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Erbil Air Base
Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, hello Erbil Air Base!  (Applause.)  To Colonel Holden, but most especially to the incredible men and women of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines — the Armed Forces of the United States of America — it is Thanksgiving week and it us our great honor to be here today to thank you for all you do for America here in this distant land.  Give yourselves a round of applause.  We’re proud to be with all of you.  (Applause.)

And as I begin today, allow me to bring greetings from a friend of ours who is a tireless champion of our armed forces and a Commander-in-Chief who will always have your back.  I bring greetings and gratitude from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.  (Applause.)

The President wanted us to be here today at the start of this Thanksgiving week to make absolutely sure that all of you know how thankful the American people are for your courageous service and the difference you are making in the defense of our nation.

We know especially it’s got to be hard to be so far away from home this time of year in particular.  And while it’s hard on you, but I also know it’s hard on your parents, your spouses, your kids — they’re going to miss you at that Thanksgiving table this week and I know you’re going to miss them.  And it’s about your families that we’re also thinking today.

And speaking of families, it’s especially — especially joyful for me to be here today with the most important woman in my life.  She is, as you already heard, a Marine Corps mom, a tireless advocate of our military families and military spouses.  In fact, she and First Lady Melania Trump were just making care packages to ship off to our troops from the Red Cross.  So would you join me in giving a big Erbil Air Base welcome to the Second Lady of the United States of America, Karen Pence.  (Applause.)

THE SECOND LADY:  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  We’re so proud of all of you.  You know, I can say that because I’m a Marine mom.  So your moms are all proud of you.

But I also want you to take a message home.  So when you get on your phones later, after we’ve left, and you’re telling your family that we came to see you and encourage you and thank you for what you’re doing, please tell them the message from the Second Lady is that we are grateful for their service because we know that you don’t serve alone and we know that they are the home-front heroes.  And we know that without them, you couldn’t do you mission.

And so please tell them thank you, that we appreciate them, and that we stand with them, as well as standing with you.  So tell them that we’re grateful for them and that that message comes from us.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Karen.

You know, the Old book says, if you owe debts, pay debts; if honor, then honor; if respect, then respect.  And I’m really here today, on behalf of your Commander-in-Chief and a grateful nation, to pay a debt of honor and respect and gratitude to each and every one of you for your service and your sacrifice in the name of freedom.

And in this particular season, when Americans will pause and take stock of everything that we’re thankful for, I just want all of you to know, especially this year, that the progress that we have made on this frontier of freedom, the American people are thankful for all of you.  We truly are.

You know, in gatherings large and small across this country, I know there’ll be a place saved at the Thanksgiving table for every one represented here.  But I also want you to know that beyond your families, that millions of Americans, when they say what they’re thankful for, they’ll be thinking of you.  They’ll be thinking of the progress that you’ve made at the tip of the spear at Erbil Air Base.  And they’ll offer a prayer — I’m sure of it — for your safety and for the success of your mission because they know what we know.

And while you come from the rest of us, you’re the best of us.  You volunteered to serve.  And every American is proud of you and more thankful for your service than you’ll ever know.

You know, many people spend their lives wondering if they’ve made a difference.  But you’ll never have that problem.  You stepped forward, you raised your right hand, you swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies.  And that’s exactly what you’ve done at Erbil Air Base in the year 2019.  Well done.  Well done.  (Applause.)

Here at Erbil Air Base, you really are the tip of the spear and you prove every day the United States Armed Forces are not only the most fierce military in the history of the world, but you prove every day that the Armed Forces of the United States are the greatest force for good that the world has ever known.

With your courageous service here at Erbil Air Base, you’ve taken the fight to radical Islamic terrorism on our terms, on their soil.  It’s remarkable to think that when we took office just a few short years ago, the so-called ISIS caliphate had overrun vast territories of Syria and here in Iraq.

But thanks to your courage and your service, and the service and courage and sacrifice of those who have gone before, stationed in this very place, in March of this year, the Armed Forces of the United States and our allies captured the last inch of territory beneath the black flag of ISIS.  And the world and the American people are grateful.  (Applause.)

And let me also say, standing here at Erbil Air Base, in the Kurdish region of Iraq, that as I just told President Barzani, the American people will also never forget or fail to honor the service and sacrifice of the brave Kurdish fighters who stood shoulder to shoulder with us in the fight against ISIS.  (Applause.)

Thanks to your courage and theirs, the territory of the ISIS caliphate is no more.  And as the world saw one month ago, the fight against ISIS continues.  From here at Erbil Air Base and all across the region, you’re continuing to take the fight to those who would threaten our nation and our allies.

It was remarkable as the world watched and saw the Armed Forces of the United States take out the world’s number-one terrorist leader without one American casualty.  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead.  (Applause.)

Thanks to the incredible courage and professionalism of U.S. Special Forces and the decisiveness of your Commander-in-Chief, the leader of ISIS is gone.  And make no mistake about it: America and the world are safer.

I have to tell you all, I was with President Trump in the Situation Room at the White House the night that our Special Forces descended on al-Baghdadi’s compound in Syria.  We watched them execute their mission flawlessly.  I was there when the word came in through CENTCOM, from the ground: “A hundred percent confidence.  Jackpot.”  It was amazing to see the valor and the courage and the professionalism of our armed forces.  As President Trump said, U.S. Special Forces were “incredible.”  And they made every American proud.

By taking out the leader of ISIS, you’ve made measurable progress in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism.  But as the President has made clear, and as all of you know, the United States of America will never relent in “our commitment to the enduring and total defeat of ISIS [or any] terrorist organization” that threatens our country.  (Applause.)

And all of you here at Erbil Air Base will continue to play a vital role in this mission.  And as you stand your post, I want you to know that your President, this Vice President, and the American people are behind you 100 percent.

But I’m not only here to say thank you for your service, but I also am here to report to you, as my fellow Americans, that from the earliest days of this administration, President Trump has taken decisive action to make the strongest military in the history of the world stronger still.

In our first year in office, President Trump actually signed the largest increase in our national defense since the days of Ronald Regan, including the largest pay raise for our armed forces in more than 10 years.  And you deserved every penny.  (Applause.)

As the President said, “Our active-duty personnel are now the best-equipped, best-trained, [and] most technologically advanced fighting force in the history of the world.”  And it’s the truth.  But we’re not done yet.

In fact, in our budget negotiations with Congress, as we speak, we’re fighting to secure another pay raise that’ll be the biggest pay raise in nine years.  We’re going to keep it coming.  We’re going to keep supporting you and your families.  (Applause.)

But, you know, the truth is — and I say it to all of the fellow Americans gathered here looking on from afar to our nation’s capital — the truth is, Congress should’ve finished their work on defense appropriations months ago.  But all of you can even see from this far outpost that partisan politics has taken a special hold in Washington, D.C. these days, and it’s slowing things down a bit.

But I’ll make you a promise: This President and this administration will never stop fighting until we get you and all of our troops the resources you need to defend our nation and the raise and the support that you and your families deserve.  I promise you.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

So it’s an honor to be with all of you today, really, just to say thanks this Thanksgiving week.  Karen and I are going to slip over and serve a little turkey.  And hopefully, maybe some of you will be able to come over and join us as we do that.

But after a slice of turkey and a little bit of stuffing, some cranberries, you all know the fight goes on.  So today, on behalf of your Commander-in-Chief, I admonish you to keep bringing your best, be vigilant, mind your mission, respect the chain of command, take care of each other.  And never doubt that every action you take, every decision you make, matters to the security of our nation and matters to the American people more than you’ll ever know.

You know, it’s very humbling for me to stand before men and women like you because my life did not take me into the uniform of the United States.  But as the Colonel said, I’m the proud son of an Army combat veteran who saw action in Korea.  And we’re the proud parents of a United States Marine.

But maybe it’s fitting that someone like me is here to say thank you this Thanksgiving week to all of you — here not so much as your Vice President and as a family member, but just as a grateful American; the opportunity to come all this way around the world just so you hear in one special way this Thanksgiving week the gratitude of the American people.

I mean, the truth is, I — we have a tradition at our house around the Thanksgiving table.  You go around the table and everybody says what they’re thankful for.  And I just want you to know, at every Thanksgiving table, Americans will say they’re thankful for you.

Now, we know your service comes with sacrifice and risk.  You stepped forward in a calling that counted our lives more important than your own.  But I want to assure you that you do not bear that burden alone.

As you leave here today, in this Thanksgiving week, I promise you that whatever you’re called to do, wherever the mission, you will carry with you the strength and pride of the American people.  You will carry with you the confidence of your Commander-in-Chief.  But I also want to assure you that you will carry with you the prayers of millions of Americans.

I know that millions of people across our country pray every day for all of you who serve and protect this nation, and for your families back home.  They’ll pray for the success of your mission, they’ll pray for your safety, that, in the words of the Psalmist, no harm would befall you, no plague would come near your tent, that He would command his angels concerning you to watch over you in all your ways.  And that’ll be our prayer for you as well.

So thank you for the honor of being able to be with you today.  It’s a special honor for Karen and I to be out here with all of you in this far outpost of freedom.  Maybe break a little bread with some of you in a few minutes.  I know it doesn’t beat a home-cooked meal, but to be able to be here with our nation’s finest in this special week is something we’ll treasure for the rest of our lives.  And we hope today, for you, it’s not just an early slice of turkey, but maybe a little slice of home.

But we leave here today with grateful hearts and confidence.  Looking out at all of you on this distant outpost of freedom, looking at the courage and resolve in your faces, I just know in my heart: As long as we have men and women like you with the courage to step forward to serve; as long as we have heroes willing to put your lives on the line; as long as we have patriots, like all of you, willing to defend our nation, I know that America will be safe, our freedom will be secure, and the best days of the greatest nation on Earth are yet to come.

So to all of the men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States gathered here at Erbil Air Base, on behalf of your Commander-in-Chief, and our family, and every American: Happy Thanksgiving.  God bless you.  And God bless America.  (Applause.)