Remarks

By The Honorable Gale Norton

Secretary of the Interior

March 31, 2003

Support Our Troops Rally—South Interior

 

 

The winds of war are blowing through Washington and the Nation.  There are American and British casualties and there are those who are missing in action in Iraq.  This is a solemn and difficult time—as it is whenever our soldiers are in conflict.

 

The Interior family comes together in this place to show its support for our troops and to rally others to that cause.  In many cases they literally are our troops—men and women who have been called to active duty from Department offices and parks, from refuges and public lands across this country.  The number is approaching 100 and climbing.

 

They include men like Colonel Roger Duff, a member of the U.S. Army Reserve Special Forces.  Colonel Duff is a finance officer with the Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region.  He joins us today with his wife-- Linda Martin.

 

Colonel Duff recently described his transition from Reclamation finance officer to Green Beret.

 

He said, “This requires a reservist to make a total transformation from a peacetime set of operational conditions to a warrior mindset.”

 

But Col. Duff said something even more telling when he explained, “The threat of losing one’s life is real.  Yet, for the most part, members of the service are more concerned about their families’ welfare.”

 

Alongside Col. Duff and his wife are a few family members of employees from this area, whose loved ones are already deployed.  We are here to show support for these families and others within our Interior family.

 

One of the things I can announce today is that the Department of the Interior will waive the employee share of the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program premiums for Department employees called to active duty.  That way, health benefits for the family can continue, with the federal government covering the full cost.

 

It is an important way for us to insure the care of the employee’s loved ones who are left behind—and to allay some of their concern.

 

When the war began in mid-March, I began to hear from a number of different Interior employees that they wanted to do something to support our troops.  This is the government—so of course we formed a Committee.

 

But in less than 24 hours, the Committee had 35 suggestions on ways to show our support.  Within this outpouring of supportive suggestions was an idea to adopt a unit fighting in Iraq.   

 

I am pleased to tell you today that the Committee has recommended the Department of Interior adopt the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division based in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  As soon as we can, we will have information on the Department web site to show Interior employees what they can do to support this paratroop unit—made famous through Steven Ambrose’s book and television series, “Band of Brothers” from WWII.

 

One of our jobs at Interior, within the Fish and Wildlife Service, is to protect and support threatened eagles.  So the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne seemed like a natural choice.

 

The Committee also recommended we adopt the 10th Mountain Division based in Fort Drum, New York.  Approving their recommendation was an easy choice for me, because the 10th Mountain used to be based in Colorado.  One of their units is also nicknamed, “the Polar Bears”--another group that Interior helps protect.

 

They have been especially active in Afghanistan—where they seized more than 500 stockpiles of enemy ammunition, and cleared Al Qaeda caves.  More than 150 10th Mountain soldiers were decorated for bravery.

 

Today’s event is only the beginning of Interior’s efforts to support our troops.  The Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts out in Vienna, Virginia, will begin its Summer Blastoff concert with a free performance by the Marine Corps Band, Sunday evening May 25th, with  fireworks to follow.

 

Finally, we wanted to have a visual message of our support.  Many of you hold flags and wear buttons for that reason.

 

Today we will unfurl a banner on this South Interior Building along with the flag you see before you. 

 

As commuters drive past on Constitution Avenue, this banner will be evidence that we stand behind our troops; that we thank them and their families for the sacrifices they are making on our behalf in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

 

As President Bush told the forces now in the Middle East, “The peace of a troubled world and hopes of an oppressed people now depend on you.  That trust is well placed.”

 

We are proud of our armed forces and their skill and bravery.  Even more than that we are proud of the honorable and decent spirit they have shown to prisoners of war and the civilian population in Iraq.

 

We honor that spirit today as we unveil these banners.

 

Thank you.