Bush speaks to 167th Airlift Wing members

July 04, 2007|By DAN DEARTH

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - President Bush on Wednesday compared the U.S. National Guard to Colonial militiamen who helped America gain its freedom from the British more than two centuries ago.

Hundreds of members of the West Virginia Air National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing and their families crowded into a military aircraft hangar on the Martinsburg base to hear the president make an Independence Day speech that focused on the war on terror.

The public was not invited to attend.

Bush said the Guard always has been willing to don the uniform and face threats when they arise.

"I'm blessed to be here with you," he said.

The president read to the crowd part of a newspaper story that was written in 1777 to describe the nation's inaugural Fourth of July celebration in Philadelphia.

Muskets and artillery were fired, the story said.

The accounts of that 230-year-old commemoration were written as the American Revolution raged across the Colonies, he said.


Bush likened that war to the one America is fighting today against Islamic extremists in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The president received thunderous applause when he told the crowd that it was better to fight terrorists in the Middle East than face them in the United States.

Bush said all Americans long for the day when U.S. troops can come home, but the forces should be withdrawn on the advice of military leaders - not the agendas of politicians in Washington, D.C.

He vowed to stay on the offensive.

"In this war, we face dangerous enemies who have attacked us here at home ... These people want to strike us again," he said.

Bush used the Taliban as an example, saying the group provided a safe haven for terrorists to plot their next move against the United States, all the while depriving Afghans of several rights, especially freedom of religion.

"They will do anything they can to spread that ideology," he said.

With the Taliban's defeat at the hands of the U.S. military in 2001, Bush said millions of people were liberated.

As the president mingled with the audience after his speech, Chief Master Sgt. Dannie Ritenour said he has been deployed at least three times since Sept. 11.

Ritenour said he was thankful that Bush spent a portion of July 4 with the 167th.

"It's very moving," Ritenour said. "His whole speech hit it right on the head ... to stay on the offensive."

Bush spoke on a stage in front of an enormous American flag. The crowd stood in front of the president and on both sides.

An Army band played patriotic numbers before and after the speech, as U.S. Secret Service agents panned the crowd.

Maj. Gen. Allen E. Tackett, adjutant general of the West Virginia Air National Guard, told the crowd before Bush arrived that the 167th recently switched from using C-130s to C-5s, a larger cargo plane.

The C-5s already have flown two missions, he said, one to the Horn of Africa in support of the war on terror and the other to Europe.

Bush stayed in town for about an hour on Wednesday.

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