News & Policies >
For Immediate Release
April 12, 2005
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En route Andrews Air Force Base
5:30 P.M. EDT
The President visited with 33 families of the fallen. There were some 80 to 90 family members who were present. One of the President's most important responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief is to visit the families of the fallen. The President does that to provide comfort to the families and to make sure that they are getting the help that they need. The President would ask the families when he'd visit them -- and so you know, let me back up, just kind of the atmosphere in the room there.
We were at the Soldier Development Center and the families were separated into individual cubicles so the President could visit personally and individually with each family. It included parents; it included wives and children -- daughters and sons -- brothers and sister. I remember one, there was one 15 year old who had lost his mother in Iraq, and the President visited with him individually; he was there on his own. So the President went around to each cubicle and visited individually with each of the families. These visits tend to be pretty emotional. When the President first walks in to visit the families there are often a lot of tears that are shed and, you know, they visit for a while. They also share laughs, they take pictures, the President signs memorabilia for them so that they can -- memorabilia that honors their loved one.
Then the President -- one of the first questions the President always has for the families is, "Are you getting all the help you need? Are you doing okay?" No one can imagine what these families are going through, but the President wants to make sure that the military is doing all that they can to support the families during the difficult time that they go through. And the President also lets them know that the world is becoming a better and more peaceful place because of their loved one's sacrifice. And he talks about the importance of completing the mission, that's the best way to honor the sacrifice of the loved one, is to complete the mission -- because the world is changing for the better because of the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. They are making tremendous sacrifices in the global war on terrorism and we are forever grateful for those sacrifices.
You heard the President talk today about some of those sacrifices in his remarks to the troops at Fort Hood. He also -- he talked about the important progress that is being made to help the Iraqi people realize a brighter future that is based on freedom and democracy. And we are forever grateful to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to make that happen.
And the President was honored to visit with all these families. I think I mentioned to you all when we got on the plane that the total time he spent there was from 11:52 a.m., this morning, to right about 3:10 p.m., this afternoon. And that whole time he was visiting individually with the families that were present. It's always amazing to see the strength of the family members. I remember one mother said, you know, "Finish the job -- that's my message to you." Another wife was saying, "We support you."
And the families were very appreciative of the visit by the President. You know, some of them -- some of the families did have some concerns that they expressed about some of the help that they were getting, and the President always makes sure that we follow up on those concerns, so we did make some notes of the concerns that they expressed and we will be following up on those.
Q What type of concerns?
MR. McCLELLAN: It varies. The ones that expressed -- some of them expressed some concerns, you know, it can be anything from the benefits to just the help they're getting from the military. I think I'll leave that to those private discussions. But the President always makes sure that we follow up to make sure those concerns are being addressed as best they can be.
Q Does anybody ever raise any concerns about the lack of armor, for example? Is that the kind of stuff that comes up in these talks?
MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't hear that in any of these conversations. Obviously, I didn't hear everything that was being expressed because I try to stand back a little bit and let the President visit individually with the families. But, no, I think more -- their focus was more on just making sure that their families were being taken care of and would be provided for, things of that nature.
Q Scott, how are the families chosen?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, any time we go to bases the President -- the base will reach out to families of the fallen to see if they would like to come and visit with the President. We do that everywhere we go and it's the base that will take the lead on reaching out to the families and making sure that they get there. Some of those families are right there in the area. A lot of them were from the Texas area, if not from the Fort Hood area. And some came from other states, from other places.
Q So the President will meet with as many families as the military gathers for him at these events?
MR. McCLELLAN: Basically. Generally speaking, yes, when we do these things. I mean, this was a fairly large number that he visited with today, but I remember at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, I think there were -- one visit he had there were about 120 families, somewhere around that, plus or minus a little bit, but it was somewhere around 120 families -- and, you know, many more in terms of the actual number of people that were present because of the various family members.
Q How many times does this make visiting with families of the fallen; do you know offhand?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me check that. I need to check that. But he frequently does this, as you're aware.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are waging the global war on terrorism on many fronts, and one of those is the law enforcement front and we're going to continue to go after and pursue those who seek to do us harm and those who seek to do harm to the civilized world. This is another significant step in the global war on terrorism. And we will continue to pursue those who seek to do us harm and bring them to justice.
Q Is he pleased, shocked, satisfied with what took place?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's pleased by the work of our -- he commends our law enforcement authorities for arresting these individuals and seeking to bring them to justice.
Q Thank you.
END 5:40 P.M. EDT