"I disagree with the policy that took us to this war. I dispute some of the arguments used in favor of this resolution, and I am disappointed in some of the provisions in this resolution. But even those objections cannot overcome the pride and appreciation that I have in our troops. And the message I want them to hear from us tonight of our support for them.
"Tonight, the thoughts and prayers of all Americans are with our military forces and their families. I think we should be honoring the military wherever they serve in our country tonight because they are all brave, courageous, patriotic, and willing to make the sacrifice for our country.
"I certainly think we could have done better than this resolution, but dont let that stand in your way for us to give a resounding vote of support in appreciation and pride for our men and women in uniform.
"Tonight we learned of the first casualties of this war -- 16 American and British Marines have died in a tragic helicopter crash over Kuwait. I hope it is a comfort to the families who have lost their loved ones so many people mourn their loss and are praying for them at this very, very sad time.
"There is no heavier burden for a President and no more solemn choice for this nation than to send our brave men and women in uniform into battle. As Commander-in-Chief, President Bush has made that difficult decision.
"Despite our policy differences, as Americans, we stand behind our men and women in uniform.
"As a Congress, charged by the U.S. Constitution with providing for the common defense, we pledge today to our armed forces and their families: you will have the support you need in this difficult and dangerous time -- both to win the war and to secure the peace.
"In recent weeks, I have met with some of these courageous men and women. We have all been meeting with them over time, but in recent weeks, as the war drew nearer, it was more poignant.
"I traveled with the distinguished Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee, Mr. Skelton, to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to meet with the B-2 crews that may soon be engaged over Iraq. They were, again, brave and patriotic.
"Three weeks ago, along with Congressmen Jack Murtha and David Hobson, I traveled to Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey to meet with the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines now risking their lives in Iraq. We brought with us our your good wishes of appreciation and pride and thanked them for their patriotism and courage and willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice.
"Our men and women in uniform are an inspiration. They have waved goodbye to their wives, husbands and children. And they endure daily hardships over many months to enhance Americas diplomatic leverage. They are focused on their mission, motivated by a profound love of country and prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.
"They are the best trained, best equipped, and best-led military force the world has ever seen. And every American is eternally indebted to these patriots.
"During our visit to the Persian Gulf, we met a young soldier named Captain Jennifer Schulke of Fort Bliss, Texas. She commands a Patriot missile battery in Kuwait. With the precision and ease of an engineer, she described for us the capabilities of the weapons system she commands.
"But she spoke with even greater pride about something else -- about her daughter back home. Her daughter will be two years old on March 27, and on her birthday, her mother will be serving in a country halfway around the world.
"Captain Schulke is one of the countless mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, and sons and daughters in uniform making sacrifices American families can only begin to imagine.
"I thought of her today when we heard of the missile attack and the Patriot response. Its people like Captain Schulke who inspire us and insist that we must support our men and women in uniform.
"Today, we pray for their swift and safe return into the loving arms of their families. And when they come home, we will honor them as the heroes they are. And if they do not come home, we will support their families and honor their heroic deeds.
"We also honor our men and women in uniform by proving ourselves worthy of their sacrifice when we uphold the democratic values they defend with their very lives.
"As we protect and defend the American people, we must also protect and defend the Constitution and the civil liberties contained therein which we cherish. And we must treat honest debate for what it is - an expression of patriotism, not a violation of it. Open discussion of the great tasks before us does not give comfort to Americas adversaries. No, on the contrary, it gives comfort and confidence to the American people who look to Congress to uphold the immutable values and ideals that define our American democracy.
"Today, Americas sons and daughters preparing to go to Iraq have answered the call of their country. In the days to come, let us build a future worthy of their sacrifice.
"May God bless our courageous forces and their brave families.
"May God bless America."
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