Appearing at the Freedom Center’s recent West Coast Retreat at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes (April 5-7, 2019), Congressman Steve Russell delivered a riveting talk about participating in the hunt for, and capture of, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. A retired soldier, Russell represented Oklahoma’s 5th congressional district in the House of Representatives from 2015 to 2019 and is a former member of the Oklahoma Senate. Check out the video of his inspiring presentation below:
Well, I’m loving this weather. It’s incredible. But I love Oklahoma’s freedom. (Laughter)
Well, I appreciate the warm welcome, and it’s an honor and a privilege to be here with you. And I have such high regard for the work that David Horowitz has done in just challenging progressive thought or anti-American thought, and continues even to this day.
When I was a boy growing up in Del City, Oklahoma, I never thought that I would stand as a soldier having participated in a major historic event, and I certainly never thought that I would be a featured speaker. I’ve traveled, gosh, 8-1/2 years on the professional speaking circuit prior to getting elected to Congress and then Congress takes your life away, and been to all 50 states, been a lot of different places. But I’m humbled by it.
I’m mindful of Proverbs 21:21, where it says, “He that follows after righteousness and mercy finds life, righteousness and honor.” And I do know that I’m a blessed man. I’ve lived an extraordinary life, several of them, in the path of one, and while major events may have been unpredictable, many that knew me in my youth would not be surprised that I became a soldier.
As a child, no flowerbed or lawn was safe from a vast invasion of toy soldiers and trench lines dug up for the GI Joes, and playing in the fields and creeks in the backyard enlisted neighborhood friends fighting desperate imaginary battles.
The grownups in my neighborhood, they fascinated me with tales of what it was like to fight in a tank in North Africa or what it was like to assault Japanese-held Pacific islands or what it was like to live in Nazi-occupied France. And while their experiences varied — some born in the United States, some immigrated — they all shared a common love for the United States born of trials and sacrifice. And unknown to me then, God was preparing my own heart and shaping me for future service of my own. And I can relate to the Psalmist, David, when he said, “He teaches my hands to make war, so that a bow is broken by my arms.”
My time as a soldier was so searching. How can God teach your hands to make war? And is that okay? And your fingers to fight? Can you serve God as an infantryman? You know, I’ve been behind the computer and stuff. That seems okay. But what about the guys that carry the rifles, the hand grenades?
God encouraged me, but he also taught me many important lessons when I failed as well. Christ said, in Matthew 18, that the greatest faith He ever witnessed was in a despised, occupying Roman soldier. Being a despised, occupying soldier, I could relate. And David’s foundational faith was put to the test in an impossible battlefield encounter with Goliath that forever changed the way he looked at life and the way he sought God’s own heart. And I believe that those that have walked in the shadow of death experience the truest comfort from God’s rod and staff.
I served my country for more than two decades in uniform, not because I was underprivileged or was somehow less educated or because I was from Oklahoma and couldn’t get a decent job — (laughter) — but, rather, I held the conviction of love of country and the American way of life, even when some Americans were — and continue to be — unkind in their convictions about our service and the missions that we have performed around the globe. But I believed that my service was a calling that God blessed.
And little did we know, as we embarked from Fort Hood, Texas, in 2003, that our division would help bring a dictator to justice and that the great soldiers that I would command would play a significant role.
Now, many people think that the Saddam capture was the result of some lofty intelligence handed down or maybe there was satellites going, “Look, there he is. Go get him.” But nothing could be further from the truth. It was the result of six months of very hard work on the part of just regular, young American soldiers working hand in hand with a couple of Special Operations Forces teams over a six-month period.
And our first real breakthrough came when we learned from local Iraqis how Saddam operated his protection apparatus before the war. Did you ever have one of those moments where God saved you from yourself? Well, I had one of those moments. I was checking an outpost. We had had a battle there and had some soldiers wounded, and I really didn’t like it. It was a civil military information outpost where Iraqis would come and complain about broken things, and we had broken a lot of things. (Laughter)
So these two brothers come and say, “We’ve got some information. We want to see Colonel Russell.” And I said, “I don’t got time for that.” And they said, “Well, sir, if you don’t talk to them, they’re not going to talk to anybody else.” And something in my gut said, “Well, what if they’ve got something?” I knew they didn’t, but I thought, “What if they do?”
So we pulled out the white plastic chairs, set down. Next 2-1/2 hours, they mapped out on sheets of butcher paper Saddam’s security apparatus and how he operated, and it revolved around a half-a-dozen families, much like a Mafia don, with Saddam at the center of it, and they were his bodyguards, and they protected him. And they were telling me that these bodyguards were appearing in Tikrit and where they would be that Saddam would be. We were informed that this network was still in place protecting Saddam, and it took care of his personal security and his operations.
And so taking this information, with all these names, I thought, you know, this is the most organized lie I’ve ever heard, that they’ve charted out on this sheet of butcher paper or there’s got to be something to it.
And so taking that, we began to track down these families like the Mafia don, and since I commanded the combat forces in Tikrit, which was Saddam’s hometown, much of the search effort centered there because that’s where Saddam was from, and it presented this great opportunity, and I never imagined that my unit would play any role in the hunt and capture of Saddam, but I could sense at the time that if he continued to be protected by his hometown family connections, it was certainly possible that we could get him. Somebody would. Early successes only confirmed that belief.
In June, working with a Special Operations Forces team led by a guy I’ll call Jack, we caught this guy, Abid Mahmud. He would be like our White House Chief of Staff, pretty important guy. He was so important, he was the ace of diamonds on the deck of cards. You remember the deck of cards? So you had Saddam, his two sons and this guy. And so we got a tip. We flushed him out of Saddam’s birth village of Al-Ouja. Next night, bang, we got him, and it was the biggest catch of the war, up to that time.
And as the headlines buzzed with the news about this, we received tips about a possible safe house for Saddam below a bluff known as the [Hadoshi] Farm, and we narrowly missed Saddam. We almost got him. How do we know? Cause we got some interesting things. We got Mrs. Hussein’s passport and we got her national identity cards and we got, you know, probably like some people that you all may know or may not, but she had $2 million worth of jewelry that we found in these boxes, individual carats — individual pieces, 60 carats of rubies, diamonds, unbelievable wealth.
And then when your house is on fire, what do you grab? The ladies are saying the pictures, and the guys are saying the guns, right? Well, we got both. Well, this is California. Maybe not so many guns, I guess. (Laughter)
But we got the photo albums that showed, you know, little birthday parties, Uday and Qusay, how sweet, and pictures of Saddam at the beach. I apologize — I know you all have just eaten — for that. (Laughter)
But the most astounding thing that we got was this: $8-1/2 million in United States currency, three-quarters of a million dollars in foreign currency, hard currencies like British pound sterling, Kuwaiti dinar.
And if that wasn’t enough, an innocent spot check of a car the next day netted one of Saddam’s relatives escaping with a gym bag that had 850,000 more dollars in it. So we threw it in the pile. And if you ever want to know what it was like to sit on $10 million, it was quite a thrill. (Laughter)
Now, people have asked, they said, “What did you do with all of that money?” Well, retirement’s not been bad. It’s — (laughter). No, I’m kidding. That’s a joke. I’m still under ethics laws from my days in Congress.
But it confirmed for us that Saddam was indeed relying on his hometown connections and that the networks and that strategy was working.
In the months that followed, I conveyed to my soldiers that we would not be the hunted. Rather, we would be the hunters. And I told my soldiers, “Look,” I said, “if God intends for me to die in Iraq, it’s going to happen. There’s nothing I can do about it, but if he doesn’t, then there’s nothing the enemy can do to make that happen.” I said, “Don’t worry about it. Do your mission. Get out there, and let’s take the fight to the enemy.”
And my soldiers learned the art of the ambush and began to exact a heavy toll on the insurgents, and tactically, operationally we were winning. We had the initiative and began to refine our intelligence. We got an unbelievable tip as to the whereabouts of this guy. Now, once you see him, it’s kind of like Where’s Waldo? I mean, he’s always in the background, you go through all of these different pictures, and his name was Adnan Abid al-Musslit. He was Saddam’s number one personal bodyguard for 20 years.
Well, we got a tip, and he was a tough guy, raided the house. He tried to grab a Sterling submachine gun next to him. My scouts got to him before he got to the gun, but he went down fighting. They dragged him down a flight of stairs, and that’s how he got the little bump on his head there.
But soon, the story made international headlines, and, now, we were being swamped with press wondering how our units — it wasn’t just mine, but Jack’s team and some others that we worked with — where we were getting the information and what was going on.
And during the next few months, the enemy did not sit idle. They struck back, and they began to attack us with the roadside bombs, with targeting Iraqi citizens who were working for the new Iraqi government. Even so, we continued our pursuit of Saddam’s inner circle and successfully countered the insurgents while fighting daily street battles. And while we did lose soldiers in the process, each raid or each capture of Saddam’s inner circle produced even more information and photos, while it also encouraged the Iraqi people to cooperate with us.
We took advantage of that. We began to work with locals and began to work with the local government officials. I took a page out of T.E. Lawrence and set up a tribal council of sheikhs and we began to do a lot of different things, creating new Iraqi military forces as well that the sheikhs would actually vet and verify, and it worked. It was just taking something out of history.
And I tried to convey to the press at the time that the losses that we suffered in no way lessened our ability to accomplish our mission, but it would lessen the grip of fear that the insurgents held over the Iraqi people. And to the media’s credit, they did cover our aggressive operations fairly well, even if, at times, they questioned our tactics.
And one of the most controversial tactics that we did, Saddam’s birth village of Al-Ouja, it’s set to the south of the city of Tikrit, a village of about 3,500, set on the bank of the Tigris River. And we had been through probably 60 percent of the homes in that village. I mean, you couldn’t, you know, swing a bat without hitting something bad there, and I was just sick of it.
And so I said to my staff, I said, “How much barbed wire would it take to surround the whole place?” And they laughed and said, “You know, that’s pretty funny, sir.” I said, “No, I’m serious. How much would — ” It was a lot. It was eight kilometers of barbed wire. And on October 31st, Halloween, we surrounded the town. And then we did a census and we went house to house, and I got the idea of doing this from the French — the French, right.
In the 1950s, in Algeria, they used these tactics in the Kasbahs in Algeria very successfully in ferreting out bad folks, and using census. Napoleon did that in the Rhineland Campaign. But I reasoned that if the enemy fled his base of support, he would be more vulnerable and visible. He’d be out on farms and local things, be on a cellphone, we could intercept that. And the impact of all of this was tremendous and it began to disrupt Saddam’s plans significantly and his men became more visible.
The information we gathered began to snowball, and the most prominent family protecting Saddam had 10 brothers — multiple-wife culture. You know, you think your lives are complicated, have four wives and, you know, 20 kids. But we had now captured a couple of these brothers, and some other units had captured a couple of more, and I could feel the momentum building in December, or November, actually, of 2003, when my wife, Cindy, she wrote to me and she said that a man named Dick Dwinell from Colleen, Texas, was trying to get ahold of me. “I don’t know Dick Dwinell from central Texas, but send it on.”
And as I’m reading this, he says, “God knows where Saddam is.” And I was like, “Well, duh,” you know. “We don’t.” He says, “If you and your soldiers will pray,” he said, “God will help you.” And like you need an excuse to pray as infantrymen, right?
So I called on our chaplain and that next Sunday we did just that. Didn’t force anybody, but — And also the brigade chaplain, Major Oscar Rocco, he began to lead us, and for the next several weeks, you could feel the energy and momentum building.
Secretary Rumsfeld came I think it was December 7th, and he says, “When is Saddam going to be caught?” And General Odierno, at the time, he says, “Sir, I think we’ll have him here in a week or two,” and everybody was like, “Yeah, right.” But you could feel it.
On December 4th, a Special Operations Team that we had been working with since October, led by a guy I’ll call John, we had planned eight simultaneous target raids. Because what would happen with this multiple-wife culture, you could go after a lead and they would be somewhere else in this interconnected family, and it was kind of like a whack a mole. You’d hit them here and they’d pop up here. So we decided to just hit all the holes at once and that might net something. It was very successful.
And a few days later, a teenage boy walks up to a checkpoint and he tells the soldiers there, he says, “I know where some important people are hiding.” And it’s a credit to the soldiers they just didn’t shoo this teenage boy away. Instead, they got a translator, began to talk to him. And we decided to believe him, because, for one, he said, “I know where some important people are,” not, “have been.”
And so my commander, Colonel Jim Hickey, which you see here, was mentioned by Larry earlier, he commanded the First Brigade of the Fourth Infantry Division, and my infantry battalion was a part of that. He talked to the boy, took his information. And the next thing we know, I’m sending forces out to a western dessert farm to see what was out there.
And this raid produced relatives of the very man that had helped hide Saddam in 1959. Now, in that year, as an 18-year-old, Saddam goes out and tries to kill the Iraqi prime minister, you know, crazy kid stuff. (Laughter) But it happened that as he is hidden by this family, Iraqi security forces surround him. He jumps in the Tigris River, swims to the other bank, gets on a white horse, rides off to become the tyrant that he became.
Each year, it was a national holiday, and they’d reenact this swim. They’d belly up to the — You know, it’s kind of amusing to watch, you know, and they would swim across to commemorate this escape.
And little did we know that this same farm from 1959, and the same family would come into play in just a few very short days.
We also got important information as to the whereabouts of this guy. You remember the last public appearance of Saddam? You know, Baghdad Bob is there saying, “Hell, no. There’s no problem. There’s no Americans,” or whatever, as we’re surrounding Baghdad. And Saddam makes a public appearance, and he gets out in the town square there, and, being the benevolent dictator — Well, the guy that’s [crawling] up on the car with him and was driving him was a guy named Mohammed al-Muslit, and we had been searching for this guy since early summer, and we knew he had to know where Saddam was, and we got information about some possible locations. It was out of our area, but there were some down in Samarra and Baghdad, and within 48 hours, Special Operations teams had captured him in Baghdad and he was identified by an interrogator as being Muslit.
And Colonel Hickey and I were elated. He calls me. He says, “Hey, did you hear they got Muslit last night?” And I said — He says, “Get everything ready.” He said, “This might be the big one.” We’d been on the big one many times prior to this, but we knew we had very, very good information.
On December 13th, I got a call from Colonel Hickey and he told me, “Have everything available.” He said Muslit had given Saddam’s whereabouts near Tikrit, and since I owned the combat forces there, then this is kind of — Now, hearing this — You see Tikrit in the upper left corner. It’s about the lower third of the city there, and then in the center there that’s where Saddam’s mansion was. That’s where we surrounded the whole village with barbed wire.
Down at the bottom is the Hadoshi Farm where we got the $10 million and nearly caught Saddam. On the other bank of the river, straight across it, was the area of concern. And so trying to [neck in] on it and find out what was there — And then Colonel Hickey began to adjust our forces for the operation.
Now, the operation was so complex that it was planned on a sheet of butcher paper with Magic Markers. (Laughter) How’s that for your stinking technology, right? (Laughter)
So the plan was is that these two farms, not knowing which one might be there — and there was another farm that was further to the south, which would be at the top of the photo, off on the horizon — the idea was that a small element of about 65 soldiers would come in under [Dez Bailey], one of our captains, and then you had the Special Ops teams would come in the little birds, and then they would land at these various farms, and then before any of that happened, we would have a cordon all around these areas, so that Saddam, you know, or if you had [supporters] that would try to go out, then we would be able to get them.
And my own forces were on the right side of this photo, covering the exits there on the bank of the Tigris River. And to the south you had artillery, and north you had the [cav] and then — in the orchards themselves, but the farm that became of most interest is the one in the middle of the photo with the circle around it.
At 8:00 p.m., all forces were set. Both farms were seized. Two men tried to flee and they ran from the farm that you see there at the top of the photo and they began to run through the orchard, and a guy named [John Iverson], a sergeant from Texas, he spotted something in the woods. He goes out, and he and another soldier were able to capture [them], and it turned out to be Saddam’s cook and his brother who drove him. Now, we didn’t know that at the time, but they were part of that inner circle of bodyguards.
And then nothing. They weren’t cooperating. Everybody was looking. Everything was pretty tense. About 25 minutes goes by, and we were all prepared to stay for even 48 hours, if necessary, because we knew the information would be good.
And then the difference this time, though, is that Mohammed al-Muslit was brought along for the raid. He wasn’t too happy about it, but he was sitting in a Humvee, and John went out to get him and said, “Look,” and some things I won’t repeat here, says, “where is he?” He says, “He’s there. Keep looking.”
And so the area where Saddam was caught was not very big. It might be three of these platforms end to end, and it was a patio area, and he had a two-room hut, and then you had back here was the orchard. All of you are the wheat field, and then you had a gate that was grown over by vegetation.
And as they brought Muslit in, (inaudible) and his brother, they’re there, and they’re — there weren’t very many soldiers at the point of action at this time. There was maybe six-eight soldiers from John’s team. And he says, “He’s here,” and he motions with his foot towards a foot mat. Looked normal. Looked like something you’d have on your porch.
And so with that, they got Muslit out of there and he wasn’t — he didn’t want to be seen or heard. And then they began to pull up the foot mat and saw bits of rope, and they began to brush it off, and next thing you know, it’s handles. They pulled that, and John radioed to Colonel Hickey and he says, “Sir, we may have something,” and we all perked up.
And then flashed a light down in the hole, see a guy down on all fours, two hands. Didn’t visibly see a weapon. Had a flash-bang grenade ready to throw down in the hole. And they began to shout, “Who are you? Come out. Put your hands up,” that sort of thing. And from the bottom of the hole, a voice came, says — in English — “I’m Saddam Hussein, the duly-elected president of Iraq, and I’m willing to negotiate.” (Laughter)
And one of John’s soldier’s says, “Well, President Bush sends his regards.” And then he says to Samir, who’s the translator, he says, “Tell him to put his hands up before he gets himself killed.” And a little bit of confusion trying to get him and pull him out of the hole.
And then he got a little uppity when they — He had a sunburst tattoo on the back of his right hand, a three-dot tattoo between the finger and the thumb, and they checked for those marks, and as they’re trying to check for them, he tried to shove one of the soldiers away, and that was a stupid thing to do. So they straightened him out, and then that’s how he got the cut on his mouth and his eyebrow. And, after that, he cooperated and things were a little better.
Didn’t linger with him. Pilot named D.B. comes down, lands in the field. They put a bag over his head, so he was concealed. Most of the soldiers still not fully aware who had just been brought off the site. Throw him in the little-bird helicopter and then off he goes. And as all of this is unfolding, it’s hard to describe because when you’re in the middle of it, you know something amazingly historic is unfolding, but, you know, you’re just focused on what you’re doing.
Colonel Hickey calls me shortly after John had radioed, “Jackpot,” and as I had the satellite phone, he just says to me on the commander’s line — it was point to point, so nobody else is hearing it, and he says, “Caesar Romero.”
Now, during the summer, there were what-if pictures of what Saddam might look like in disguise, and some showed him with bald, not, moustache, not, beard, not. And one of them looked amazingly like Caesar Romero — (laughter) — which a lot of you will recall played the Joker in the Batman television series. So we used it as kind of a code name for Saddam after that, and so as he’s confirming — Before I could even respond, he says, “Not a word.” He says, “The president has to be notified, and it will take some time.” He said, “Cut off all communications within your command and wait for further instructions.” And I said, “Roger, sir. I understand the importance of it.”
And I put on my best poker face and I had to go find a place to be alone and I began to reflect on so many things — the blood, the sweat, the tears that our soldiers had shed, how we had worked hand in hand with a team of teams and had broken Saddam’s inner circle of bodyguards, worked with John and Jack’s teams and captured people out of the deck, and now this, Saddam himself captured.
I thanked God for giving us the victory that night. It altered the course of my life. I remember looking at the stars much later, after we all got in from our gear and everything else. It was a beautiful night. I said, “God, I don’t know why I was involved with any of this,” I said, “but let me use it for good.” And December 13, 2003, was one of the proudest days of my life.
As I look back on the victory of the hunt and capture of Saddam, I’m mindful of the cost and the dark days and the moments of sheer terror, the loss of our soldiers, the forgotten sacrifices of the Iraqi people as they have tried to forge a new nation, and in the years that have followed the capture, I have relived some portion of those times nearly every day.
Among the soldiers that was on the raid with us that night was [Ian Wickle and Mark Paine]. Now, there, you see Ian. He was about my size. He’s in the hole there. It shows you it was not a very big hole, and Ian was the executive officer of the brigade reconnaissance troop, the scouts that met the Special Ops teams as they landed in the orchard.
And little did he know when he was roommates with this guy, Mark Paine, who was later my logistics officer — he was serving as a battle captain to Colonel Hickey — but little did they know when they were roommates at West Point that they would both end up in the same unit on the same field in a historic raid.
Returning to Iraq the next year with the same brigade, but now each of them in command of their own companies, Ian was killed in action leading his troops in April of 2006. He left behind his wife, Wendy, and a newborn son, Jonathan, who was born during his first tour. And those of us that served with him paid our respects as he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
Six months later, after suffering a concussion from a roadside bomb, Mark Paine disregarded his injuries to lead his troops in a combat operation in which he was also killed. And so I made another painful trip, not my first or last, to pay my respects to my friends in Arlington. And at the burial, as we followed Mark’s caisson out to his final resting place, we — If you’ve ever been to Arlington — and Section 60 is where most of our guys are laid — they make a row and then they get down to the end and then they bring it back to the other, and then they just kind of weave it. And we noticed that as they were taking the caisson to Mark’s resting place that he was to be laid at the feet of Ian Wickle. Roommates at West Point, brothers in battle and now together forever.
After the burial, I wandered around our nation’s capital trying to mentally process a great number of concerns. I had a lot on my mind. Politicians on both sides of the aisle thumped their chest about the hopelessness of our service and the war in Iraq. People with traitorous talk, like Senator Harry Reid declaring the war lost, and everywhere I turned the air was heavy with melancholy prophecy.
And so I decided to do something for distraction, and I wandered into the National Air and Space Museum and I saw that. Spectacular. You think about how it’s changed our world, the Wright Flyer. And as I walked around it, it had a little kiosk of how they made it and all of these things. And there they were, the cynics and the critics telling them it would never fly. Looking at it, it’s hard to imagine it ever did and that someone would risk life and limb to make it so.
And as I walked out of there, hanging above me in the gallery was a sturdier-looking craft with a bold title emblazoned on the (inaudible), Spirit of St. Louis. No forward-looking window, just a forward-looking 27-year-old at the controls. And they said, “What are you thinking? You’re going to die, you fool, just like all the others that have tried to make this trip. What makes you think, as a young male pilot, that you are any more experienced than these World War Aces that have lost their lives in the attempt? You’ll never get off the ground with the weight of all of that gasoline in this weather. You can’t do it alone.”
Rounding the corner to examine spacecraft, I marveled at what to me looked like aluminum foil, and I wondered how it could sustain life in outer space. How was it that we found Americans foolish enough to strap themselves into a rocket containing 2,000 metric tons of fuel that would blast them into space and break apart, by design, and because somebody with maybe a pocket protector and like little pens and stuff says, “No, if you go there, there’s this gravitational pull and you’ll be able to do all of this stuff.”
And they get to the last two stages and it breaks apart and then they meet nose-to-nose and lock, two people crawl into this, and then it unlocks and they’re still alive. And then they maneuver that on the surface of the moon, get out, pick up a couple of rocks, plant a flag, you know, get back in, pop up, launch, and because of somebody’s calculations, they said, “Okay. You know, if you launch towards the Earth, if you go fast enough, you’ll land where you need to be, but don’t — thousands of miles an hour, you’ll be traveling, but don’t worry, the fiery atmosphere will slow you down, and we’ll put little asbestos plates on the bottom and that’ll protect you. And then parachutes will deploy, helicopter’ll come find you in the Pacific Ocean.” But that’s what they did.
And I’ll never forget as a young boy my dad waking me up, watching a fuzzy black-and-white screen, watching Neil Armstrong come down a ladder taking a giant leap for mankind. And they did it with less technology we carry around today. Remarkable. Remarkable.
And as I reentered the gloomy mood outside our nation’s capital, I left the museum inspired, because it dawned on me that day, literally, that America has never been built on the advice, counsel or expertise of cynics and critics. Cynics and critics. Warriors of our generation have had quite a belly full of them. Every single monumental mission our nation has asked our men and women in uniform since 9/11 to do has been accomplished. Overthrow the Taliban government. Done. Overthrow or kill or capture Osama bin Laden. Killed by the Navy Seals 2011. Defeat Saddam’s army, overthrow his government. Done in 2003. Kill or capture Saddam Hussein. Done in 2003. Pull out of our efforts before they were completed. Yeah. Done. Go back when things turned to hell in a handbasket. Done. Defeat Isis. Done.
Our soldiers have done all of this with the prattle and obstructions of pundits, politicians, cynics and critics who couldn’t even identify a warrior in a lineup, and we’ve done it to their political narrative and their own aggrandizement while we sacrificed our sweat and blood.
As infantrymen, we had to rely on each other. Even if we didn’t always agree, even when we thought we might have a better way to get the job done than the one we got ordered, even if we didn’t like the mission we had to accomplish, we turned to each other and gathered strength knowing we had each other’s back.
At times, we even had to rely on allies that had different motivations than our own, and sometimes even former enemies that we were told were now our allies, but rather than parsing our differences, we focused on our mission and defeating our common foe.
And after returning home from more than two decades of service as a soldier and a decade of political life, I have asked myself this question: How have we become so divided as a nation? When did e pluribus become more important than unum? When did American zeal for innovation, sweat and determination become replaced with intimidation, threat and the silencing of meaningful discourse by pathetic keyboard commandos pecking out hatred while munching on their bags of cheese puffs, sinking into their couches?
America has no future building on the labor and counsel of cynics and critics. Our institutions, once based on the creator of life, have now appointed themselves to usurp the authority of God, who is the author of life, marriage and family. The most elemental sovereign unit, the family, has been destroyed by our foolish decisions as a nation. We are told instead by those sworn to uphold the law and those charged to justly interpret it that murder is not murder, marriage is not marriage, family is not family, gender is not gender.
We have allowed constitutional constructs to kill a child and call it a choice. We have seen discrete behaviors and private sexual preferences promoted to public display while what is constitutionally guaranteed to be able to express religion and speech now being publicly prohibited and protested.
One nation under God, this nation, at its highest level, has taken a position against God. Is it possible without God to form a more perfect union? Can we establish justice absent the giver of law? Can domestic tranquility be ensured when we abandon His precepts? Can we provide for a common defense absent a mighty fortress and an unfailing bulwark? How do we promote the general welfare when every American is me, too and unanchored, adrift to do what seems right in his own eyes as they blame every problem they’ve ever had on somebody else? Do we suppose that we can secure the blessings of liberty without Him? Can those of our posterity expect to obtain His blessing without acknowledging even His existence?
Still, there is no life insurance policy for the United States of America. If America had one message it desperately needs to hear today it is this: Wake up. Wake up. It’s time to rekindle the spirit that united our country, ended enslavement, enriched our land, advanced our arts and sciences, granted women suffrage, protested inequality, protected the defenseless. And, yes, I’m proud to say the Republican Party has led in all of those fights.
Most Americans know the difference between what is evil and what is good, but the question we must now ask is whether we will truly unite to continue to live free or continue to attack ourselves, give way to cynicism and watch America’s liberty and place in the world die.
Thank God America still has thousands — millions of men and women such as you. How do I know? I’ve seen them. I’ve been all over the country, in political life and in speaking, as a soldier. You know it’s not the cynic and critic that dig the ditch, teach the child, inspire the solutions or create the future. The cynic is a stranger to all of that type of sacrifice. The critic looks at generosity and can’t even imagine what it is to be somebody that puts someone else ahead of themselves.
It is time for Americans to be American again, to inspire, to lead, to unify, to sacrifice, and it starts today with sacrificing a few simple things. Sacrifice doubt. Sacrifice anxiety. Sacrifice cynicism.
We can’t allow soldiers like me to come home from a decade of war to see our republic overcome by the self-indulgent, the divisive and the visionless. And as visionary as we veterans and we conservatives and lovers of liberty claim to be, we’ll make little headway if our only answers are mere sideline snipes to our friends and neighbors about what’s wrong with this country.
Are we so shortsighted that we can’t show love for one another, and a little kindness? Can we not accommodate dialogue, exchange ideas, show some deference and rebuild our nation, of course, reserving the 10 percent that David Horowitz mentioned at the beginning? I agree with him there.
It’s time, though, to show the American people what is right with this country, not what’s wrong with it, and get to work. Any soldier knows you make use of the time that you have, however small, and you don’t quit until the mission is done.
But if we want to honor those Americans like Ian Wickle and Mark Paine, who will never come home, will never know the joys of lengthy marriage or marriage at all, they’ll never know the joys of raising their children or seeing their grandchildren while living in the freedoms that their sacrifice purchased, then we must rebuild that America that they gave their lives for. We owe them that much.
The sum total of our lives is how we invest them in other people, and we, the people of this great nation, have a responsibility to serve our God, our country and also give of our talents and efforts to preserve our freedoms, much as many of you do. But may you be such people continually as you labor to build and plan and prepare people for the future that we all worry about.
But know this: As you face the wind and look to the future, you will always have the naysayers, always, those around you who will take counsel of their fears. They will critique you. They will discourage you, so that they will somehow feel better about their pathetic sedentary lives.
Don’t heed their voices. They have nothing to say that will build, encourage or inspire. Instead, stand true. Love one another. We need kindness today. Take risks. Lead, achieve, ignore the calls of the cynic and critic telling you, “It ain’t gonna fly.” Above all, keep the faith. We still serve in a great country. God bless you all. Thanks for letting me speak with you tonight. (Applause)