In a unpublicized overnight trip to at Bagram Airfield ("BAF"), U.S. President Barack Obama traveled via Air Force One to visit with troops for a few hours. The president was on the ground for only a few hours, and reportedly met with approximately 4,000 soldiers, sailors, and airmen. A meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai was scrapped, with White House officials citing weather concerns.
While Red Bull soldiers were no doubt heavily involved in planning and executing the presidential surprise, some Iowa soldiers in attendance reported the identity of the incoming Very Important Person (V.I.P.) was revealed to them only when the U.S. presidential seal was placed on the podium.
Many of the 2-34th BCT's more than 3,000 soldiers were on duty elsewhere on the base and throughout Afghanistan. Because the "Red Bull" is one of few units currently issued the new, Afghan-specific MultiCam combat uniform, however, it's not too hard to pick them out in photos of the crowds in pressing in on the president. Nor is it hard to watch for the left-shoulder patch.
In his remarks, the president repeatedly thanked soldiers and families for their service, spoke to the mission at hand in 2011, evoked the memories of 101st Airborne Division (2-34 BCT's higher headquarters) soldiers killed in Afghanistan, and mentioned the recent words of Medal of Honor recipient Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Guinta of Hiawatha, Iowa.
Excerpts of the president's remarks follow:
Now, I’m not here to give a long speech. I want to shake as many hands as I can. (Hooah!) But let me say that at this time of year, Americans are giving thanks for all the blessings that we have. And as we begin this holiday season, there is no place that I’d rather be than be here with you.
I know it’s not easy for all of you to be away from home, especially during the holidays. And I know it’s hard on your families. They’ve got an empty seat at the dinner table. Sometimes during the holiday season that’s when you feel the absence of somebody you love most acutely.
But here’s what I want you to know. As President of the United States, I have no greater responsibility than keeping the American people secure. I could not meet that responsibility, we could not protect the American people, we could not enjoy the blessings of our liberty without the extraordinary service that each and every one of you perform each and every day. [...]
Elements of Iowa's 2-34th BCT Iowa relieved elements of the Vermont's 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (86th IBCT).*****
This year alone nearly 100 members of 101st have given their last full measure of devotion. There are few days when I don’t sign a letter to a military family expressing our nation’s gratitude and grief at their profound sacrifice. And this holiday season our thoughts and prayers are with those who’ve lost a loved one -- the father and mother, the son or daughter, the brother or sister or friend who’s not coming home. And we know that their memories will never be forgotten and that their life has added to the life of our nation.
And because of the service of the men and women of the United States military, because of the progress you’re making, we look forward to a new phase next year, the beginning of a transition to Afghan responsibility.
As we do, we continue to forge a partnership with the Afghan people for the long term. And we will never let this country serve as a safe haven for terrorists who would attack the United States of America again. That will never happen. (Hooah!) [...]*****[Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta] is right. Each of you has your own story. Each of you is writing your own chapter in the story of America and the story of American armed forces. Each of you have some losses. Each of you have made sacrifices. You come from every conceivable background -- from big cities and small towns, from every race and faith and station. You’ve come together to serve a greater cause, one that matters to the citizens of your country back home and to strangers who live a world away.
So make no mistake, through your service, you demonstrate the content of the American character. Sal is right -- every single one of you is a hero. [...]
These ceremonies included:
- On Dec. 4, the 2-34th BCT's "Task Force Red Bulls" relieves 86th IBCT's "Task Force Wolverine." Article here.
- On Dec. 3, 334th Brigade Support Battalion (B.S.B.) relieves 86th Brigade Special Troops Battalion (B.S.T.B) of Bagram Airfield base operations mission.
- On Nov. 30, Task Force Red Horse (1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment) relieves Task Force Morgan (1st Squadron, 172nd Cavalry Regiment) of BAF and Parwan Province security missions. Article here.
For a copy of the president's remarks to troops in their entirety, click here.
Coincidentally, Capt. Sean Taylor, the 334th BSB unit public affairs representative mentioned in last Thursday's Red Bull Rising blog-post, is also featured in one of the White House photos. (By the way, as official government photos, these images are in the public-domain.) You can play Where's Waldo in the picture below: