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Freedom's Flame: Wolfowitz Accepts Award on 'True Liberators' Behalf

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 10, 2003 – Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz is known around the nation's capital as a humble guy. Even though he holds a doctorate and has served as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, he'd rather forego his titles.

Rather than accept a prestigious award from the Center for Security Policy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization committed to promoting international peace through American strength, Wolfowitz accepted the honor on behalf of what he calls the "true liberators of Iraq," the military men and women engaged in the war on terror.

Frank Gaffney, the center's president and chief executive officer, presented the Keeper of the Flame Award to "The Liberators of Iraq" during a black-tie dinner Oct. 9 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Georgetown. An enlisted member and an officer -- all veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom -- represented each of the nation's five services: Army Capt. William Ryan and Sgt. Keith Babineaux; Navy Lt. j.g. Andrew Grabus and Chief Petty Officer Jim Lamb; Marine Maj. Robert Curtis and Cpl. Gardiner Mejia; Air Force Staff Sgtts. Angela and Roberto Guzman and Capt. Sheila Johnson; and Coast Guard Lt. Sean MacKenzie and Petty Officer Eric Leese.

Previous Keeper of the Flame Award winners include Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, commander, U.S. European Command and NATO's supreme allied commander, as well as future and former defense secretaries Donald Rumsfeld, James Schlesinger and Caspar Weinberger.

Gaffney read a letter from Vice President Richard Cheney to the 500 members of the military, academic, professional, government and political communities gathered to pay tribute to the nation's warfighters.

"The skill and courage of our military has brought a series of major successes in the war on terrorism," Cheney wrote in a letter to the group. "With the best allies at our sides, America took the battle directly to the terrorists hiding in Afghanistan," Cheney wrote. "In Iraq, the United States and our allies rid the Iraqi people of a murderous dictator, and rid the world of a menace to our future peace and security."

Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, director of the Coalition Provisional Authority, also addressed the group in a videotape from Baghdad, Iraq. "This year," he said, "the men and women of the U.S. armed forces, led by the firm resolve of President Bush, have once again sacrificed to liberate a people from the darkness of oppression." Bremer expressed the nation's continued "support and admiration for the brave Americans and Iraqis working together to realize our common hope for a democratic Iraq, free of terrorists, at peace with its neighbors and respectful of the rights of all citizens."

Upon accepting the award, Wolfowitz said the men and women who serve today are "the true keepers of the flame of freedom." He quoted from the retirement speech of a 37-year Army veteran, former Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Jack Keane, to honor the nation's troops.

"'Foreign terrorists,' General Keane said, 'have no idea what they are up against,'" Wolfowitz said. "'They do not know our will, our courage, or our character. To understand America and Americans,' the general said, 'they need to understand the Marne in 1918, or Tarawa in '43, Omaha Beach in '44 or the Chosin Reservoir in 1950.

"'They need to understand,' General Keane said, 'that a nation that produces Alvin York and Audie Murphy, John Pershing and George Marshall, Chesty Puller and George Patton, Randy Shugart and Gary Gordon produces heroes in every generation. They are out there now performing every day.'

"General Keane is right," Wolfowitz concluded. "There are American heroes out there now performing magnificently on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq. And instead of fine food like we've enjoyed tonight, they eat their rations in the blazing heat, and they make their camps in the blinding dust and the driving wind. They take the battle to the enemy, and they brave his hatred and brutality to make America safe."

The deputy secretary also paid tribute to the heroes who went to war and did not come back. "They live on in our hearts as we remember their courage and their deeds. In their memory, we must rededicate ourselves and redouble our efforts to finish the job they have so nobly begun," he said.

Wolfowitz then called on three soldiers in the audience to stand. "They have been to war," he told the dinner guests. "They have faced its dangers and borne its wounds. And now they've returned home to us, a grateful nation."

Sgt. 1st Class Raymond Gilbert, 10th Mountain Division, and members of his platoon were on night patrol near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan when they spotted some enemy, Wolfowitz said. "Gilbert demonstrated his heroism when he and his platoon pursued the enemy, preventing them from planting explosives in the road. During the resulting firefight, Sgt. Gilbert was wounded severely in the leg."

Sgt. Dean Lockhart, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, was wounded in Iraq just one month after his baby daughter was born. "His wounds were so severe they thought he wouldn't survive and he was medically retired for the prospective benefit of his family," Wolfowitz said.

"I first met him at Walter Reed (Army Medical Center) a few weeks ago, when he was well on the way to a miraculous recovery. All he could talk about was how he wanted to get back on active duty. He was full of the fighting spirit that has contributed to our victory in Iraq, and I am pleased to report that Sgt. Lockhart is now back with the Army.

Cpl. Ricky Nelson, 3rd Infantry Division, was guarding a bank in downtown Baghdad on May 5, when his group was ambushed by five enemy combatants. "Nelson showed his bravery when he returned fire, surprising the men and driving them away," Wolfowitz said. "Had Nelson not defended his post, the enemy would have gained access, not only to the bank, but to the rest of his squad. It was during this firefight that an enemy bullet shattered Cpl. Nelson's knee.

These three soldiers, Wolfowitz concluded, "and so many others like them, stand for what is right and good and true. They stand for freedom and justice. They stand for America. And they make us all proud to be Americans."

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