Remarks by the Vice President to Australian Service Members
Aboard HMS Adelaide
10:12 A.M. (Local)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you. Good morning. And the reason I have these glasses on, the sun is directly in my eyes here. I apologize.
I want to start by thanking Air Chief Marshall Binksin for inviting me aboard today. It’s a great privilege for me to have this opportunity to spend some time with you. Although I know from experience and what my son, who was a major in the United States Army would say, Dad, the worst news in the world is, a dignitary is coming. So I apologize, guys, for the extra effort here.
But I just wanted a chance to tour this incredible vessel and get a sense of the missions that you are carrying out and will be carrying out.
And it’s evidence of the critical investment Australia is making in your defense capabilities. Over the next decade, in addition to the two LHDs, Australian Defense Forces are going to be equipped with 72 fifth generation Joint Strike Fighters, 15 P-8 marine patrol aircraft designed for anti-submarine warfare and reconnaissance missions, 12 new long-range submarines -- your largest acquisition in the history of your military. And all these investments are important because they provide the equipment necessary to maintain the cutting-edge military, and that matters. It matters a lot for you. It also matters to us.
It matters to the United States because it guarantees that Australia remain one of our most advanced allies. You've always been most reliable ally, but now also one of the most advanced allies. Combined with our force posture initiatives our militaries will be able to operate together like never before.
But what has always been remarkable about Australia is not just your hardware, it’s your men and women who wear the uniform of the Australian Defense Force.
I was telling the crew up top, as a kid I heard all about the “Aussies”. I was nine years old in the early ‘50s, and my grandfather Finnegan had four sons who fought in World War II, two in the Pacific. One died. One came home very sick. And as a boy I remember him talking about the valor and loyalty of the Aussies. Every time you’d mention Australia, it was a strange thing -- and I mean this sincerely -- my grandfather would literally sort of straighten up when he talked about it. He talked about how they fought side by side in New Guinea where one of my uncles was lost. He was Army Air Corps.
And the irony is that two generations later, three generations later, my son who was a decorated major in the Iraq theater in the United States military who I just lost, I had been in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq -- Iraq over 26 times; Afghanistan 16-17 times. I’ve been out at the FOBs. I’ve been everywhere where the battles have been taking place. And to hear my son talk about how the American forces felt when they were standing next to, and they knew that an Australian army personnel had their back. It’s amazing to hear unsolicited the talk about the toughness of the Australians that he met in Iraq.
With less than 80,000 men and women in uniform, Australia doesn't have huge numbers of troops to send overseas, not while you have to maintain your core responsibilities of being prepared to defense Australia at home.
But when you do deploy abroad, it’s with enormous grit, commitment and consequence. And every one of these men to my left know that. Every one of them experienced that. Every one of them has shown that. And it’s amazing. You see -- the world sees what’s happening in Anbar Province. It’s your special operations forces -- maybe some of you guys on my left were part of the responsibility of training the Iraq Security Forces, their counterterrorism teams, which are the heart and soul of the Iraqi Security Forces. It’s amazing what happened when you guys took over in the training.
It’s coincided with the Australian-trained forces recently led the way training forces. And there’s a reason why, in my view, and I have responsibility in our administration for Iraq and for Syria. And it’s amazing that talking with the Iraqi military and talking with Abadi about the incredible training you guys did leading the way for the Iraqis to be able to take back Fallujah more rapidly than they thought. It was a critical battle in the counter-ISIL campaign.
Meanwhile your 300 in Taji are training the Iraqi Army. And more than 400-strong air force contingent is contributing to air strikes over Syria.
Taken together, these forces make Australia the second largest troop contributor to the counter-ISIL coalition in the world.
You’ve also been there from the beginning in Afghanistan. You've provided more troops than any non-NATO country at the height of the war.
And, of course, you’re leading here in your own neighborhood. In February, more than a thousand of your troops mobilized on this sister ship to bring relief to Fiji following the devastating cyclone. That’s just the latest example of the needed assistance you provide in the region.
Earlier this week I was on one of our American aircraft carriers, the USS John C Stennis, operating and observing the Rim of the Pacific exercises. People forget that those Rim of the Pacific exercises started between and among the United States, Australia and Canada 25 years ago. Today, it brings together 27 nations -- from Singapore to Chile -- in the largest maritime exercise in the world.
When I arrived at our base in Hawaii, I was greeted by our U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris. And the thing he wanted me to do, the first person he wanted me to meet -- this is not hyperbole -- the very first person he wanted me to meet was Major General Greg Bilton, a two-star general of the Australian army. Because he wanted me to understand what an incredible role he played in this entire operation. He is literally embedded in the chain-of-command, leading American troops in the Pacific.
His title is Deputy Commanding General of U.S. Army Pacific. Folks, in case you haven’t noticed, we're not big on letting anybody else lead us. We're not real good at that. And to have one of the few folks we've ever allowed to do that, to lead and command U.S. Army forces is an Australian General.
And the fact of the matter is it’s a marker of just how much faith we have in the competence and the capability and the grit of the Australian military.
You are part of an amazing tradition of cooperation between our two nations. So on behalf of the people of the United States of America, in appreciation for all that you do, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for what you've done, and thank you for what we’ll continue to do together. And I want to thank you for your commitment to serve.
You are part of a first-class military. You never, never, never have let your country down. And you never have failed to get the job done. The United States is proud to call you an ally and we honor the sacrifices you’ve made.
My staff keeps me updated. Every morning at 5:30 Washington time, my staff calls over to the Pentagon. And the reason they call to the Pentagon is I want every day -- on my schedule, there is a little black box on the schedule I carry. And I’ve done this since the war in Iraq began because I want to know exactly -- not generally -- exactly how many American forces have been killed; exactly how many have been wounded.
I don't want to hear roughly 6,700. I don't want to hear a generic number because every damn Fallen Angel in those theaters represents not only a family, but an entire community, a sacrifice that the vast majority of the citizens of Australia and the citizens of the United States do not make, but you make every day. And since 9/11, this has been what I’ve done every single day. Because every life lost, as I said, leaves a hole. Every single Fallen Angel deserves special, precise recognition.
So since 2003: 44 of your comrades have made the ultimate sacrifice; a debt that neither your country or mine can ever repay to them or to their families.
Since 2003: 289 wounded souls have returned home in need of care. Most of the wounds received in Iraq and Afghanistan, had those same wounds been received in Vietnam, they would be dead. But because of the Golden Hour, they're living. But that thrusts upon your nation and mine a long-term obligation -- their average life expectancy will be 38 years of age. And some, General, are going to need care the rest of their lives -- first-class care. And so we have an obligation.
We only have one sacred obligation in America, and I would respectfully suggest you only one sacred obligation in Australia, and that's to prepare those who we send to war and care for them when they come home.
And I know that your country, like mine, believes we have that obligation and are going to maintain it. And I just want to say to all the families of the fallen and those who are wounded, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I want to say the same thing to the American troops, as well. When I spend time with them around the world, I spend most of my time just saying thank you.
Your country owes you. And quite frankly, the rest of us owe you. We owe you. We stand in awe of your bravery, your service, and your commitment.
The one thing that every troop that I’ve visited -- and I’ve now also visited over 1,300 American amputees as a consequence of these wars around the world, and the one thing everybody talks about when they mention you guys, they talk about your grit. I mean it sincerely. They talk about your grit. They talk about the fact you never, never leave anybody behind. They talk about the fact that they're confident -- as confident you would have their back as their fellow Americans have their back. That's a hell of a compliment, guys. They mean it, and I mean it.
So let me conclude by saying thank you for having America’s back. And I want you to know that we will always have your back. And do not doubt for one second -- it never pays to underestimate the United States of America. Do not doubt for second we're a Pacific power. We are here to stay. We are here to stay. And thank God, thank God we have you to lead us and to be with us.
Thank you all. And again, Captain, thank you for the great honor of being able to take a look at this magnificent ship.
May God bless you all and may God protect our troops. Thank you.
10:25 A.M. (Local)