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Interior Rally Honors Spirit, Professionalism of U.S. Forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom

Photo at Support ourTroops Day Editor’s Note: Secretary Norton delivered the following remarks at the
March 31 Support our Troops Rally in front of the South Interior Building.

The winds of war are blowing through Washington and the Nation. There are American and British casualties and there are those who are missing in action in Iraq.

This is a solemn and difficult time—as it is whenever our soldiers are in conflict.

The Interior family comes together in this place to show its support for our troops and to rally others to that cause.

In many cases they literally are our troops—men and women who have been called to active duty from Department offices and parks, from refuges and public lands across this country. The number is approaching 100 and climbing.

They include men like Colonel Roger Duff, a member of the U.S. Army Reserve Special Forces. Colonel Duff is a finance officer with the Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region. He joins us today with his wife—Linda Martin.

Colonel Duff recently described his transition from Reclamation finance officer to Green Beret. He said, “This requires a reservist to make a total transformation from a peacetime set of operational conditions to a warrior mindset.”

But Col. Duff said something even more telling when he explained, “The threat of losing one’s life is real. Yet, for the most part, members of the service are more concerned about their families’ welfare.”

Photo of Interior EmployeesAlongside Col. Duff and his wife are a few family members of employees from this area, whose loved ones are already deployed. We are here to show support for these families and others within our Interior family.

One of the things I can announce is that the Department of the Interior will waive the employee share of the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program premiums for Department employees called to active duty. That way, health benefits for the family can continue, with the Federal Government covering the full cost.

It is an important way for us to insure the care of the employee’s loved ones who are left behind—and to allay some of their concern.

When the war began in mid-March, I began to hear from a number of different Interior employees that they wanted to do something to support our troops. This is the government, so of course we formed a committee.

But in less than 24 hours, the committee had 35 suggestions on ways to show our support. Within this outpouring of supportive suggestions was an idea to adopt a unit fighting in Iraq.

I am pleased to tell you today that the committee has recommended the Department of Interior adopt the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division based in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. As soon as we can, we will have information on the Department web site to show Interior employees what they can do to support this paratroop unit—some of whose World War II exploits were recounted in historian Steven Ambrose’s book and television series, Band of Brothers.

One of our jobs at Interior, within the Fish and Wildlife Service, is to protect and support threatened eagles. So the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne seemed like a natural choice.

The committee also recommended we adopt the 10th Mountain Division based in Fort Drum, New York. Approving their recommendation was an easy choice for me, because the 10th Mountain used to be based in Colorado. One of their units is also nicknamed, the Polar Bears—another group that Interior helps protect.

They have been especially active in Afghanistan—where they seized more than 500 stockpiles of enemy ammunition, and cleared Al Qaeda caves. More than 150 10th Mountain soldiers were decorated for bravery.

Today’s event is only the beginning of Interior’s efforts to support our troops. The Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts out in Vienna, Virginia, will begin its Summer Blastoff concert with a free performance by the Marine Corps Band, Sunday evening May 25th, with fireworks to follow.
Finally, we wanted to have a visual message of our support. Many of you hold flags and wear buttons for that reason.

Today we will unfurl a banner on this South Interior Building along with the flag you see before you.
As commuters drive past on Constitution Avenue, this banner will be evidence that we stand behind our troops; that we thank them and their families for the sacrifices they are making on our behalf in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As President Bush told the forces now in the Middle East, “The peace of a troubled world and hopes of an oppressed people now depend on you. That trust is well placed.”

We are proud of our armed forces and their skill and bravery. Even more than that we are proud of the honorable and decent spirit they have shown to prisoners of war and the civilian population in Iraq.
We honor that spirit today as we unveil these banners.

Employee Volunteer Program to Support Soldiers’ Families

By John Wright

By adopting the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Interior employees have launched a volunteer program to support these units’ families.
Photo of  Employees
The 101st Airborne Division, known as the Screaming Eagles, is headquartered at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and the 10th Mountain Division, known as the Polar Bears is headquartered at Fort Drum, New York.
Secretary Norton made the announcement at the Interior Department’s South Building during a special ceremony and rally to honor and support the patriotism, valor, fidelity, and professionalism of our service men and women, serving at home and around the world.

“Many of our employees serve as reservists or guardsmen and some have been called to active duty,” Norton said. “This is our way of showing our support and how much we appreciate the important job our service men and women perform while protecting America and the freedoms we enjoy.”
The March 31 ceremony was the official kickoff for Interior’s Support Our Troops volunteer program. Over the weeks and months ahead, the group will work with the 101st headquarters, Operation Eagle’s Nest and Operation Helping Hand.

Operation Eagle’s Nest is a fund established by the 101st to assist the deployed soldiers’ families with emergency needs and unexpected repairs. Operation Helping Hand assists family members with emergency food needs and baby supplies. Assistance includes Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets and a variety of other last-minute needs.

The idea of showing support for the troops developed out of a small group of Interior employees who formed a task force of volunteers to look into how employees could best show their support and appreciation for America’s Armed Forces.

The task force will now serve as the work group to spearhead the Department’s efforts in helping the families of Interior employees on active duty, as well the family members of the Screaming Eagles.
“When the employees approached me with their proposal, I was both thrilled and supportive,” Norton recalled. “I am proud of our men and women in uniform and the employees of this remarkable department.”

Norton added that the Department will waive the employee share of the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program premiums for Department employees called to active duty. “That way, health benefits for the family can continue, with the Federal Government covering the full cost,” she said.
As part of the ceremony, Secretary Norton and family members of employees called to active duty unveiled a giant American flag and a banner that read: U.S. Department of the Interior, Proud of Our Troops.

“This banner will be evidence that we stand behind our troops; that we thank them and their families for the sacrifices they are making on our behalf in Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Norton said.
The 101st is formed of three brigades plus Division Artillery, Division Support Command, the 101st Aviation Brigade, 159th Aviation Brigade, 101st Corps Support Group and several separate commands. The 20,000-soldier unit bills itself as the “only air assault division in the world” and has the ability to conduct air assault operations and long-range helicopter assaults.
The U.S. Army activated its first mountain unit at Fort Lewis Wash. on Dec. 8, 1941, the 87th Mountain Infantry Battalion. Later named the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) and reactivated on Feb. 13, 1985, at Fort Drum, New York. The unit is formed of more than 250 soldiers and is trained to meet a wide range of worldwide infantry-intensive contingency missions.

Historic Building Hosts Rally

Photo of South Interior  Building with BannersThe South Interior Building, where the March 31 Support Our Troops rally was held, was a fitting site for the ceremony because the structure is steeped in World War II military history.

The building, constructed in 1931, first served as the Public Health Services headquarters. Later because it was near various military offices, the building was selected to house the offices of the Combined Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The role of these two groups in the war was to coordinate British-American military operations. President Roosevelt made the announcement on Jan. 30, 1942, saying the Public Health Service Building was to be renamed the Combined Chiefs of Staff Building. It was in this building that the British representatives met regularly with the U.S. Chiefs of Staff, most of whom had offices in the Navy buildings, which were then across Constitution Avenue.

Later, the Combined Chiefs of Staff Building was the site of the planning for the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb. The planning was done in a temporary wooden structure, atop the two-story center wing of the building. The Manhattan Project was so important that the building was sealed, and sharpshooters maintained a round-the-clock vigil to guard it.

In 1947, when the war was over, the Combined Chiefs were disbanded, and the newly created Atomic Energy Commission moved into the building. Quite possibly the allocation was made because of the high security arrangements that had been necessary during the war years.

The Atomic Energy Commission remained in the building until August 1958, when the National Science Foundation took it over as the center for its program of administering and financing research at colleges and universities across the country. The National Science Foundation, was in turn, succeeded by the Department of the Interior, whose Bureau of Indian Affairs moved in during April 1965. The Office of Surface Mining moved to the South Interior Building in 1985.