FORT BRAGG, N.C. — President Barack Obama spoke Wednesday to Soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C., welcoming many back who had just returned from Iraq and lauding an end to the nine-year-long war there.
The installation of some 55,000 Soldiers has been a major location from which troops have deployed to Iraq, and the XVIII Airborne Corps comprised the last major U.S. headquarters in Baghdad.
“You — the incredible men and women of Fort Bragg — have been there every step of the way, serving with honor, sacrificing greatly, from the first waves of the invasion to some of the last troops to come home,” Obama said. “So, as your commander in chief, and on behalf of a grateful nation, I’m proud to finally say these two words, and I know your families agree — welcome home.”
Less than 200 U.S. service members will remain in Iraq after the Dec. 31 withdrawal, in order to serve as part of the U.S. Embassy there. But the bulk of Soldiers are already heading out of the country. Installations have been handed over, the president said, and equipment is being shipped out of the country.
“Tomorrow, the colors of United States Forces-Iraq — the colors you fought under — will be formally cased in a ceremony in Baghdad,” he said. “Then they’ll begin their journey across an ocean, back home.”
The last Soldiers will also leave Iraq in coming days, many passing southbound into Kuwait to await redeployment home.
“I can tell you that it will indeed be a part of history,” Obama said. “Those last American troops will move south on desert sands, and then they will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high. One of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the American military will come to an end. Iraq’s future will be in the hands of its people. America’s war in Iraq will be over.”
What America has left behind in Iraq, the president said, is “a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people. We’re building a new partnership between our nations. And we are ending a war not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home.”
For those that served, the president said, America owes them more than gratitude.
“Part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who fought it,” he said. “It’s not enough to honor you with words. Words are cheap. We must do it with deeds. You stood up for America; America needs to stand up for you.”
The president told Soldiers he is committed to ensuring Soldiers get the care and benefits they earned from their service, and “for those of you who remain in uniform, we will do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our force — including your families. We will keep faith with you.”
For those who leave the Army after service, America is committed to providing for those too what they need, the president said.
Included in that, he said, is the Post-9/11 GI Bill, “a national effort to put our veterans to work,” and legislation to pass a tax credit so businesses have incentive to hire veterans.
“The war in Iraq will soon belong to history,” Obama said. “Your service belongs to the ages. Never forget that you are part of an unbroken line of heroes spanning two centuries — from the colonists who overthrew an empire, to your grandparents and parents who faced down fascism and communism, to you — men and women who fought for the same principles in Fallujah and Kandahar, and delivered justice to those who attacked us on 9/11.”