The Honorable Curt Weldon
Representative, 7th Congressional District, Pennsylvania
Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition
September 27, 2006
"The Role of Congress in Providing for the National Defense"
Moderator: Thank you and good morning. Today, we're honored to have the Honorable Curt Weldon. He represents the Seventh District of Pennsylvania. He's currently serving in his 10th term, and he is the most senior Republican in the Pennsylvania Delegation.
Congressman Weldon, thank you very much for being with us this morning.
CONGRESSMAN WELDON: Thank you and good morning. It's a pleasure to be here. Let me congratulate you on an extremely successful conference.
I apologize for not being able to join you last evening or for the rest of the conference, but we're with you in spirit, and the great work you're doing on behalf of America.
You don't often get the pat on the on the back that you all deserve for the work that you do, but as Vice Chairman of the Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, I get to see you in action all the time.
And it doesn't matter whether it's far away, on our visits to Iraq and Afghanistan or the trips that we've taken to other trouble spots, or whether it's home, and dealing with the problems that we have here, from responding to Katrina and the floods in the disasters that we have. Our Air Force is always on the mark, and always there, providing the lift and support capabilities that we need.
It just amazes me of the quality of the young people serving in our Air Force today. I guess I'm a little biased, because I have three nephews that are currently active duty Air Force. They've been in and out of Iraq. And I hear on a regular basis for my nieces who are married to them of the great sacrifice being made and the great quality of work being done.
But it doesn't surprise me again, and without that superiority of air power, I would hate to think where America and the free world would be.
I guess it was very evident for me. Back in December of--or at January of 2003, I had been invited by Qaddafi's son to visit Libya, to bring the first American delegation to that country in 39 years.
I was asked to do it, because, while I am a strong supporter of our military, I am an equally strong proponent of avoiding conflict when through diplomacy, we can solve problems peacefully.
And so when Qaddafi announced that he wanted to give up his weapons of mass destruction and join the family of nations and renounce terrorism, I was excited with that.
And in support of our President, I wanted to take a delegation to meet with him face-to-face, because his son had indicated to me that that's what his father wanted.
When we arrived in Tripoli, with no support on the ground, obviously, because we were the first Americans to arrive there, our base was still there that we had vacated some 30 years earlier.
But as we arrived in Tripoli and were met by the leaders of Libya, we were greeted with an extremely warm welcome. They were so happy to see Americans back in their country. And from the 80-year-old man in the street that was molding copper pots, with no teeth, smiling and welcoming us in his native language, to the 10-year-old boy who spoke English and said, as he came up to the delegation, we're so happy to have America here again.
And then the last meeting of the trip was going to be in Qaddafi's tent. I've never seen such a lavish tent, with marbled floors and wallpapered sides and air conditioning, and I've been with Qaddafi now three times in Libya. This was the first.
And I didn't quite know what to say, because, right before the meeting was scheduled with Qaddafi, they took us through what had been his house that our fighter planes bombed back in 1986.
You might remember that incident, because that was our response to Qaddafi's and his country's involvement in the Berlin nightclub attack. And as we walk through that house, which is exactly today the way it was right after we struck it--nothing has been changed. The furniture is still disheveled. The holes are still in the building. You could see the power and the ability and the craftsmanship of both our technology and our pilots in doing what had to be done.
And there was a sign still there, that this was a symbol of America, what we had done to the leader's home.
And as I sat in that tent, the one wall was opened, and we looked out at that very home, still destroyed, and Qaddafi walked in in his flowing purple robes, and reached out to shake my hand and said I'm happy that you're here. He said we're going to renounce terrorism and give up our weapons, because we think it's in our best interests.
And, Congressman, I know the power of your country, and he pointed to the house. He said, I understand when America means something that they follow through.
And he said I don't want having happened to my people and me what's happening in Iraq. So he said I've learned a lesson, and, therefore, I'm willing to rejoin the family of nations and give you our weapons of mass destruction and our technology that we’re working on; and I'm willing to work with you in renouncing terrorism and working against the terror cells.
That happened because of the superiority of our air capability, because every despot and tyrant in the world understands what America's capabilities are.
I heard that same thing in the two trips that I led to North Korea. I took both delegations in. I have more face time with Kim Gai Guon, their lead negotiator than anybody in America, including our ambassadors--15 hours, sitting across the table on two trips with our lead negotiator.
And in meeting with their lead negotiator and the generals in charge of the DPRK military, they, too, understand that America is a nation that they never would want to go up against.
Sure, they can put out their belligerent statements, but the ultimate reason why we will resolve the North Korean crisis peacefully is because of the deterrent of our military. And our air superiority and our space superiority is critical for us to be able to accomplish that.
Now, I come to you somewhat saddened today because we haven't done well, both in terms of our air superiority and our space superiority over the past 15 years. The '90s was a debacle.
In spite of people trying to rewrite history today, including our former president, I was there. I lived through the '90s. I remember the feeling and the statements out of the White House--let's all stand in a circle and hold hands and sing Kumbayah because the world is no longer threatening.
The Soviet Union is no longer a challenge. I remember the transfer of our technology to China. I was on the Cox committee, nine of us--5 Republicans and four Democrats--that for seven months saw the classified information of the FBI and the CIA of what the Chinese acquired in terms of state separation technology, MIRVing technology, advanced technology supporting their missile launch capability, capabilities that up until the mid-'90s were prohibited from being transferred to rogue states.
The Chinese didn't steal our technology. Yes, they try to pretend that happened when they arrested Wen Ho Lee in January, but after the media died down in August of the same year, Wen Ho Lee was quietly released.
We auctioned off our technologies to China.
And the vote in the committee wasn't five to four; it was 9 to 0 that our security had been severely harmed by the technology that we transferred to China in the mid-1990s.
How frustrating it is for me today to look at the Chinese moving forward with an aggressive shipbuilding program, and more recently their work with ASATS. If you want to see something that's got a scare the dickens off of us for the next five years, you watch the Chinese progression on their ASAT program.
They are playing for real. They understand the stakes, and they understand if they can bring our satellites down, then they can, in fact, have that capability to neutralize us in times of conflict.
That should not be the case today, just like it shouldn't be the case that Iran has developed now and deployed the Shihad-3 missile system. We saw that capability being built in the mid-'90s. When Benjamin Netanyahu came out publicly and said the Israelis had evidence that Russia was cooperating with Iran on a new missile system, we in the Congress were livid.
We brought over Dr. Gordon Aylers, head of non-proliferation, and he briefed us in closed session. And he said yes, we have the same information the Israelis have.
The Iranians are embarking on a new technology, giving them a short- and then medium-range missile system that will be very dangerous for the region and the world.
The Congress was livid. We introduced the Iran Missile Sanctions Act. You shouldn't have to introduce a bill to require an Administration to enforce a treaty, but we did. And in spite of being lobbied personally at the White House on two separate occasions by the Vice President and Leon Furth, the security advisor, 398 members in House voted yes for that bill, and 98 members of the Senate voted yes for that bill.
Unfortunately, only a few short weeks before the session ended that summer, the president vetoed the bill. That was in 1997.
Today, Iran has the Shihad-3 system. It's completed. It's deployed, and they're now working on the Shihad-4 and Shihad 5, which will give them a medium- and long-range capability that will ultimately threaten not just their neighbors, but Europe and eventually the U.S.
Now, if I were Iran, I wouldn't think that necessarily we'd just have to use a nuke against the U.S. to kill our people, although I'm convinced that the national intelligence estimate by the CIA on Iran's nuclear weapons program at being somewhere 10 years from now is absolutely ridiculous.
In fact, that NIE is almost as ridiculous as NIE 9519. You might remember that National Intelligence Estimate. That was in 1995, when the President vetoed our defense bill, because I put language in calling for missile defense, and they politicized that NIE and used it to justify a veto, and that NIE so we would not have any threat from an external missile threat for at least 15 years.
Thank goodness we challenged that NIE, because in 1998, the North Koreans launched the Taepo Dong Missile. And in July 4th of this year, they repeated that launch.
The CIA wasn't even aware they had a three-stage missile capability when that Taepo Dong was launched.
I feel the same is true with the NIE on Iran's nuclear weapons program. It's not going to be 10 years. It's not going to be five years. The Israelis put it at one. I'll put it at two.
Now, let's think for a moment. If I'm Iran and I want to harm America, am I going to attack us with a nuclear weapon? I think not.
Here's the more likely scenario. I already have a very capable missile system. I've already done some testing of putting that system on a freighter that can transverse the world's oceans.
All I need is a low-yield nuclear weapon to place on that missile, and launch that missile at the U.S. from the Atlantic Ocean. And if I can detonate that weapon in outer space over the East Coast, whether it's Washington or New York, I will bring America to her knees.
The Iranians aren't stupid. They understand and read just like other countries read and understand. They know that during the Cold War our strategic nuclear doctrine and the Soviet strategic nuclear doctrine were identical. The first wave attack would be an EMP lay down. You launch offensive ICBMs against the enemy. You detonate the nuclear warhead in the atmosphere, and you shut down their capabilities from the standpoint of electronics and communication.
Now, we know the Iranians are studying this. I had a group in my office two weeks ago, a quiet EMP focus group. It doesn't advertise their Web site, and they brought me in two documents.
They said we monitor who goes to our Web sites, and there, on two separate occasions, were one-hour of research by the Iranian Scientific Agency on the phenomenon of EMP. So it's no secret. If I were the Chinese and eventually want to take out Taiwan, I'm going to do an EMP burst over Taiwan first. That's why the Congress four years ago as a response to my request put language in our defense bill requiring an EMP Commission, which has now given its classified report, and is now continuing to operate on our own vulnerability to the use of an EMP.
The threats have not decreased. They've increased.
During the '90s, when we were all fat and happy and said we can cut the defense budget to the bone, the enemy wasn't doing that. They were transferring technology like water falling over a dam.
I had the Congressional Research Service in 1998 and again in 2003 do non-partisan studies on proliferation activities where sanctions weren't imposed.
From 1991 to 1998, there were 38 instances where we had evidence of sanctionable violations of arms control treaties, where primarily the Russians and the Chinese were transferring guidance systems for missiles--M-11 missiles to Pakistan, ring magnets to Pakistan for their nuclear program, chemical precursors, biological technology--all of it covered by treaties, 38 times to five nations--Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and North Korea.
And of the 38 times we had evidence of sanctionable violations that we could have imposed sanctions, we took action five times. We wonder why those nations now possess the capability that they have.
We were not vigilant during a period of time of the greatest weakness of the former Soviet military. I've been to that country about 40 times, working to try to build relations. Unfortunately, we're not going in the right direction now. I remember being in General Alexander Lebed's office in May of 1997. He had just left Yeltsin's side as his national security advisor. That was Yeltsin's way of getting him out of the presidential race, so the Communists could not win.
Well, Yeltsin fired him after he won re-election. Obviously, we knew that would happen. So I had occasion to take my delegation to Lebed's office.
Now Lebed was a retired two-star. He was given the Hero of Russia Award for his work for the military. And I said to the General, what's the state of your military? And General Lebed said our military is in total disarray. Our best war fighters, our best Soviet generals and admirals have left the service of the country. They feel betrayed by the motherland. They're driving taxicabs, part-time, to make money for their families.
And, Congressman, they're selling off the technology that we built to use against you in the Cold War, and they're selling it to your enemies. Boy, how right he was.
And then he went on to break the story to me that's now being repeated around the world a thousand, 10,000 times, about the loose nukes. He told the story of how he couldn't account for 80 small nuclear weapons, small atomic demolition munitions that the Soviets had built.
When I came back and I briefed the CIA, I didn't say anything public. I didn't want to scare the country. But in July, I filed my trip report, and it was picked up by a producer for 20/20, Leslie Coburn. She read the report, and she said, did Lebed really say this. I said absolutely. And she went over to Moscow and interviewed Lebed, interviewed me. It was the lead story in September of 1997 on national news; that the Russians couldn't account for 80 small atomic demolition munitions.
The day after the Russian Foreign Ministry denounced Lebed as a liar, but the worst thing was the day after that, when our government was asked by the media, the response by their spokesman was we have no reason to doubt the word of the Russian Government.
Unfortunately, folks, the news is not good today. Because of the impressions that were given by people in leadership positions in the '90s, we cut back the size of our military, which results in all the frustrations you're having today. We cut the NSTRAIT [ph.]. We cut the tactical fighter squadrons. We cut our Navy, which had had 585 ships, down to its current level, 283 ships in the active duty fleet.
That B-52 bomber, which should be modernized, will be eligible for Social Security before I will.
When we should have been upgrading and modernizing our tactical fighters, we were singing Kumbayah, and looking at each other and holding hands and saying isn't it great the world is so safe.
While the Russians and Chinese were proliferating technology, we pretended we didn't see it, because we didn't want to offend their leaders, and we cut the military to the bone. That's not rhetoric. I'll give you the facts.
If you compare our defense spending in 2000 to a previous time, and I would never compare it to Ronald Reagan; that would be grossly unfair because of his build-up. But I'll compare it to John Kennedy.
When John Kennedy was president, at a time of relative peace, it was after Korea, but before Vietnam, we were spending 52 cents of every federal tax dollar on the military, nine percent of country's GNP.
By 2000, that number had dropped to 15 cents of the federal tax dollar, two and half percent of GNP. That's why the modernization that should have taken place didn't take place. That's why the tactical fighter replacements didn't take place. That's why the helicopters from the Vietnam War were not modernized. That's why the troop strength was cut, which is why today every deployment requires 30 percent of our Guard and Reservists. It's the only way to be able to meet the needs when the Commander in Chief calls upon our military.
Now, in spite of all of that, the morale of our troops is outstanding. But we have not done well by them.
Now, granted, we've increased defense spending since 2000. And thank goodness in the '90s, Democrats and Republicans in Congress stood together. Even though the Service Chiefs were forced in to tell us that they could accept the cuts that we’re being put upon them, we increased defense spending by $43 billion over six years, $43 billion more than what the White House and the Pentagon asked for. I don't know where we'd be today if we hadn't done that.
But today, we're facing the problems that you all see on a day-to-day basis. The Pentagon wants three new tactical fighters. They want the FA-18 E and F, the F-22, and the Joint Strike Fighter. I support all three programs.
But guess what, folks? You can't get to there from here with the budgets that we have. That's why the original buy for the F-22 was going to be 750 airplanes. Do you know what the buy is in this year's budget? It's about a hundred and eighty-eight.
That decision to reduce the buy wasn't based on some threat being diminished. It was based on unrealistic budgets, caused by what happened over the past 15 years.
We don't have an aggressive program to replace our deep strike bomber capability. We're fighting for funding to put UAVs into our next generation capability.
In fact, I think the UAVs offer some of the best potential in domestic protection. I go to all of our disasters as the Chairman of the Fire and EMS Caucus. I was down at Katrina the day after, and I took down with me a UAV, a small one, because those thermal imagers can sense where people are, just as they can in combat.
And I said, we've got thousands of people trapped in buildings that are flooded where we can't rescuers to them. Why not fly UAVs over the city and detect where the people are? Oh, you couldn't do it then, because the FAA hadn't yet approved the use of UAVs in our domestic 50 states.
The potential for Air Force technology is unlimited, but it's absolutely essential. If we're going to be able to deter future aggressors, we have to have the capability of the cutting-edge platforms the Air Force is working on, whether it's Black Programs or whether it's our tactical fighters or UAVs. The Air Force is in the forefront, and doing an outstanding job under impossible situations.
We had to fight like the dickens to get a multi-year this year. We had to fight to keep the dual-engine capability in place, because everyone is looking to cut costs and save more money, because we don't have enough dollars to take care of our military priorities.
Even though we've increased defense spending, we're now hitting a ceiling. We're hitting a ceiling because today our social welfare entitlement programs, which back under John Kennedy's era were about 16 cents of the federal tax dollar, are today almost 60 cents.
So that 60 cents of every dollar we get from you, the taxpayer, goes out of our reach immediately, and goes to pay for programs that people receive benefits for based on their age and their medical condition--the entitlement programs.
When you take that funding and add defense on top of it, which is today around 30 cents, and you add in the interest on the national debt, which is six to seven cents, you realize how much money we have left for the entire rest of the federal needs--less than five cents on the dollar.
And so everything else has to come out of that five cents--funding for education, funding for our park system, our legal system, our foreign aid. We are in an impossible situation in Congress.
We have been left year after year by decisions that did not properly fund what the Constitution calls for six times--national security. I'm a teacher by profession, married to a nurse. Education is not mentioned in our Constitution one time, neither is health care. The role of the federal government is mentioned six times in our Constitution. It is to provide for the national security.
What we've done over the past 15 years, even though we've made improvements in the last five, has not allowed us to get back on track.
Now, how do we meet the challenges of the future? How do we take care of that F-35 program that we absolutely have to have? The Marines need a V-STOL Variant. We have to have that program. We have to have it in spite of Congress wanting by American provisions that to some extent would prevent us from working technologically with the Brits and the Italians, who've put $3 billion into that program. Well, that won't work. That's why I helped organize the Group of 21 two years ago, with our 21 key strategic defense allies. So their defense attaches meet monthly so we can better sensitize the American people and my colleagues that in this tough budget environment, we have no choice but to work with our key allies.
If we didn't have the British and the French or the Italians, and the other key allies involved with the Joint Strike Fighter, we would have an extremely difficult if not impossible time trying to fund it.
Let me just give you the vantage point from where I sit from the Armed Services Committee.
We had almost 5,000 requests for unfunded plus ups, for priorities. Almost all of them were agreed as priorities by the Services--5,000.
In my own subcommittee, I had 1,800 requests. I won't take a request unless the Service says that it's important for them, but it's unfunded. 1,800 unfunded priority requests. I couldn't fund all the programs I wanted to fund. We couldn't fully fund the kind of buy that we wanted, with the three tactical fighter programs, and still take care of the Army's transformation.
The Army's transformation called FCS has a price tag over 20 years of $160 billion. How are we going to fund that and fund three new tactical fighters? And how are we going to take the Navy back up to where our admirals want it to be, around 325 ships, when today we have it in the 280s, and our shipbuilding program is building us down not up? And how are we going to do those things and still build missile defense? Build that important national system we need, that ground-based system; allow the Navy to continue with its Aegis work; build those cooperative programs like MIADs and our work with the Japanese and the Koreans on theater missile defenses, and then deal with the emerging threats of a country like China that wants to take out our satellites with their anti-satellite technology or even begin to think about the possibility of the unthinkable, of a nation like Iran using an EMP against us?
To do all of that is next to impossible, even more so when you look at the number one cost driver in our defense budget, which is the quality of life for the troops. And we in the Congress will never shortchange that. We won't do what was done in the '80s, where they would send a budget over that had less of a pay increase for our uniformed personnel than for our civilian personnel. We won't repeat that in this Congress.
We will fully fund the adequate measures to give our soldiers and sailors and corpsmen and Marines and their families the support they need, the health care they deserve, the education they have to have, and the quality of life that allows them to enjoy serving our nation.
We've got tremendous challenges, and the first challenge is to be realistic with ourselves. That's not easy to do in this day in this age in this season, where everyone's out there chirping and throwing barbs at the other side about why we're in the position we're in.
I could blame either Administration, and I have. I could blame decisions under Republicans and Democrats. The nation needs to understand politics stops where our national security begins.
I'm proud of the fact that on our committee we take that philosophy to heart. I've chaired every subcommittee on the Armed Services Committee for 12 years. I've never had one split vote on any issue. We work together as Democrat and Republicans to do what's best for the troops, and that means sometimes you have to challenge the federal agencies and the services, because sometimes our service leaders make two- and three-year decisions, the length of stay in their position. I've been in Congress 20 years. I can't make two- and three-year decisions. I've got to make decades decisions. And unfortunately, the difficulty we have in Congress today is trying to provide for the needs of our military with a budget that's woefully inadequate. And when you take away the Emergency Supplemental Requests that we put in for the war, and the toll that the impact that the war is having, it causes us to be looking at reset and the dollars necessary to put us back into proper place once this conflict has ended and subsided.
I tell you all of this because you need to understand the decisions that we make on Capital Hill are often times the result of things that are happening to us that we can't control.
Congress does not like to do illogical things, but we get forced by the factors that we're handed. We would like to be able to put more money into defense. I don't see that realistically happening over the next several years. That's why we have to work closer with our allies. That's why we have to close more military installations. It's not that we want to do that, but if we're really going to be able to do the modernization that you all say we need, then we've got to identify more resources. And since where our budget is about tapped out unless we control entitlements, which the Congress has not been willing to do, then we've got to work smarter with the money that we have.
All of that means you have to continue to do the job that you do, but even better. You have to help us understand emerging technologies that can save us money, time, and be more productive. You have to help us cut the cost of the platforms that you want us to buy. You have to help us engineer the savings where multi-service programs can, in fact, be put into place as opposed to individual programs, as we've done over the past 50, 75 years.
Now, in the end, I'm an optimist. When you're born the youngest of nine kids in a blue-collar family, you have to be an optimist or you don't eat at the dinner table. And I believe that in the end, we will prevail.
We've got to learn from the past, and we've got to make sure that once this election is over, whoever wins, that we'll be there for the common good of those people who wear the uniform, because in the end, it's not about rhetoric. It's not about words or campaign slogans or 30-second sound bites. It's about what I experienced on my first trip into Baghdad after the war started.
We had just captured Saddam, and I took my delegation into Baghdad and was briefed by General Sanchez and Paul Bremmer. They told us they thought things were going extremely well.
And then General Sanchez asked us if we wanted to fly up north to where the fighting was, and I said absolutely. So they put us in Blackhawk helicopters and flew us north to an area between Tikrit and Kirkuk. As our helicopter started to land in this open field, a hundred yards from Saddam's hole, we could see all the soldiers coming around. All the services represented, as were other nations.
As the rotors died on my aircraft and I was able to open the door and get out, this six-foot three-inch general walks over to shake my hand. His name was Ray Odierno, the Commander of the 4th Infantry Division. And General Odierno said to me, Congressman, I can't tell you how happy we are that you're here. It means so much to the troops that they know the folks back home haven't forgotten them and still support them. And I said, we absolutely do, General. You've got Democrats and Republicans, and I can tell you back in Washington everyone is behind the troops.
He started to tell us what a great job our troops were doing. You know they always do a great job. It doesn't matter where you go, it always makes us proud to hear the stories from other nations' peoples about our military, even from people like Qadaffi, and even from the generals in North Korea, who dread ever having to face us.
And when he finished telling us how happy he was, I said now tell me about your casualties. You know casualties are the worst part of my job. Having to sit in the living room of a family who's lost a loved one is impossible for me to explain. I've had to do that too many times. That's why my job is not just to provide the best tools and equipment for you, and the best training, but to ultimately use diplomacy to avoid having to send you into combat.
And the General said, yeah, I've taken some very serious losses, Congressman. In fact, I just lost a young 24-year-old lieutenant two weeks ago.
And he began to tell me the story. He said this young 24-year-old was one of my best. In fact, he was from Pennsylvania, a graduate of West Point. When he was in an area, everyone wanted to be around him. He was a leader's leader, a soldier's soldier. He would set the tone for anyone else, and everyone admired and respected him.
If he had gone back to America, he would have been the leader of a corporation one day or perhaps he would have the president of a university or perhaps he would have been a political leader, but he would have been successful.
But on this day that he was leading his unit on the road between Tikrite\ and Kirkuk, they came under heavy fire by Al Qaeda. The terrorists hit him in the leg. He fell down, and he got back up again. And he told his troops, protect the civilians that are here, but respond in full force; and they did. His unit won the battle that day, but he died there on that dirt road after having been hit a second time.
And the General told me that he was briefed by those that were there when they brought the young lieutenant's body back for preparation to come home to America. And he said they told him of how they stood around the young lieutenant's body and prayed together and all showed the emotion that only close-knit friends could show. And he said then we sent the body back home to Dover and to his family.
I said I know, General, because I know the young man. It was David Bernstein. Well, Odierno's eyes got real wide, and he said, how in the world would you have known that? He said I have 30,000 troops under my command. How would you know that I was talking about David Bernstein?
I said well you told me that he was from Pennsylvania. You told me he was 24. You told me he went to West Point. You told me the details of the attack. You see, General, I nominated David Bernstein to West Point. He was from my Congressional District, and the year my Academy Selection Committee interviewed nominees, he was one of my best.
And I went through the trauma with his family of their son coming home in a body bag. I talked to the Bernstein's. In fact, General, you'll find this hard to believe, but in the back of my jeans I'm carrying a three-page letter from the Bernstein's to me, because they knew I was coming here, and they felt that I just might come into contact with someone who had met their son. And here I am standing in front of the General, in front of hundreds of troops, right near the hole where you captured Saddam, and I'm pulling a three-page letter out of my pocket about the young man, he has just described to me. And as I unfold the letter, I said, now, General, you have to read this, because the Bernstein's in this letter describe their son and how he wanted in life to be a soldier.
His goal since he was a kid was to wear the uniform. How he loved doing what he did. How he wrote back repeatedly and said, mom and dad, I'm so happy here. I'm making a difference. I really love what I'm doing. And if, mom and dad, for some reason I don't come back, I want you to know that I died doing what I loved. And I think I'm giving these kids in Iraq a chance to have a slight bit of what I had growing up in Pennsylvania.
Well, the General read that letter there, and I could see the emotion in his face as he read the letter, and when he finished, he reached in his pocket and pulled out a 4th Infantry Division Medal and handed it to me and he said, would you give this to the Bernstein's? I said I would, and I did. When David was given the Silver Star last November, I took them to lunch and presented them the medal. And then Odierno said to me, you know, Congressman, life is so fully of irony. My 24-year-old son is a Marine, and he's serving in Baghdad right now, and he and Bernstein were classmates at West Point.
The reason we do what we do, the reason we provide the support for you and the training for you, and the reason why you felt a degree of nastiness in my voice today is because ultimately it's all about David Bernsteins. It's about America living up to its promise to those people who take the oath and who agree to serve our nation.
And when we stop doing that, none of us deserve to work in that beautiful building on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Thank you and God bless the Air Force.
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