News | April 9, 2009

Back from Baghdad, Obama pledges more troop, family support

By Donna Miles , American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON (April 9, 2009) – Fresh back from visiting troops deployed to Iraq, President Barack Obama said he was “inspired all over again by the men and women in our armed forces,” and vowed to ensure the programs that support them receive proper funding.

Obama said he made a surprise visit to Baghdad earlier this week to thank deployed troops personally for their service and what they’ve helped accomplish.

“They’ve faced extraordinary challenges, and they have performed brilliantly in every mission that’s been given to them,” he said. “They have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country, and that is a great gift.”

In doing so, Obama said they’ve made sacrifices “many of us cannot begin to imagine.”

“Through their service, they are living out the ideas that stir something deep within the American character: honor, sacrifice and commitment to a higher purpose and to one another,” he said. “That, after all, is what led them to wear the uniform in the first place: their unwavering belief in America.”

As Obama reflected on his Baghdad visit, he shared the stories of two soldiers he met who exemplify the spirit and dedication of America’s fighting force.

One, Army Spc. Jake Altman, was clearing mines in 2007 when he lost his hand to an improvised explosive device that struck his vehicle. While recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, he asked to relearn the skills needed to perform his duties with a prosthetic hand so he could rejoin his battalion.

Another soldier, Army Sgt. Nathan DeWitt, was severely injured in an attack in September, but refused to let his injuries stop him from giving first aid to his wounded comrades.

“Today, they’re both back alongside their fellow soldiers in their old units,” Obama said, adding that it’s time for the United States to ensure they and their fellow servicemembers get the support and services they deserve.

He praised Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ work on the proposed fiscal 2010 defense budget that he said “does more for our soldiers, more for their families and more for our military.”

Obama noted that the proposal:

• Reduces deployments and increases dwell time at home stations between them by funding increased Army and Marine Corps force strengths, while halting manpower reductions in the Air Force and Navy;

• Builds on care for wounded warriors and investment in medical research and development to support them, with $400 million more requested than in fiscal 2009; and

• Provides an additional $200 million to improve military families’ quality of life through enhanced military child care, spousal support, lodging and education programs.

The request also seeks to institutionalize the department’s wounded, ill and injured, traumatic brain injury and psychological health programs with an additional $300 million in funding. Overall, the request allocates more than $47 billion to military health care in fiscal 2010.

Another new benefit to be funded in the 2010 budget, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, will help ensure servicemembers and veterans alike get “an equal chance to reach for the very dream they defend,” Obama said.

He reflected on the original post-World War II GI Bill the new bill is modeled after, and the impact it had on his family.

“It’s the chance America gave to my grandfather, who enlisted after Pearl Harbor and went on to march in Patton’s Army,” he said. “When he came home, he went to college on the GI Bill, which made it possible for him and so many veterans like him to live out their own version of the American dream.”

The current generation of servicemembers deserves the same opportunities and the chance to afford a college education, he said.

“We must serve them as well as they’ve served us,” he said.