FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- After watching Army helicopters drop troops and howitzers from a steel-blue sky, President Bush answered a soldier's shout of "Let's get Saddam!" with a promise Friday to defeat the "mounting danger" of terrorist regimes.
"We will use diplomacy when possible and force when necessary," Bush told thousands of flag-waving members of the storied 10th Mountain Division, many of whom served in Afghanistan.
In a dusty, scorched-grass field, the president rallied troops from a makeshift stage. His 22-minute speech was punctuated by applause and shouts of "Hoo-ah!" -- the traditional Army yell of approval.
Bush did not mention Saddam Hussein or Iraq, Iran and North Korea, countries he has said constitute an "axis of evil," but his audience read between the lines.
"Some parts of the world, there will be no substitute for direct action by the United States. That is when we will send you, our military, to win the battles that only you can win," the president said.
He urged Democrats in the Senate to swiftly pass a huge boost in Pentagon spending already approved by the GOP-led House.
One soldier yelled, "Let's get Saddam!" A thunderclap of applause and shouts forced Bush to pause.
'One thing in common'
He did not react directly to the challenge, but renewed his case, opposed by most U.S. allies, for the United States to intervene against oppressive regimes that produce, hide and prepare to use weapons of mass destruction.
"These tyrants and terrorists have one thing in common: whatever their plans and schemes, they will not be restrained by a hint of humanity or conscience," Bush said. "The enemies of America no longer need great armies to attack our people. They require only great hatred, made more dangerous by advanced technologies."
Bush has summed up Iraqi President Saddam's rule in similar terms.
Before the speech, at a field shaded against the summer heat by camouflaged screens, the president slipped on reading glasses to review the maps and weaponry the division uses.
After the briefing, two Chinook helicopters landed within 100 yards of their commander in chief in the wide expanse of field. Two dozen soldiers in camouflage poured out, formed a perimeter the size of a large pool and lay on their bellies with automatic weapons pointed in defense.
Just then, two Black Hawk helicopters flew in, each dangling a howitzer, which they dropped to soldiers below. As the guns were fired, the blasts rang out across the field and belched white smoke into the faint breeze.
Afterward, snapping off a salute, Bush said, "I'm proud of you guys" and shook hands with the soldiers.