US, French Presidents Honor Service Members, Close Ties


By Stephen Oleksiak

Service members from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet, and Allied Joint Forces Command Naples, flew to Cannes, France, Nov. 4, to join international service members to participate in a commemoration ceremony at Cannes City Hall.

The ceremony was hosted by President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who spoke to international service members and guests about the close ties between France and the U.S.

“We stand here today as free and democratic peoples because of each other,” said Obama. “It was the ideas of the Enlightenment, centered here in France, that helped inspire a band of colonists across the ocean to seek our freedom. It was the success of our revolution that helped inspire your own. In our founding documents, we pledge ourselves to the same inalienable rights, and to the truth that all men and women are created equal. We are societies where our diversity is considered a strength; where you can become President even if your name is Obama or Sarkozy. We live by a common creed: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – liberté, égalité, fraternité.”

Obama and Sarkozy also spoke of the success of the French and U.S. service members who participated in Operations Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector, supporting the international response to the unrest in Libya and the enforcement of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.

“Together we have stood up for our ideals around the world. And today, we pay special tribute to all those who have served and given their lives: French, American, and forces from our allies and partners,” said Obama.”We saw this same solidarity most recently in the mission to protect the Libyan people. When the old regime threatened to massacre on a horrific scale, the world refused to stand by. And in a historic first, our NATO allies, including France, and especially the extraordinary leadership of President Sarkozy, helped us to conduct 90 percent of our strike missions. In this mission, French and American soldiers, airmen, naval officers, served shoulder to shoulder – the commanders who planned and executed this complex operation; the pilots who prevented a massacre in Benghazi; the tanker crews from bases here in France who sustained this operation; the airmen who delivered lifesaving aid; the sailors and Marines who enforced the arms embargo at sea.”

Amidst cheers from the crowd, Obama recognized the uniformed men and women in the audience for their participation and accomplishments in the recent liberation of Libya.

“Every man and woman in uniform who participated in this effort can know that you have accomplished every objective,” said Obama. “You saved the lives of countless Libyan men, women and children. And today, the Libyan people have liberated their country and begun to forge their own future, and the world has once again seen that the longing for freedom and dignity is universal.”

French service members were honored to be recognized by the two presidents for their efforts, and relished in the relationship between France and the U.S.

“I’m very excited to have been here to see our presidents [Obama and Sarkozy],” said French navy Quartermaster 1st Class Ioussouffa Christophe, assigned to the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulles (R91). “France and the U.S. have a very big relationship and a very big friendship that is very old. France loves the U.S., and we know that the U.S. loves France. It’s a very good [bond].”

For many U.S. service members, this was their first opportunity to meet their president, and many shared the same feelings as their French counterparts about the close relationship between the two nations.

“I felt honored to be here and support our president, because to me, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Intelligence Specialist 2nd Class Luis Montero, assigned to Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet headquarters in Naples, Italy. “Seeing [Obama] here with [President] Sarkozy really shows the close ties between France and the U.S.”

Before departing the ceremony, Obama met several U.S. service members, including the Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet, staff Sailor of the Year.

“When he came in the room, he shook our hands, asked our names and where we were from,” said Fire Controlman 1st Class Michael Zdunkawicz. “It was a real honor to meet him; I never expected to get on a plane at a moment’s notice to fly to France and meet our president, so I took the opportunity to present him with our command coin and later received one of his, as well.”

In Obama’s departing words to guests, French and U.S. service members, he quoted the first U.S. president, President George Washington, to his friend, Jean-Baptiste de Rochambeau, commander of the French troops during the American revolutionary war: “We are fellow laborers in the cause of liberty, and we have lived together as brothers should do – in harmonious friendship.”

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stephen Oleksiak, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet Public Affairs

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DoD News publishes news from the US Defense Department.

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