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General Kennedy shares remarks

Remarks made by Maj. Gen. Karol Kennedy at the banquet of the 55th annual convention of the 99th Infantry Division Association:

Are any of you "poorer" because of your visit here . . . are any of you richer?

Oh yes, because you have renewed the bonds, refreshed the memories, and reaffirmed the worth of your service and sacrifice.

Good evening. It is truly a pleasure and a great honor to be with you tonight. First, I would like to thank you and your families for your great service to our nation.

The 99th Infantry Division has set a valiant example of the highest standards of soldiering, under the most adverse conditions and lived our values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. As we speak, our soldiers, wearing the same Checkerboard patch, are deployed around the world in a vanguard of the Global War on Terror. Once again, we are a nation at war.

I would like to share a few thoughts on the yesterdays — today — and tomorrows of the 99th.

We are approaching the 60th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, the pivotal engagement that in large part determined the final outcome of World War II (movies such as "Saving Private Ryan" and the HBO series "Band of Brothers" have helped raise) once again raising the American consciousness to the tremendous sacrifice made by our soldiers in the desperate struggle against the Axis Powers and their evil ambition.

After the success of the tragically costly Normandy invasion and the breakout through France, it seemed like the situation on the Western Front was under control. Even though the lines were spread thin. There was optimism the war would soon be over.

But Hitler was planning one last gamble, a massive attack through the Ardennes that would eventually take Antwerp and create another Dunkirk. Hitler's hope was to force the Western Allies to sue for peace so that he could turn the Wermacht's full attention to the Eastern Front.

I would like to quote a passage from the book "Dauntless: A History of the 99th Infantry Division." Pfc. John G. Messenger, 3rd Platoon, B/393, described the opening artillery barrage of the Battle of the Bulge.

"It seemed like all hell broke loose, the ground shook like a small earthquake, artillery shells and 'screaming meemies' were dropping all over the place, showering us with a deadly hail of shrapnel, broken tree branches, and downed telephone wires. At about 0545, there was a tremendous shell burst about 10 or 15 yards from my dugout which landed in front of the guard hole I had previously occupied."

For many of you those memories are still vivid.

This was just the beginning of numerous, overwhelmingly violent assaults on the 99th by every major unit of the 6th Panzer Army.

On Dec. 16, 1944, Field Marshall Von Rundstedt's forces moved forward behind the punishing artillery barrage. With tanks and infantry in battalion spearheads, the Wehrmacht itself with tremendous energy against the 99th Infantry Divison front. The Germans knew every road and hill of the countryside. In that same place, in 1940, French and British forces had been defeated.

The weight of the attack fell on the 393rd Infantry in the center and the 1st Battalion, 394th Infantry, holding the right of the division's line. The initial blow was parried, but the Germans came on, wave after wave. Each successive thrust was beaten back with greater difficulty.

The impact is detailed in a passage from the book "Battle Babies."

"What was happening didn't make sense to the Germans. They slugged this green division unmercifully, yet it still jabbed back. Cut off and surrounded, these newcomers to battle were fighting like veterans. The going was bitter, but the division was gaining ground. At the extreme northern tip of the line, 3rd Battalion, 395th Infantry, gave such an account of itself that it was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation."

The history books and movies cannot possibly capture the reality of your personal experiences in the war. The story of the 99th Battle Babies and the Battle of the Bulge does, however, record them in perpetuity — a legacy and lesson for the ages.

Today, we are a nation at war again . . . the Global War on Terror. Since the terrible attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, the 99th has mobilized more than 12,000 soldiers who have served worldwide. We currently have more than 3,000 still on active duty in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan. We are continually preparing for the next rotation of deploying units.

Soldiers wearing the Checkerboard patch represent the full range of combat support and service support branches of the Army, including military police, engineers, signal, transportation, quartermaster, ordnance, chemical, medical, adjutant general, finance, legal, public affairs, and military history to name a few.

Our soldiers are not only serving in a critical combat support role, but are serving "at the tip of the spear." We sent two multi-role bridging companies that were with the lead elements of the assault into Baghdad.

Our 299th Engineer Company, from Fort Belvoir VA, conducted a bridging operation across the Euphrates River under fire and opened the way for the Marines to continue their rapid momentum into Baghdad from the east. First Sgt. Bradley Irish of the 299th Engineer Company was recently the guest speaker at the 99th RRC Military Ball, where he shared his inspring personal experiences as the senior NCO of that unit citing the courageous actions of his soldiers, your proud heritage. On the other side of Baghdad, our 459th Engineer Company of Bridgeport WV, also played a critical role in the attack against Saddam Hussein's forces.

Our military police units serve on the forward edge of the battle area, actively patrolling Baghdad, Tigrit, and areas of unrest throughout Iraq. One of our military police units, the 307th MP Company of New Kensington PA, suffered two soldiers killed in action and 11 seriously injured. One soldier, Sgt. Nicholas Tomko of McKees Rocks PA, was tragically killed while in the gunner's position of a Humvee while patrolling in Baghdad. The 307th had already served a one-year tour of duty for Homeland Defense at Fort Dix NJ, when they were called back up to mobilize and deploy overseas. Six of our soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Our 38th Ordnance Group handled all of the ammunition requirements of the Centcom Theater during the height of military operations in Iraq. Our quartermaster soldiers are responsible for the crucial flow of supplies and water to sustain the forces in theater.

I am very proud of the tremendous job our soldiers are doing. I know of your actions in World War II. They are carrying on the traditions that you forged nearly 60 years ago.

The "Army of One" is increasingly depending on the reserve components to be able to rapidly mobilize and deploy worldwide. We are an expeditionary Army, and we are seeing changes in structure and equipment as we move forward to shape the Army Reserve for that future.

In 1995, the 99th Army Reserve Command was selected to transition to a Regional Support Command, tripling in size and expanding to command nearly 200 units and 22,000 soldiers in a five-state region.

The Army Reserve is preparing to restructure again, and it appears that the 99th will again expand to take on more units and responsibility, an additional state and as many as 30,000 soldiers. At the same time, we are seeing realignments of units based on branch, restructuring into medical, signal, and intelligence commands is planned to gain control and improvement in training and capability.

Even our uniforms will change reflecting our experience as an expeditionary force, and the need for one uniform that can be used worldwide, as opposed to a separate desert uniform and woodland pattern battle dress. The new combat uniform will incorporate more than 30 improvements over the old battle dress uniform, including a new camouflage pattern that decreases visibility in all environments.

We are changing to remain relevant, but one thing will not change as the 99th moves forward, writes new chapters in our military history, is your deep tradition of valiant, selfless service on battlefields such as Elenborn Ridge. A heritage we embrace and proudly carry on.

Thank you again for your kind invitation . . . but more importantly for your selfless and courageous service . . . for the freedom you restored to millions, in Europe, guaranteed in America . . . for my life . . . the freedom to speak, worship, live, and hope . . . that you secured for us all.

God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

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