President Bush spoke about victory in Iraq today in front of a group of 17,000 soldiers at Fort Bragg, many just returning from 15-month tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The vision for success in Iraq that I just outlined will not come easily. There will be tough fighting ahead. But the progress is undeniable. Because of your bravery and your courage, the terrorists and extremists are on the run, and we are on our way to victory," Bush said Thursday.
Bush's reference to victory -- a word he hasn't often used lately -- came on the same day that his newly appointed commander of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Patraeus, spoke with cautious optimism on Capitol Hill.
The president criticized the war funding bill making its way through Congress this week but stopped short of threatening a veto. He called on Congress to pass "a responsible war funding bill" and touted the success of the surge policy that brought increased troop levels to Iraq.
"We should be able to agree that our troops deserve America's full support," Bush told the paratroopers.
He called for a war funding bill that "does not tie the hands of our commanders and gives our troops everything they need to complete and accomplish the mission."
Fort Bragg is the home of the 82nd Airborne Division, and the president noted the 82nd Airborne Falcon Brigade were the first troops in when the surge began, and he touted the success of the surge. "Across Iraq, violence is down. Civilian deaths are down. Sectarian killings are down and attacks on American forces are down. You did the job we sent you to do. You have returned home on success and all of America is proud of the 82nd Airborne," Bush said.
Bush Pledges to Improve Living Conditions
One father's outrage and the power of the Internet brought the miserable living conditions at a North Carolina military base to light, and today the president pledged to destroy and rebuild there.
A YouTube video posted by a paratrooper's father offered a glimpse into ife in the barrracks at Fort Bragg.
Peeling paint, mold on ceilings and walls, sewage flooding the communal bathroom, and a toilet seat constructed of cardboard and electrical tape were posted online.
"These old buildings are coming down," Bush said Thursday alongside Army Secretary Pete Geren as he toured the newly renovated barrack bathroom made infamous by the YouTube video.
"And I know you appreciate it. The soldiers appreciate it," Bush said as he walked around the old barracks built during the Korean War era.
Some repairs on the barracks were completed within 72 hours of the video posting last month. The Fort Bragg press office said today that more than $3 million has already been spent on improvements to the barracks since then.
More than $248 million in funding has been made available for eight other U.S. bases to fix similar problems.
Silver Star Awarded
President Bush also posthumously awarded a Silver Star to Sgt. First Class Benjamin Sebban, a medic in the 82nd Airborne who warned troops about an explosion that ultimately took his life.
"Ben saw a truck filled with explosives racing toward his team of paratroopers. He ran out in the field to warn them, exposing himself to a blast," Bush explained. "Ben received severe wounds, but this good medic never bothered to check his own injuries. Instead he devoted his final moments on earth to treating others."
The Silver Star was presented to Sebban's mother.