American businessman and former two-time presidential candidate Ross Perot visited Fort Benning troops Friday.
The billionaire and 1953 graduate of the Naval Academy spoke Friday during the Combat Leader Speaker Program, a quarterly event in which military dignitaries are invited to address Fort Benning commanders, cadre, students and trainees. Perot addressed more than 300 officers and noncommissioned officers at the National Infantry Museum to cap his one-day visit, which included greeting wounded warriors, attending a U.S. Army Ranger School graduation and speaking at a re-enlistment ceremony for 27 Soldiers.
“The sacrifices they make are incredible and they don’t even blink,” said Perot of the Soldiers. “I wish every American was made of that same strength.”
Perot, an honorary member of the 75th Ranger Regiment and an honorary Green Beret, spoke to the CLSP attendees about the roots of the U.S. military and the necessity of appreciating everyday freedoms.
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“Our ancestors in the American Revolution were on fire to be free,” Perot said. “A free country needs tough people. History teaches us when you are not free and can’t practice the religion of your choice, you will pay a high price.”
MG Michael Ferriter, Fort Benning’s commanding general, said Perot’s relationship with the Infantry post goes back to 1983 when Perot was awarded the Doughboy Award for his impact on the Infantry force.
“He has been a backer of the U.S. Army, the Infantry, the Airborne and Special Forces,” Ferriter said. “He believes and teaches everyone that if you want to be successful, it’s about leadership, discipline, commitment and duty — his life has been one of action in that regard.”
Perot served four years on a destroyer and an aircraft carrier before resigning his commission to pursue a career in technology. Perot continued to serve the military in a civilian capacity and was presented numerous awards for his efforts to support the military and prisoners of war. Perot said his desire to help POWs and those missing in action was sparked during the Vietnam War.
“When the POWs were being brutally treated in Vietnam, I had this lovely lady come to my office one day with this little baby boy in her arms and she said, ‘My name is Bonnie Singleton and this little boy doesn’t know if his daddy is dead or alive. Could you do anything to find out if he is in fact a prisoner of war?’” Perot said. “It gave me great insight into the sacrifices they made for us. I couldn’t wait to meet the men when they came home. I was overwhelmed by their strength, character, integrity and the fact that they weren’t broken after all that torture, after living in boxes for five years in isolation, after being hung from ceilings.”
Perot was awarded the Medal of Distinguished Public Service — the highest civilian award presented by the Department of Defense — for his efforts to help POWs.
Perot’s other awards include the Sylvanus Thayer Award presented by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; the Eisenhower Award in recognition of his support for the U.S. armed forces; the Jefferson Award for public service and the Patrick Henry Award presented by the National Guard Association of the United States.
Perot ran as an independent candidate in the 1992 presidential election and as a Reform Party candidate in 1996.