By Amaani Lyle
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, July 22, 2014 – Vice President Joe Biden paid special tribute to the 9/11 generation during his address to more than 12,000 members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars at the organization’s national convention in St. Louis yesterday.
Biden singled out former Army Sgt. Ryan Pitts, who received the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony later in the day for his actions against more than 200 heavily armed insurgents near a small Afghanistan village in 2008.
“Even as nine of his fellow soldiers were killed around him, even after he’d been wounded by grenade shrapnel and was losing blood, even when he realized he was alone in the fight, Sergeant Pitts … stayed and fought to protect the troops at a nearby base and held off the enemy until reinforcements arrived,” the vice president said.
Biden emphasized that Pitts’ heroism represents the resilience of the 9/11 generation. “Just since 9/11, 3.5 million women and men joined the military with near certainty that they’d be deployed to a war zone, [and] there have been over 2.6 million deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.
The vice president noted that his daily schedule as vice president has included an update on the number of U.S. troops wounded or killed in Afghanistan or Iraq. “For every one of these warriors,” he said, “there’s an entire family … back in America that has bled or is bleeding.”
Today, he noted, 6,688 troops have died, 51,931 have been wounded and 32,000 remain in harm’s way in Afghanistan.
“The Taliban’s decision to harbor those who attacked us on 9/11 compelled us to use military power,” Biden said. “We’ve been in Afghanistan almost 13 years … struck devastating blows against al-Qaida and prevented Afghanistan from re-emerging as the launching pad for attacks against our homeland.”
But the vice president acknowledged that while the military can provide the opportunity, it cannot solve the problems of the societies in the region.
“In Iraq, enduring sectarian divisions have lingered, and today, Iraq faces a tough fight against a terrorist organization, the progeny of al-Qaida,” he said.
That fight, he explained, comprises a larger challenge of ethnic and sectarian strife that extremists have exploited in a conflict “that does not respect, and now seems to erase, the border between Iraq and Syria.”
Biden said he’s been in constant contact with Iraqi leaders as they work to form a new government and chart a new path toward inclusive politics that gives all Iraqi communities a greater stake in the future of a federal Iraq.
The vice president also said efforts continue to rally support from surrounding countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia to promote power-sharing and compromise over a zero-sum sectarian competition.