 15 months in Iraq after Army tours were extended from 12 to 15 months in April 2007.
Soon after the extension took effect, however, Pentagon civilian and military officials urged a return to 12-month deployments. Last week, citing a four-year low in violence in Iraq, Bush reduced future Army service there to year-long tours of duty.
"The other day I made it clear that our policy on rotations is now 12 months in, 12 months out," Bush said today to a rousing applause. "I know the Stryker Brigade from Fort Wainwright was one of the first brigades to extend, and I understand it puts stress on the families.
"Because of the progress we're making in Iraq, there's now certainty in the rotations," he said.
Bush acknowledged the difficulty that deployments cause, but said there are necessary for a nation at war. He added that some incorrectly characterize deployments as a form of law enforcement.
"Well, if it's a law enforcement matter, that means you react after the crime," he said. "I think it's important, and I know most of you here think it's important, to stop the crime from happening in the first place."
The president said that the United States must "stay on the offense," pressure its enemies and bring them to justice to prevent future attacks on American civilians. He urged that the United States never forget the "the transformative power of liberty."
"I know free societies yield the peace we all want," he said. "It's in our national interest to keep the pressure on the terrorists, to give them no safe haven, no place to hide, to keep them on the run."
Bush told the troops that the United States is thankful for their service.
"All here have my pride and have my gratitude," he said. "And you have the thanks of our entire nation. We honor your service.
"There is no finer honor than being the commander in chief of a fine group of men and women, and I'm proud to be in your midst," he added.