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Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd

March 20, 2003

Called to Battle: Words in Support of American Troops

Months of uncertainty over the fate of Iraq ended with the first U.S. air strikes on Baghdad. Today, regardless of where any of us stand on the decision to go to war, we are all Americans, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the men and women of the U.S. military who have been called to battle.

Few doubt the outcome of this war. The fate of Iraq is sealed. The United States, with its awesome military might, is virtually certain to prevail decisively. But the fate of the individual soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who will carry the battle to Iraq is far less certain. We pray that every man and woman engaged in the war will return home safely and soon.

Our troops will face untold dangers as the mission to unseat Saddam Hussein proceeds. When our airplanes penetrate the sky above Iraq to deliver computer-guided bombs to their targets, and our ground troops begin their armored charge through the deserts of Iraq, our men and women in uniform surely know that one unlucky shot could send their families into mourning for a fallen patriot.

There are unknown perils as well. We do not know if Iraqi civilians will unite to repel a foreign enemy from their homes. We do not know if Iraq's military will lure us into bloody, house-to-house fighting. We do not know if Saddam Hussein will use chemical or biological weapons against our forces. I pray that the sons and daughters of the United States will never face these grave risks to their safety.

More than 225,000 U.S. troops are now involved. True to its traditions of service to our country, West Virginia continues to have the highest per capita rates of participation in our armed forces. Thousands of West Virginians are now carrying out missions to defeat Saddam Hussein, protect our homeland, and root out terrorists in Afghanistan.

Thirty-three different units of the National Guard and military reserves based in the Mountain State are now activated. The 459th Engineer Company, based in Bridgeport, must now be readying to bridge the ancient Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The 1092nd Engineer Battalion, based in Parkersburg, has been called to duty and might soon join in that effort. The 130th and 167th Airlift Wings are using their cargo aircraft to move men and materiel to where they are needed. West Virginians attached to the 363rd, 157th, and 304th Military Police Companies, out of Grafton, Martinsburg, and Bluefield, stand ready to maintain law and order in places far distant from their homes. These are but a few of the multitude of tasks now being carried out by West Virginia Mountaineers in service to our country.

The men and women of these military units, like the rest of our troops, did not join the armed forces to fight Saddam Hussein. They did not ask to be sent to the harsh climes of the Arabian desert. Our troops volunteered to serve our country and uphold our Constitution. They are to be commended for their dedication to our country.

I stand foursquare behind our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. I urge every American to pray for our troops, and pray that they will return safely from those faraway sands, to the loving arms of their families. I will do everything in my power to provide our troops with the funds that are needed to ensure their safety.

I do not agree with every word of this resolution. I have strong reservations that the new doctrine of preemption does not meet the test of international law. I have strong reservations about the assertion that the Congress has "fully authorized" this war against Iraq. I do not believe that Congress can cede its Constitutional power to declare war to the President.

I have questions about our long-term strategy for the reconstruction of Iraq, the plans to democratize the Middle East, and the application of the pre-emptive doctrine that has led the United States to war in 2003.

But I have no question about the ability of our military to deliver a crushing blow to whatever army might stand in their way. I have no question that our armed forces will carry out their mission with honor and resolve. I have no question that our nation has the obligation to finish the job and destroy whatever chemical, biological, and radiological weapons that Saddam Hussein possess.

Last night, in his address to the nation, the President said that "our forces will be coming home as soon as their work is done." I support these words by the President, for they speak to the millions of Americans who now wonder when their loved ones might return home. This is the ultimate measure of support that our government can give to our soldiers.

We do not know how long this war might last, or how long our troops might occupy Iraq after our victory. We should not rule out the possibility that Saddam Hussein could flee, precluding further carnage. In the coming days, the television news is sure to show pictures of smart bombs dropping on targets, and perhaps grainy, night-time images of our troops moving to take their objectives. These sanitized images do not reflect the true cost of war. They cannot hope to convey the perils that our military will encounter as the war continues.

But I hope the words spoken on the Floor of the Senate today will convey the deep and abiding support of every member of this body for the men and women of the United States military serving in the Persian Gulf.

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