- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

WACO, Texas President Bush attended Easter services yesterday at Fort Hood military base with two helicopter pilots who had been held prisoner in Iraq, telling the soldiers that he thanks God for their lives and that he prays "for peace and for strength."
"I was, believe this or not, somewhat taken aback when I was in their presence. And these guys were so uplifting and so positive and so obviously thrilled to be here," the president said.
The two chopper pilots, David S. Williams and Ronald D. Young Jr., both chief warrant officers, returned to their home base late Saturday night.
"It was an absolute honor, sir, an absolute honor," said Warrant Officer Williams in response to a reporter's question. Warrant Officer Young said, "We stand 100 percent behind whatever our president decides to do. We're honored to serve him. And this is definitely one of the highlights of my life, absolutely."
The Apache helicopter pilots, members of the Army's 1st Cavalry Division, were forced down in Iraq on March 24. They were rescued, with five other American POWs, April 13 in northern Iraq after Iraqi captors abandoned their posts ahead of advancing American troops.
Mr. Bush visited the base, the nation's largest, with his family and Deputy White House Chief of Staff Joe Hagin and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
The base is usually home to 42,000 soldiers, but nearly half have been deployed in Iraq.
Mr. Bush celebrated Easter with members of the 4th Infantry Division military families. The 4th Infantry Division is in Iraq.
"We prayed for peace and for strength, for the many blessings. I am particularly grateful that these two men were with us today. I thank God for their lives. I hope all our fellow Americans realize that we live in a great country, full of great people," Mr. Bush said.
"And today is a day to give blessings for America, as well as an almighty and gracious God."
Mr. Bush and his entourage sat in the front row of the blond-brick church on the base.
During the Exchange of Peace, Mr. Bush stepped across the aisle to greet the former POWs and their families.
He noted that "democracy is going to be hard" but said he is optimistic that Iraqis will soon begin to rise to the responsibility that comes with freedom.
Asked whether Saddam Hussein is alive, he again said he did not know. But he said that "if he is alive, I would suggest he not pop his head up."
Mr. Bush also said he would be focusing on the domestic agenda after he returns to Washington this afternoon but added that he has always kept an eye on the economy during the war with Iraq.
"I have always been involved with the domestic policy. I somehow get somewhat taken aback when I hear stories that assume I can only do one thing," Mr. Bush said.
His first battle will be about his proposed tax cut, which Mr. Bush has trimmed from $726 billion to $550 billion. The Senate has passed a tax cut of $350 billion.
The president plans to travel late this week to push his tax-cut plan. But he said he will also continue "to promote an international agenda of peace and freedom."
"The United States is a powerful country, and one of the things we ought to do is use our power to make the world more peaceful and more free. And I intend to continue to do that," he said.

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