Sen. John Ensign honored two Nevada soldiers Monday for their part in the war effort in Iraq, which he says remains critical to ensuring U.S. security as well as helping Iraqis.
The Nevada Republican also told about 100 students at Reed High School that the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment protecting the right to bear arms is the most important of all the Bill of Rights because the first step taken by dictators like Saddam Hussein is to take away citizens'guns.
"War is a terrible thing. We never want to do it,"Ensign said.
"But there is evil in the world. There just is. We are there because it is important for our security. But it is also important to the Iraqi people,"he said.
"These people were brutalized under Saddam Hussein. There are hundreds of thousands of people found buried in mass graves. Young people were tortured,"he said.
Ensign presented congressional awards to Army Spc. Lucy Lopez of Reno and Air Force Maj. Tami Rougeau, describing them as"real local heroes"in front of a red-white-and-blue banner in the school theater that read,"We Support Our Troops."
"It's one thing to hear about it on television. It's another thing to hear about it from someone who was there,"he said in explaining why he invited the two young women to the school to appear with him.
Lopez earned the Purple Heart and recently returned home after she was injured in a land mine explosion in Iraq.
Lopez said she was driving outside of Baghdad when her vehicle struck the land mines. She was hit with shrapnel in her neck, leg, arm, hip and ear and now is partially deaf in her left ear.
"But I'm doing fine now,"she said.
Air Force Maj. Tami Rougeau returned home recently after being in charge of medical evacuations at nearby Qatar bordering Saudi Arabia.
"Nothing matches the honor you feel serving your country,"Rougeau said.
"There's a lot of tragedy, but we are improving the world and the situation for people who have had a very rough go of it for a very long time... When our job is done and we leave there, the society that we've left behind will be better off,"she said.
Ensign, who was visiting Iraq when Saddam Hussein was captured last month, said soldiers like Lopez and Rougeau are"going beyond the call of duty,"not just waging the battle but helping do things like rebuilding Iraqi schools.
"Every time they go out to do something like that, they are literally taking their lives in their hands. That is the kind of sacrifices our people in uniform are making,"he told the students.
"You have the freedom to sit here, to worship however you want to worship, to learn, to protest, to do whatever you want to do because of the men and women who don the uniform. Without them being willing to make the sacrifice, we don't have the freedom that we have."
Ensign spent an additional 30 minutes taking questions from students on a variety of topics. He said he intends to vote to repeal a ban on assault weapons, which he called"the stupidest law that was ever written.
"Without the Second Amendment, you might as well throw away the rest of the Bill of Rights. It sounds like kind of a radical statement but I don't know if there is a truer statement,"Ensign said.
"Every dictatorship that has ever existed, the first thing they do - Saddam Hussein, Adolph Hitler, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot in southeast Asia - the first thing they do is disarm the citizenry.
"Because if you disarm the citizenry, then you can trust them. If they are armed, you can't trust them. That is why our founding fathers recognized the right to keep and bear arms is so critical,"he said.
Ensign said the assault weapons ban is ineffective because it allows some guns that look like and function in the same way as other prohibited guns.
"All you need to know about gun control is to look at Washington D.C., which has the strictest gun control laws in the country and it is one of the least safest cities. All the criminals have guns and none of the law-abiding citizens have guns,"he said."It is just too easy to get guns illegally to ever ban them."