In a pitch perfect address at Camp LeJeune, in front of battle hardened Marines, President Obama not only announced the plan for withdrawal from Iraq, but took the opportunity to reach into the heart of the military culture to tell the men and women he leads that he is their commander in chief and will lead them wisely and deliver to them what they need, whether on the field of battle of after the gunfire has stopped.
As Barry McCaffrey said on MSNBC, after so many years of “weasel words,” this one was a “home run.” Obama’s address was “unequivocal” and “beautifully delivered.”
The Commander in Chief gave them their due on Iraq:
And so I want to be very clear: We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime – and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government – and you got the job done. And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life – that is your achievement; that is the prospect that you have made possible.
He honored the fallen, telling a story of heroism that reached into every military man or woman in the audience:
The starting point for our policies must always be the safety of the American people. I know that you – the men and women of the finest fighting force in the history of the world – can meet any challenge, and defeat any foe. And as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I promise you that I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary, and provide you with the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That is the most important lesson of all – for the consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable.
You know because you have seen those sacrifices. You have lived them. And we all honor them.
“Semper Fidelis” – it means always being faithful to Corps, and to country, and to the memory of fallen comrades like Corporal Jonathan Yale and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter. These young men enlisted in a time of war, knowing they would face great danger. They came here, to Camp Lejeune, as they trained for their mission. And last April, they were standing guard in Anbar. In an age when suicide is a weapon, they were suddenly faced with an oncoming truck filled with explosives. These two Marines stood their ground. These two Marines opened fire. And these two Marines stopped that truck. When the thousands of pounds of explosives detonated, they had saved fifty Marines and Iraqi police who would have been in the truck’s path, but Corporal Yale and Lance Corporal Haerter lost their own lives. Jonathan was 21. Jordan was 19.
In the town where Jordan Haerter was from, a bridge was dedicated in his name. One Marine who traveled to the ceremony said: “We flew here from all over the country to pay tribute to our friend Jordan, who risked his life to save us. We wouldn’t be here without him.”
There was a sure applause line at the end, which gave everyone a moment to appreciate it together through shared laughter:
We also know that service does not end with the person wearing the uniform. In her visits with military families across the country, my wife Michelle has learned firsthand about the unique burden that your families endure every day. I want you to know this: military families are a top priority for Michelle and me, and they will be a top priority for my administration. We’ll raise military pay–
(APPLAUSE AND LAUGHTER broke Obama’s stride, as he acknowledged that he thought this would be a sure applause line.)
–and continue providing quality child-care, job-training for spouses, and expanded counseling and outreach to families that have known the separation and stress of war. We will also heed the lesson of history – that those who fight in battle can form the backbone of our middle class – by implementing a 21st century GI Bill to help our veterans live their dreams.
Semper Fi, with Commander in Chief Obama confident enough to add, HU-RAH.