Thank you, Ben, for that introduction.
I am delighted to join my fellow Texan in this salute to the outstanding men and women of the United States Marshals Service.
On September 11th, our Nation learned that we need every agency and division of law enforcement working together to protect America.
Since that tragic day, America has stepped up to the challenge of terrorism. President Bush has led a decisive campaign to take the fight to this new type of enemy no matter where they go, no matter where they hide. In the course of this war, we have liberated two nations and brought hope and democratic rule to millions.
To defend our homeland, the President has also led the bold and visionary transformation of our Nation's defenses.
He has asked the men and women of law enforcement to track down and uproot terrorist operations in the United States by using all the tools of law enforcement and intelligence. He has asked us to communicate more efficiently. He has asked us to cooperate more effectively.
For the justice community, fighting the war on terror adds an additional responsibility, for we must continue our successful fight against traditional types of crime while contributing to the defense of the security of our country. The President expects that we not only do our part in the war on terror, but that we also continue to bring to justice, murderers, drug kingpins, child molesters, and other violent criminals so that our neighborhoods remain safe for families, for the elderly, and for our children.
I am proud of how the United States Marshals Service has answered the President's call.
In 2005, the men and women of the U.S. Marshals Service have already been responsible for a multitude of law enforcement assignments in large part because of the unique role U.S. Marshals have played from the origins of our government starting in 1789.
These assignments include both time-honored duties for which you have proven yourselves so capable, and new missions in a new frontier of law enforcement.
We have asked you to track down fugitives swiftly. We have asked you to guard our nation's justice system. We have asked you to protect witnesses. We have asked you to protect our judicial family of judges, attorneys, and court staff. Each and every day, the judicial security team protects 2,000 federal judges and 5,500 U.S. Attorneys and Assistant U.S. Attorneys.
Most recently, the public was shocked and deeply saddened by the murder of Judge Joan Lefkow's mother and husband in Chicago, and the murder of a local judge and others in Atlanta.
Those of us in the justice community continue to have high regard for the protection provided by the U.S. Marshals Service, and I believe our entire Nation now has a greater appreciation for your role in protecting the lawful execution of justice. Few know, for example, that in the war on terror the Deputy U.S. Marshals Service have been responsible for the ongoing protection of the judges in our highest profile terrorism cases. I know Director Reyna agrees with me that no judge should ever feel intimidated or threatened in any way and I have asked the Department to see if there is more that should be done here.
All over America, the U.S. Marshals represent the President and the federal government in our local communities and courthouses. For many members of the public, you are the closest glimpse they will see of the Executive Branch in action, defending the citizenry and our Constitution.
Just last week, the American people got to see a good example of what you can do. In Operation FALCON, you demonstrated the fact that the U.S. Marshals Service, with its unique ability to mobilize American law enforcement, is the Nation's primary agency for apprehending fugitives.
Thanks to your coordination, leadership, and ability to mobilize American law enforcement, we assembled a team that brought together a total of 25 federal law enforcement agencies, 204 state law enforcement agencies, 364 local police departments, and 360 county sheriff's departments.
As you know-and citizens saw on news programs and on the front-pages of newspapers all across America-Operation FALCON was the largest and most successful effort to track down and arrest fugitives from justice in our Nation's history.
In just one extraordinary week, we arrested more than 10,300 fugitives from justice.
Working with our state and local partners, you cleared over 13,000 warrants including 4,200 drug cases, seized 243 guns, and arrested 550 sex offenders, 154 gang members, and 160 individuals wanted for or already convicted of murder.
This kind of operation is exactly what the President demands, and our Nation requires, in our battle for freedom and safe neighborhoods.
But Operation FALCON is just the beginning. There are still many fugitives roaming our streets. We have much more to do.
With the federal authority and more than two centuries of experience, the U.S. Marshals Service has an opportunity to build on Operation FALCON.
We must continue to work to ensure that fugitives do not escape justice just by crossing the boundaries defining a town, county, or city. Violent criminals, especially, cannot be allowed to flee to another jurisdiction.
I am pleased that you have established the five permanent regional fugitive task forces, in addition to the 83 district fugitive task forces. These measures increase the wise use of taxpayer resources and law enforcement personnel.
In the wake of September 11th, the imperative to track fugitives quickly and efficiently has gained added urgency.
We know from the horrific attacks of three years ago, that Al Qaeda is a highly adaptable enemy-constantly searching for gaps in America's defenses. We also know from our many successes in the war on terror, that Al Qaeda exploits conventional criminal conduct to further their operations.
We know that in fighting Al Qaeda no bit of information is too small or too insignificant. We know, for example, that terrorists exploit a network of illegal activity and illicit crime.
Every investigation, every apprehension, every effective prosecution by law enforcement carries with it the potential to disrupt the terrorists' ability to move, adapt, and evade detection.
That is why it is so important for domestic law enforcement to find and apprehend those whose criminal conduct aids and abets terror cells and terrorist operations.
Your excellent work hunting fugitives helps our struggle against Al Qaeda by improving our Nation's ability to more quickly track and arrest wanted and career criminals. In addition, by working closely with state and local law enforcement you help the federal government forge closer ties within law enforcement so that those with their boots on the ground are fully engaged in our cooperative effort to end the threat of terrorism.
The women and men being honored this afternoon exemplify the successes you've already achieved. Little by little, success by success, you've proven you are ready for the additional challenges and growth you now face.
I am proud to serve as the Attorney General at a time so crucial for the Marshals Service. And I pledge to do everything I can to support you as you grow to meet the demands placed on you by President Bush, the Department of Justice, by Congress, by the judiciary, and by the American people.
In addition, I am deeply appreciative we have so many friends and family here today. The wives, mothers and daughters, husbands, fathers and sons, who support the fine men and women in law enforcement serve our Nation, too. I have only been in this job for two-and-a-half months, but I have served in government for over 10 years.
During this time I have learned that it is the families who really sacrifice when a family member pursues government service. Members of the law enforcement community work hard, often under stressful and dangerous conditions. Over time it is natural to become consumed with arrests, cases, and prosecutions. Of course, these are really important. But they are not more important than our families. There has to be a balance between family and profession. I assure you, there is no conviction, no assignment, no paycheck that is as satisfying as the adoring hug of a child or as comforting as the loving embrace of a loyal spouse. To the families, I say thank you.
In a few moments we will hear the account of the 17 Deputy U.S. Marshals who chose to serve in Iraq. These men answered the President's call to transform another Nation and to build new opportunities based on freedom, justice, and democratic rule.
Their stories are heroic. They have faced bullets, bombs, and hostile forces to protect the first fragile shoots of democracy now growing up from the rubble of Saddam Hussein's tyranny. But these Deputies have braved more than physical harm. Both they and their families have sacrificed, enduring months of worry and separation.
I believe it is important to note some of these sacrifices. While these men were away, eight wives missed their husbands on their anniversaries-including Ginger Browning last April in Beaumont, Texas.
Six children missed having their fathers at their birthday parties-including Emily Lavigna who turned 10 in San Diego.
Deputy Bobby Freeman of Tyler, Texas missed the birth of his third grandchild just last month.
But no one missed out more than Deputy John Vito of Tampa, Florida. John had only just arrived on the ground in Iraq when he learned that his father, John Vito Sr., had passed away unexpectedly. Rather than return home, John chose to remain in Iraq. John Vito Sr. was a career Navy man whose life was about service, honor, and duty.
Deputy Vito felt the best way to honor his father was to serve his country and finish his tour in Iraq. John Vito Sr. would be proud of his son and his choice-just as we are all proud of the work being done by the U.S. Marshals in Iraq as well as America.
Deputy Vito and these other men were sent to Iraq to do a job few people are capable of doing. They brought their expertise, their integrity, and their dedication to the justice system. They are an example to the Iraqi and American people of the sacrifice required to build a Nation of freedom and opportunity.
In the coming years, the U.S. Marshals Service faces many new challenges.
Our Nation will continue to rely upon you to ensure that the American people live in greater safety, greater peace, and with the assurance that justice and freedom will extend to every citizen.
I know you will succeed because I know we are driven by a common love for this Nation and our shared desire to build a stronger America and with greater opportunities for all.
May God bless you and your families as we now hear stories of inspiration and bravery, which show that the greatness of this Nation flows from the compassionate hearts of those who serve others.