The following is a transcript of this week's Democratic Radio Address, delivered by Democratic candidate for President and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry:
Good morning. This is an election year. And I hope to have a great debate about the great issues before America. But this year is no time for politics as usual.
In the midst of the War on Terror, no job is more important for a President than the duty of our Commander-in-Chief to provide for the common defense. I believe we need new leadership that will work to make sure that America's military is prepared for the challenges ahead.
We honor the service and bravery of our fighting men and women — but they also deserve a true commitment to make sure they have the weapons and equipment they need as they put their lives on the line everyday.
But this week, the Bush Administration announced a startling disclosure. On Tuesday, the Secretary of the Army admitted that U.S. forces were 'not prepared' for the present conflict in Iraq; that they didn't have the preparation and hardware they needed to fight as effectively as they could with the greatest margin of security for them.
Republican and Democratic leaders were right to join together to say to the Bush Administration that this is just unacceptable.
If I am President, I will be prepared to use military force to protect our security, our people, and our vital interests. But I will never send our troops into harm's way without enough firepower and support.
We cannot let the strongest armed forces in the world be weakened. America's greatest military strength has always been the courageous, talented men and women whose love of country and devotion to service lead them to attempt and achieve the impossible everyday. We must resolve that America's leaders will never let them down.
Yet we hear reports that — in dangerous parts of Iraq — our helicopters are flying missions without the best available anti-missile systems.
At the same time, un-armored Humvees are falling victim to road-side bombs and small-arms fire. The Bush Administration waited through month after month of ambushes and only acted to start manufacturing armored door kits three months ago.
The Army's 428th Transportation Company, headquartered in Jefferson City, Missouri, shipped out to Iraq two weeks ago. They had to ask local businesses to donate the steel to armor their vehicles. When the Bush Administration heard about this, their response wasn't 'never again.' It was 'good idea' - they emailed instructions to other units letting them know how they could use homemade armor to protect their own Humvees from attacks. I believe our soldiers deserve better.
Even more shocking, tens of thousands of other troops arrived in Iraq to find that — with danger around every corner — there wasn't enough body armor to protect them. Many of their families on the homefront — mothers and fathers, husbands and wives and children — were forced to raise the money to buy it for them. They went to their neighbors for donations — and dipped into their savings to give their sons and daughters the equipment to save their lives — which the Army should be providing. Last month, a young newlywed in Virginia even gave her husband body armor for Valentine's Day as he prepared to ship out to Iraq.
Families should be sending pictures and care packages to Iraq — and the Department of Defense should be sending the body armor. Today, I call on President Bush to support a law now in Congress to reimburse each and every family who had to buy the body armor this Administration failed to provide. This month, I will also be introducing a Military Family Bill of Rights to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.
What we face isn't a question of the budget; it's a question of priorities and values. This Administration has given billions to Halliburton and requested 82 million dollars to protect Iraq's 36 miles of coast line. But they call this basic body armor a 'non-priority' item.
Today our security is being weakened, our military is being overextended, our reserves overstrained, and our allies driven away. And on Thursday we learned air marshals are being cut. I believe keeping our military strong and keeping our troops as safe as they can be should be our highest priority. That's why I believe we need to relieve the reserves by temporarily expanding the size of our active duty forces by 40,000 troops.
America needs new leadership ready to make our country strong and secure — and I look forward to sharing more ideas on how to do that in the months ahead. Have a good weekend and thanks for listening.