PREPARED REMARKS FOR
ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO R. GONZALES
DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION
ANNUAL MEMORIAL SERVICE
MONDAY, MAY 16, 2005
Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.
For more than twenty years, we have taken the opportunity to honor the fine men and women of the Drug Enforcement Administration – and our partners – who have died in the line of duty. We’re here today to remember those who’ve paid the ultimate price in our pursuit of justice for all… and to celebrate their lives.
It’s my first opportunity to pay my respects as Attorney General to those faithful servants of the law that are on the Wall of Honor. Here are 75 stories of bravery. 75 stories of those who made the battle against drugs, the battle of their lives. They are the stories of courage that we’ve come to expect from this proud service. Each one is a symbol of the dedication and daily heroism of DEA Special Agents, investigators, pilots, and other law enforcement officers across the country.
The DEA is critical to the mission of this Department. As you all know, drugs and drug-related crime and violence still are tearing at the fabric of our neighborhoods and communities. But your investigations, seizures, and prevention efforts are helping us recapture street corners and side alleys too long marred by the stain of drugs.
You do your job with the kind of skill and determination that makes the DEA – and our partner organizations – so successful. That success – and the qualities you display each day – have earned you the thanks and appreciation of a grateful Department and Nation. And it’s why, when dangers exact the ultimate price from dedicated public servants, the Department and the Nation mourn along with you – and with the families of those lost to the war on drugs.
We realize that it is not just those who wear a badge or uniform, who carry a gun or fly a plane, that make sacrifices in the service of our country. The families and loved ones of those in the law enforcement community know that the start of every shift brings known – and unknown – dangers. Their sacrifice is no less than the pilot or Special Agent they love and support. And when this perilous job takes its ultimate toll, grieving husbands, wives, mothers and fathers continue on with each new day mindful of the legacy – and lasting memories – their loved ones left behind.
Even in our sorrow, we can celebrate that legacy today. Lower crime. Safer neighborhoods. Fewer drugs – and drug-dealers – on our streets. It’s a legacy of fighting for justice and the rule of law – person-by-person, block-by-block, and city-by-city. It’s a legacy built upon 75 examples of everyday heroism.
Their names and faces are here for everyone to see – especially those family members, loved ones, and law enforcement colleagues who’ve joined us for this collective salute. To them – and to countless others who have been touched by the efforts of these officers – I thank you for your sacrifice. We share your grief. We mourn with you. And we remember the stories you hold close to your hearts.
Today, we especially remember the stories of Special Agent Terry Loftus, Task Force Officer Jay Balchunas, and Pilot Instructor Larry Steilen who were killed in the line of duty and added to the Wall of Honor this year.
Special Agent Loftus was a sixteen-year veteran of the DEA, service he began after seven years in the Army. During his decade with the Baltimore District Office, he continued to serve in the active reserve of the Maryland National Guard. He then took his 1,700 hours of flight time to the Office of Aviation Operations in Chicago. It was there, almost a year ago, that his plane crashed as he provided air support to an investigation for the Kansas City District Office. Special Agent Loftus spent his entire career in service to his country and fellow citizens.
Task Force Officer Jay Balchunas, a Narcotics Bureau Special Agent for the State of Wisconsin, died after being shot during a robbery. He was walking to his car at a gas station that he had under surveillance as part of the Department of Justice’s Fall Threat Initiative leading up to the national elections. Jay would’ve gotten married this fall, and he is missed not only by his family and friends, but by thousands of people he helped as a volunteer at the New Berlin Fire Department.
Larry Steilen was employed by Raytheon and contracted to the DEA in late 1998 when he died in a helicopter accident during a training mission. Mr. Steilen had worked with DEA for many years flying support missions for Operation Snowcap, as well as for private contractors flying drug eradication operations in the Caribbean. Like Agent Loftus and Officer Balchunas, Mr. Steilen made a career of service to country, including as an Army helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War.
These three brave men took on the challenging and dangerous tasks so that their fellow citizens wouldn’t have to. I am saddened that the gifts of these men were cut short, but I am heartened by their example. I know it will live on in their family and friends forever. Our task is to be sure that we honor their sacrifice by carrying their example forward in all of us.
As we hold vigil to their memory today – we’re taking over their watch, standing guard where they once did, and accepting the mantle of a proud tradition of selfless service.
Their unique sense of commitment and devotion to duty is now ours. With it, we must continue to shape a future worthy of their great and noble sacrifice.
Thank you for allowing me to pay tribute to these warriors. May God bless you, may He provide understanding and comfort to those who still grieve, and may He continue to bless the United States of America.