At Osan, Obama talks about deployments
November 21, 2009
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — President Barack Obama drew repeated cheers and applause during a speech to U.S. troops here Thursday — except when he mentioned that some may deploy once again to a war zone.
Wearing a dark blue suit, white shirt and red tie, Obama spoke of service in Iraq and Afghanistan to about 1,500 servicemembers who stood 25-deep in a high-ceilinged warehouse draped with camouflage netting.
“You volunteered in a time of war, knowing that you could be sent into harm’s way,” the president said. “Many of you served in Iraq.”
The comment brought applause and affirmative shouts of “Hoo-ah!”
“Others among you served in Afghanistan.”
More applause and hoo-ahs.
“… Others among you will deploy yet again,” he said.
This time, barely three or four people in the crowd made sounds of approval, then quickly fell silent.
Some troops in the audience later said the tepid response probably reflected a weariness with deployments.
“Probably because a lot of them have been out there so many times and probably don’t want to go back anytime soon,” said Marine Cpl. Garrett Dunn, 22, of Vincennes, Ind., who served in Iraq last year.
Army Staff Sgt. Richard Harris, 23, of Youngstown, Ohio, a paratrooper who served in Iraq and wears the Combat Infantryman Badge, had a similar take.
He said the enthusiasm was because people “were proud” of having served downrange.
“But,” he added, “once he mentioned going back there, I guess nobody really looks forward to going back to Iraq or Afghanistan. I know that I don’t really look forward to going back, but I will if I have to.”
During his 16-minute speech Obama also voiced support for the needs of the armed services and military families.
“While you made sacrifices that few Americans will truly understand, I want to assure you — every American appreciates what you do,” he said. “… And just as you’ve fulfilled your responsibilities to your nation, your nation will fulfill its responsibilities to you.”
Obama then outlined steps his administration is taking to help servicemembers and their families.
Those included a move to increase the defense budget “to keep you the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped military in the world.”
The size of the Army and Marine Corps has been increased “ahead of schedule.”
“And we’ve halted reduction in the Navy and the Air Force, which will give you more time home between deployments. And it will help us to put an end, once and for all, for stop-loss for those who’ve done their duty,” Obama said.
“And I promise you this,” he said. “I will not hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests. But I will also not risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary.”
That promise brought applause and cheers.
Obama cited efforts to improve care for wounded troops, including those suffering from post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, and he pointed to funding for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
“We’ve made the biggest commitment to our veterans through the largest percentage increase requested for the VA’s budget in more than 30 years,” he said.
Following his speech, Obama spent about five minutes shaking hands with troops.
“Pretty amazing to see the most powerful person in the world,” said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jarred Kendall, 26, of Reading, Pa. “He lives up to the hype.”