The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
March 5, 2004

Mrs. Bush's Remarks to the Fort Hood Women's Conference
Comanche Chapel
Fort Hood, Texas

9:28 A.M. CST

MRS. BUSH: Thanks a lot. Thank you very much. I'm the one that should be applauding you. Thank you all very, very much. Thank you, Beth, for your warm welcome. And thanks to the members of the conference board for organizing this great conference. Thanks also to Mrs. Meigs, who will be your keynote speaker later. Thank you for letting me -- is she up here? Oh, there she is -- share the stage with you. Thanks a lot.

I've been so looking forward to this. I think it was supposed to be a surprise -- but my office leaked it. (Laughter.) But I've been really looking forward to being with you today, to have this chance to thank you for your devotion to your loved ones and to our country.

President Bush was also very excited that I was coming with you today -- but, in fact, when I read the conference schedule and saw that there was a program on gardening, I thought maybe he should come with me. (Laughter.) He's not great at yard work; he only likes to work with a chainsaw. (Laughter.) When we married, he'd already bought a house in Midland, so I moved into his new house that he had just owned for a few months before we married. And when I moved in the weeds were six feet tall in the yard -- so I always like to kid him that he married me because he wanted a gardener. (Laughter.)

We're so happy to be in Texas this weekend. We're going to host Vicente Fox, the President of Mexico, and Martha Fox, tonight at the ranch, and we're looking forward to that.

And I'm especially glad to be here at Fort Hood. I want to thank Linda for welcoming me, as well. Texans are so proud that our state is home to so many fine military men and women -- including the Third Corps, the 13th Core Support Command, the Iron Horse and the First Team. (Applause.) Every member of Fort Hood serves with honor and courage, and Americans appreciate your dedication.

Today, we celebrate the spirit of another strong group in the military -- the elite special forces who don't wear uniforms, or fly blackhawks, or carry weapons; a band of sisters who support their loved ones, and each other, so that America remains a land of freedom. Today, we celebrate you, the women in the United States military who are married to military officers or enlisted men, or who are military women, themselves. And we celebrate all that you do to make our military the strongest in the world.

I know about having your life turned upside down because the man you love wants to serve the country he loves. (Laughter.) And I know that many of you make sacrifices to help your spouses fulfill his dreams. Like you, President Bush and I have moved a lot -- five times, and we've lived in six different homes. Moving and packing and hoping our children will be happy in a new home is something that I can relate to.

And so is change. For you, change means moving and starting over. But it also means new friends and new opportunities. Your determination to make a home for your family wherever you are matches your husband's devotion to duty. Wherever you go, you continue your own careers, or volunteer your time, helping to make the world a better place. President Bush joins me in thanking you for everything you do -- not just as soldiers or military wives and mothers, but as volunteers, as mentors, as role models, who make up the greatest support system in our country.

I know you're proud of your husbands, and I'm incredibly proud of mine. President Bush -- I've watched him as he's led our country with compassion and conviction through some of the toughest challenges in America's history. This time of war has been a time of hardship for military families. Some of you have been separated from your loved ones by long deployments. You're dealing with added burdens at home, while praying for your husband, or your son, or your daughter far from home. Some of you are facing deployment yourselves, or the deployment of your loved ones, in the next few weeks. Our entire nation appreciates the sacrifices you make, and we pray for our troops and that they will return safely and soon. We're happy that the soldiers of the 4th ID are coming home. (Applause.)

President Bush and I are proud of every member of our military. And, of course, of the 1st Brigade Combat Unit, who helped capture Saddam Hussein. (Applause.)

Over the last year, the world has witnessed the skill and the resolve of our military -- from Korea to Kosovo to the Middle East. We've seen their courage and their decency to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. From the beginning of the battle to this very hour, our troops have conducted themselves with honor and compassion. Our military men and women have helped to free 50 million people from the oppression of two brutal regimes. They've given an entire generation of children in Iraq and Afghanistan and America the chance to grow up in peace.

They're defending freedom and restoring civilization. They're supplying villages with their first taste of clean water. They're delivering medicine to sick children, and supplies to hospitals and schools. Our troops and their coalition partners have refurbished over 1,500 schools so millions of children can study and learn again. Our soldiers are involved in the historic task of building democracies -- and in the true American spirit, they are building hope one heart at a time.

Lieutenant Colonel Steven Maglio, the chaplain from the 4th ID DIVARTY, started Operation Clothes for Kids in Iraq. With the help of families here at Fort Hood, he distributed more than 180 boxes of winter coats and dresses to Iraqi children. When soldiers from Task Force Iron Horse started renovating schools, they realized that students didn't have basic supplies, like pencils and notebooks. So they called their family and friends back home in Killeen, who collected more than four thousand pounds of supplies. The soldiers distributed paper and calculators to children in two thousand schools in Tikrit.

Our soldiers' compassion is not simply part of their mission -- it's part of their character. We'll never forget their commitment to our country. The peace and security of America depends upon their bravery and their willingness to serve. In doing so, our soldiers accept the dangers and the hardships that this cause requires.

President Bush and I have visited with soldiers at bases all over the world. And perhaps our most moving visits are at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. These brave men and women were lying in hospital beds wounded and broken, yet they talked with enthusiasm about returning to their units.

I'll never forget their determination. Nor will we forget the men and women who have fallen in service to America. All of those who serve in our military deserve our utmost respect -- and so do those who serve well behind the front lines.

Last year, President Bush and I received a letter from Ana Kehler, who is stationed here with her husband, Staff Sergeant Craig Kehler, of the 4th ID. I was moved by her resiliency.

This is what she wrote: "My husband is in Iraq and I haven't heard from him for two months. But I'm not worried because I know he has the best training. I watch the news constantly with the hope that I may see him. But the part of the news that makes me cry is seeing children suffer. I cried when I watched a Marine carry a child to get her medical attention. Even though I'd give anything to have my husband return, I know our job isn't done. I feel emptiness in my heart with my husband deployed, but the sadness I have for the children of Iraq won't go away until I know we have done all we can as Americans."

Like our troops, your spirit is invincible -- and I know that you'll continue to hold each other, and your families and this country together as only an elite band of sisters can. (Applause.)

Thank you for everything that you do to support your husbands and to strengthen America. And may God grant all of us strength and patience, and may God bless the United States of America. Thank you all so much. (Applause.)

END 9:38 A.M. CST

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