Thursday, August 25, 2005

NAMPA, Idaho — President Bush yesterday paid glowing tribute to family members of soldiers serving in Iraq, telling hundreds of Idaho National Guardsmen that America owes them a debt of gratitude.

The president singled out Tammy Pruett of Pocatello, Idaho, who now has four sons in Iraq and whose husband and another son returned from war last year.

“Tammy says this — and I want you to hear this — ‘I know that if something happens to one of the boys, they would leave this world doing what they believe, what they think is right for our country,’ ” Mr. Bush said.

“And I guess you couldn’t ask for a better way of life than giving it for something that you believe in. America lives in freedom because of families like the Pruetts.” The crowd, made up mostly of military family members, broke into cheers and “USA” chants.

Throughout Mr. Bush’s 45-minute speech, the crowd of about 10,000 gathered in this Boise suburb offered thunderous applause — rivaling that of supporters during his last presidential campaign.

The crowd stood in applause for a full minute after the president, leaning into the microphone to make his voice boom through the hall, vowed: “So long as I’m the president, we will stay, we will fight, and we will win the war on terror.”

Singling out Mrs. Pruett appeared to be a direct rebuttal of anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan, who has camped out for much of August near the Bushes’ Texas ranch demanding a meeting with the president to discuss what she calls a “senseless war.”

Mr. Bush, who after his speech yesterday met for the 25th time with family members of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, on Monday told reporters, “I’ve met with a lot of families. [Mrs. Sheehan] doesn’t represent the view of a lot of families I have met with.”

Mr. Bush met last year with Mrs. Sheehan, whose son, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, was killed last year in Iraq. The president has now met with nearly 1,000 family members of 297 soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, White House officials said yesterday.

“We’ll complete our work in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Mr. Bush said. He took aim at critics who have called for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, saying: “An immediate withdrawal of our troops in Iraq, or the broader Middle East, as some have called for, would only embolden the terrorists and create a staging ground to launch more attacks against America and free nations.”

Mr. Bush said the country faced a “clear choice” — one of nine times in his speech that he used the word “clear” — after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001: Either give in to terrorists and isolate America or “bring the war to the terrorists, striking them before they could kill more of our people.”

“I made a decision. America will not wait to be attacked again,” he said. “We will confront emerging threats before they fully materialize.”

Mr. Bush chose Idaho for yesterday’s speech because the state has the highest percentage of National Guard troops currently serving in Iraq. The president used his speech to pay special tribute to Guard members and their families. More than 243,000 Guard members have been called up to serve in the war on terror, including more than 1,700 from Idaho.

“A time of war is a time of sacrifice, and a heavy burden falls on our military families. They miss you and they worry about you. By standing behind you, you’re standing up for America — the families are standing for America. And America appreciates the service and the sacrifice of the military families,” Mr. Bush said.

The president, who noted that he is among 19 U.S. presidents to have served in the Guard, described as heroes the 491 Guard and Reserve members who have lost their lives in the fight against terror.

“And now we’ll honor their sacrifice by completing their mission,” he said to cheers from soldiers.

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