FULL TRANSCRIPT: President Obama's Remarks on the End of the War in Iraq at Fort Bragg, NC
Below are the full remarks, as prepared for delivery, of President Barack Obama’s speech given on the end of the war in Iraq on Wednesday afternoon.
Hello Fort Bragg! All the Way!
Fort Bragg, we're here to mark an historic moment in the life of our country and our military. For nearly nine years, our nation has been at war in Iraq. And 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. 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! Welcome home.
It is great to be here at Fort Bragg-home of the Airborne and Special Operations Forces. I want to thank General Anderson and all your outstanding leaders for welcoming us today, including General Dave Rodriguez and General John Mulholland. I want to give a shout-out to your outstanding senior enlisted leaders, including Command Sergeants Major Roger Howard, Darrin Bohn and Parry Baer. And give a big round of applause to the Ground Forces Band.
We've got a lot of folks in the house today. We've got the 18th Airborne Corps-the Sky Dragons. We've got the legendary, All-American 82nd Airborne Division. We've got America's quiet professionals-our Special Operations Forces. From Pope Field, we've got Air Force. I believe we've got some Navy and Marine Corps too.
And though they're not here with us today, we send our thoughts and prayers to General Helmick, Sergeant Major Rice and all the folks from the 18th Airborne and Bragg who are bringing our troops back from Iraq. And we honor everyone from the 82nd Airborne and Bragg serving and succeeding in Afghanistan, and General Votel and those serving around the world.
And let me just say, one of the most humbling moments I've had as President was when I presented our nation's highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, to the parents of one of those patriots from Fort Bragg who gave his life in Afghanistan-Staff Sergeant Robert Miller.
I want to salute Ginny Rodriguez, Miriam Mulholland, Linda Anderson, Melissa Helmick, Michelle Votel and all the inspiring military families here today. We honor your service as well.
Finally, I want to acknowledge your neighbors and friends who help keep you Army Strong, including Representatives Mike McIntyre, David Price and Heath Shuler, and Governor Bev Perdue. And I know Bev is proud to have done so much for our military families.
Today, I have come to speak to you about the end of the war in Iraq.
Over the last few months, the final work of leaving Iraq has been done. Dozens of bases with American names that housed thousands of American troops have been closed down or turned over to Iraqis. Thousands of tons of equipment have been packed up and shipped out. Tomorrow, the colors of United States Forces-Iraq-the colors you fought under-will be formally cased in a ceremony in Baghdad. Then, they'll begin their journey across an ocean, back home.
Over the last three years, nearly 150,000 U.S. troops have left Iraq. And over the next few days, a small group of American soldiers will begin the final march out of the country. Some are on their way back to Fort Bragg. As General Helmick said, "They know that the last tactical road march out of Iraq will be a symbol and they are going to be a part of history."
As your Commander-in-Chief, I can tell you that it will, indeed, be a part of history. Those last American troops will move south on desert sands. 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.
We knew this day would come. We have known it for some time now. But still, there is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long.
Nine years ago, American troops were preparing to deploy to the Persian Gulf and the possibility that they would be sent to war. Many of you were in grade school. I was a State Senator. Many of the leaders now governing Iraq - including the Prime Minister - were living in exile. Since then, our effort in Iraq has taken many twists and turns. It was a source of great controversy here at home, with patriots on both sides of the debate. But the one constant was your patriotism; your commitment to fulfill your mission; and your abiding commitment to one another.
It is harder to end a war than to begin one. Indeed, everything that American troops have done in Iraq - all the fighting and dying; bleeding and building; training and partnering - has led us to this moment of success. Of course, Iraq is not a perfect place. But we are leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people. We are 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.
This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making. And today, we remember everything that you did to make it possible.
We remember the early days - the American units that streaked across the sands and skies of Iraq. In battles from Nasiriyah to Karbala to Baghdad, American troops broke the back of a brutal dictator in less than a month.
We remember the grind of insurgency - the roadside bombs, sniper fire, and suicide attacks. From the "triangle of death" to the fight for Ramadi; from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south - your will proved stronger than the terror of those who tried to break it.
We remember the specter of sectarian violence - al Qaeda's attacks on mosques and pilgrims; militias that carried out campaigns of intimidation and assassination. In the face of ancient divisions, you stood firm to help those Iraqis who put their faith in the future.
We remember the surge and the Awakening - when the abyss of chaos turned toward the promise of reconciliation. By battling and building block by block in Baghdad; by bringing tribes into the fold and partnering with Iraqi Army and police, you helped turn the tide toward peace.
And we remember the end of our combat mission and the emergence of a new dawn - the precision of our efforts against al Qaeda in Iraq; the professionalism of the training of Iraqi Security Forces; and the steady drawdown of our forces. In handing over responsibility to the Iraqis, you preserved the gains of the last four years, and made this day possible.
Just last month, some of you-members of the Falcon Brigade--turned over the Anbar Operations Center to the Iraqis in the type of ceremony that has become commonplace over these last several months. In an area that was once the heart of the insurgency, a combination of fighting and training; politics and partnership brought the promise of peace. As the local Iraqi deputy governor, put it, "This is all because of the U.S. forces' hard work and sacrifice."
Hard work and sacrifice. Those words only begin to describe the cost of this war, and the courage of the men and women who have fought it.
We know well the heavy cost of this war.
More than 1.5 million Americans have served in Iraq. Over 30,000 Americans have been wounded. Nearly 4,500 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice-including 202 fallen heroes from here at Fort Bragg. And today, we pause to say a prayer for all those families who have lost a loved one, for they are all a part of our broader American family.
We also know that these numbers do not tell the full story of the Iraq War - not even close. Our civilians have represented our country with skill and bravery. Our troops have served tour after tour of duty, with precious little dwell time in between. Our Guard and Reserve units stepped up with unprecedented service. You've endured dangerous foot patrols and the pain of seeing your friends and comrades fall. And you've had to be more than soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen - you've also been diplomats and development workers; trainers and peace-makers. You've shown why the United States military is the finest fighting force in history.
We also know that the burden of war is borne by your families. In countless base communities like Bragg, folks have come together in the anguished absence of a loved one. As the Mayor of Fayetteville put it, "War is not a political word here. War is where our friends and neighbors go." There have been missed birthday parties and graduations. There are bills to pay and jobs that have to be juggled with picking up the kids. For every soldier that goes on patrol, there are the husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters praying that they come back.
So today, as we mark the end of the war, let's also give a heartfelt round of applause for every military family that has carried such a heavy load these last nine years. You have the thanks of a grateful nation.
Part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who have fought it. It's not enough to honor you with words; we must do so with deeds. You have stood up for America; now America must stand up for you. That is why, as your Commander-in Chief, I am committed to making sure that you get the care, benefits and opportunities that you have earned. 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 help our wounded warriors heal, and stand by those who suffer the unseen wounds of war. And make no mistake, as we go forward as a nation, we're going to keep America's armed forces the strongest fighting force the world has ever seen.
But our commitment to you doesn't end when you take off the uniform. You are the finest that our nation has to offer. And after years of rebuilding Iraq, we want to enlist our veterans in the work of rebuilding America. That's why we are committed to doing everything that we can to extend more opportunities to those who have served.
That includes the post-9/11 GI Bill - so that you and your families can get the education that can help you live your dreams. And that includes a national effort to put our veterans to work. We've worked with Congress to pass a tax credit so that companies have an incentive to hire vets. And Michelle has worked with the private sector to get commitments to create 100,000 jobs for those who've served. We are doing this because it's not just the right thing to do by you - it's the right thing to do for America. Folks like my grandfather came back from World War II to form the backbone of our middle class. For our post-9/11 veterans - with your skill, discipline, and leadership, I am confident that the story of your service to America is just beginning.
But there is something else that we owe you. As Americans, we have a responsibility to learn from your service. Think of Lieutenant Alvin Shell, who was based here at Fort Bragg. A few years ago, on a supply route outside Baghdad, he and his team were engulfed by flames from an RPG attack. Covered with gasoline, he ran into the fire to help his fellow soldiers, and then led them two miles back to Camp Victory where he collapsed, covered in burns. When they told him he was a hero, Alvin disagreed. "I'm not a hero," he said. "A hero is a sandwich. I'm a paratrooper."
We could do well to learn from Alvin and all of you. Yes, policymakers and historians will continue to analyze the strategic lessons of Iraq. And our commanders will incorporate hard-won lessons into future military campaigns. But the most important lesson that we can take from you is not one of military strategy - it is a lesson about our national character.
For all of the challenges that our nation faces, you remind us that there's nothing that we Americans can't do when we stick together. For all of the disagreements that we face, you remind us that there is something bigger than our differences that makes us one nation, one people. It's why the United States military is the most respected institution in our land. It's why you, the 9/11 generation, have earned your place in history.
Because of you-because you sacrificed so much for a people that you had never met, Iraqis have a chance to forge their own destiny. Unlike the empires of old, we did so not for territory or resources. Indeed, there can be no fuller expression of America's support for self-determination than our leaving Iraq to its people.
Because of you, in Afghanistan, we've broken the momentum of the Taliban, and begun a transition to the Afghans that will allow us to bring our troops home. And around the globe, as we've drawn down in Iraq, we've gone after al Qaeda so that terrorists who threaten America will have no safe-haven, and Osama bin Laden will never again walk the face of the Earth.
And so here is the bottom line that all of our men and women in uniform must know: because of you, we are ending these wars in a way that will make America stronger and the world more secure.
That success was never guaranteed. For let us never forget the source of American leadership: our commitment to the values that are written into our founding documents, and a unique willingness among nations to pay a great price for the progress of human freedom and dignity. That is who we are. And that is what we do as Americans.
The war in Iraq will soon belong to history, and 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.
Looking back on the war that saved our union, a great American - Oliver Wendell Holmes - once paid tribute to those who served. "In our youth," he said, "our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing."
All of you here today, you have lived through the fires of war, and you will be remembered for it, and honored for it - always. You have done something profound with your lives. When this nation went to war, you signed up to serve. When times were tough, you kept fighting. When there was no end in sight, you found a light in the darkness.
Years from now, your legacy will endure. In the names of your fallen comrades etched on headstones at Arlington, and the quiet memorials across our country. In the whispered words of admiration as you march in parades, and in the freedom of our children and grandchildren. In the quiet of night, you will recall that your heart was once touched by fire. You will know that you answered when your country called; you served a cause greater than yourselves; and you helped forge a just and lasting peace with Iraq, and among all nations.
So God bless you all, God bless your families, and God bless the United States of America.