FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thank you, Lieutenant Colonel Andonie.
Welcome. And welcome back home.
I’m very glad to be joined up here by, General Dempsey, General Taluto, General Genereux , Colonel Balfe, Colonel Hutter, Command Sergeant Major Fitzsimmons, and Terrence Tierney of the Friends of the Fighting 69th. And I’m honored to be here with the New York Army National Guard and the families on the home front who keep you strong.
I spent my morning in the U.N. Security Council, but I have no doubt that it would have been more fun to spend it with you in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
We’re here today to celebrate, to pay tribute, and to remember. You have all written a new chapter in one of the great American stories. Your forerunners from the Fighting 69th fought on the trampled fields of Bull Run, in the muddy trenches of France, and on the hard-won islands of Japan.
More recently, 600 soldiers from the Fighting 69th were deployed to Iraq. You patrolled the dangerous streets of Taji and helped secure “Route Irish,” which leads from Baghdad’s airport to the Green Zone—a road that used to be a synonym for danger.
More than 78 men from the 69th were wounded in Iraq, and 19 were killed. We honor their courage and their love for this country. And we will never forget their sacrifice.
We salute the unbroken chain of patriotism that binds together the New York Army National Guard. I have always loved it that my friends in uniform call these ceremonies a “freedom salute”: you provide our freedom, and we provide the salute.
It’s fitting that we welcome you home today in New York—the place where your most recent mission began, when the 69th rushed to the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001.
There is a straight line from your service at Ground Zero to your service in Afghanistan. You served on behalf of those who were murdered on 9/11. You served to protect our nation from those who would plot similar attacks in the future. And you served to help build a new Afghanistan, one that will no longer be a safe haven for al-Qaeda.
Now, somewhere out there, we have with us Lieutenant Lou Delli-Pizzi. Many of you know him, but let me introduce him to those of you who may not, because he embodies so much of what Task Force Phoenix and the 69th are about.
Talk to him, and you’ll realize that you’re dealing with a real New Yorker—a guy from Long Island who’s spent 21 years in law enforcement, most of it in the NYPD. He’s a cop’s cop, a detective who’s fought narcotics and chased arms felons. He’s also a family man, whose wife, Beth, you have already seen on this stage today: she’s an attorney and the President of the Long Island Family Readiness Group.
If you find Lou Delli-Pizzi, he’d love to tell you about his ten-year-old daughter Maggie and his son Jack, who just turned five last weekend; And hey, Jack—happy birthday.
On September 11, 2001, Detective Delli-Pizzi was working a shift in Manhattan. He was called to the World Trade Center minutes after the first plane slammed into the North Tower. He rushed toward the danger that so many others were fleeing. And he still remembers what it felt like, amid the ash and the smoke, to see reinforcements coming to the aid of New York’s finest and bravest—the National Guardsmen of the Fighting 69th.
When the day was done, he had been changed forever, and he knew that he had to do even more. So he joined the forces that had joined him that day—the Fighting 69th. Detective Delli-Pizzi signed up, and he has now become Lieutenant Delli-Pizzi.
That’s the kind of fierce patriot that makes up Task Force Phoenix: policemen, firemen, lawyers, doctors, businessmen—or, as Lou Delli-Pizzi puts it, “the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker.” You are citizen-soldiers, ready to defend your families, your city, your state, and your country.
And while the 69th proudly began as an Irish unit, it’s made up today of honorary Irishmen of every race, creed and color, patriots with roots in every corner of the globe—all standing together under the Stars and Stripes in an infantry unit headquartered in midtown Manhattan.
When you take that wealth of life experience and that strength of diversity and you send it out into the field, there’s no mountain it can’t climb. And that’s what we saw these last two years amid the peaks of Afghanistan.
Task Force Phoenix took on the enemy in its former strongholds. They patrolled the winding streets. And they helped deepen the country’s foundations, rebuilding schools, paving roads, digging wells, and repairing bridges—including the bridges that can connect people and unite them against terrorism and extremism.
Members of Task Force Phoenix sat in Afghan shuras and drank tea with village leaders. They delivered humanitarian assistance by the ton. They helped provide “winter wheat” to be harvested after the harsh Afghan winter had passed, and they ensured that Afghan leaders were the ones to hand out the seeds.
They did not just demand that Afghans stop harvesting the scourge of poppy; they gave them an alternative. They did not just insist that the Afghan government could help its people; they gave them concrete proof.
And Task Force Phoenix had reinforcements thousands of miles away: the Family Readiness Groups here at home, which supported the troops in ways that only family can. The members of the 69th left their children behind, but they often thought of their own kids when they met Afghan boys and girls who had no toys to play with. So the Family Readiness Groups swung into action. Suddenly, the children in the region found a new way of thinking of American soldiers: as the people who gave them more than a thousand Beanie Babies.
Our heroes are not always found in the headlines. They are the young soldiers, the brave privates and the valiant specialists who head for a foreign shore and leave their families and friends behind—but only to try to help build a world for them that is more decent, more lawful, more peaceful, and more just.
Such a world will not come without struggle, and some families bear a disproportionate share of the sacrifice. Two hundred and twenty soldiers from Task Force Phoenix were wounded in action in Afghanistan. And nine New York Army National Guard soldiers who fought in Task Force Phoenix will never come home.
I bow my head in humble thanks to the families of Specialist Anthony Mangano, Sergeant First Class Joseph McKay, Sergeant Mark Charles Palmateer , Specialist Nelson Rodriguez-Ramirez, Sergeant Andrew Seabrooks, Specialist Deon Lamarr Taylor, Specialist Jason Eric von Zerneck, First Lieutenant Daniel Farkas, and Sergeant Jason Keller. Nothing we say can ease the loss for their parents, their children, their families, and their friends. We remember and honor their sacrifice. And we cherish the liberty that they gave their lives to defend.
We must not take that freedom for granted. And we will never take your service for granted. President Obama believes that we have a sacred trust to keep with our troops, our veterans, and our military families.
Secretary Shinseki and the President are deeply committed to creating a 21st-century Department of Veterans’ Affairs that will give you and your families the care and benefits that you have earned—and then some.
That means continuing to look out for you and the rest of our troops when you come home. It means ensuring quality care for our wounded warriors. It means better care for those suffering from traumatic brain injuries and more support for veterans and families grappling with PTSD. And it means making the transition from active duty to civilian life as smooth and seamless as you all deserve.
We must also pay particular care to the distinctive needs of all of you, our citizen-soldiers in the National Guard. President Obama and our entire team are determined to ensure that you have the equipment you need for deployments overseas and emergencies at home.
You have never let us down, and we will do the same for you.
There is still much more to do. The Taliban are on the march in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda is plotting from its safe haven along the Pakistani border. Heroin continues to flow from Afghanistan.
So we will forge a comprehensive new strategy for both sides of that border to defeat al-Qaeda and combat extremism—one that addresses the challenges in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, one that joins military force with the force of our ideas, one that integrates economic power, intelligence, diplomacy, and development.
We understand the challenge, and we are determined to meet it.
But terrorism and the Afghan drug trade are not just American problems, and Americans are not the only ones fighting them.
Task Force Phoenix worked closely with ISAF troops from such NATO allies as Great Britain, Germany, France, Spain, and Canada. I am also proud to say that the United States and NATO have been cooperating closely with the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan—a reminder that, in a post-9/11 world, security requires working effectively together with partners, allies, and international organizations.
Members of the 69th, I am told that your colonel’s office proudly bears a letter from Abraham Lincoln. In his magnificent Second Inaugural, President Lincoln made a promise to America’s soldiers that we must honor in full.
“Let us strive on to finish the work we are in,” he said, “to bind up the nation's wounds… to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan… to do all which may achieve and cherish… a just and lasting peace among ourselves… and with all nations.”
Members of Task Force Phoenix and your families, it’s an honor to be with you. God bless you. Welcome home. Garryowen.
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