President Barack Obama greets troops from U.S. Forces Iraq as they arrive home from Iraq on Joint Base Andrews, Md., Dec. 20, 2011. (DOD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. (December 20, 2011) — President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, welcomed the final group of U.S. troops home from Iraq here today.
As the senior leaders looked on, Carter lauded Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the last commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, and his troops for their performance of duty.
“Today is a historic day as we commemorate the return of the colors under which our armed forces fought so ably and proudly in Iraq and mark the end of the second longest war in U.S. history,” Carter said.
“Those of you who have arrived this morning bearing the flag of U.S. Forces Iraq represent all those who have served – active duty, reserve, National Guard and civilians.”
Carter said the returning troops’ performance and sacrifices have earned them their nation’s gratitude.
“We, who greet you here at [Joint Base] Andrews, represent a grateful nation,” he said. “We welcome you. We’re proud of you. We’re in your debt. As the president has so eloquently said, ‘Your service belongs to the ages.’”
The deputy defense secretary acknowledged the thousands of service members who died or were wounded while serving in Iraq.
“To the families of the 4,500 troops who made the ultimate sacrifice, to the more than 30,000 troops that bear the wounds of this war and to their families, we lack the words to say what you feel on this day,” Carter said.
“Because try as we may, we can never fully know it,” he continued. “But we do know what your sacrifice means to us, to this nation, and to a world that still depends so much on America for its security.”
Carter praised U.S. forces for their flexibility in accomplishing the mission in Iraq.
“This was a war that asked American troops to be great warriors and also much more,” he said. “Trainers, development experts, road builders, and ultimately, partners in helping the Iraqi people build a better and more hopeful future.”
The chairman also welcomed home the troops, noting they were just in time for the holidays.
“Today, we bring home the colors to United States’ soil,” Dempsey said. “At the same time, we embrace many of our own back into the fold, just in time for the holidays.”
“This is a time to reflect on a generational journey,” he continued, “a journey of over 20 years that took us through two wars with Iraq to a new beginning in our relationship with Iraq.”
American forces’ accomplishments in Iraq have provided the Iraqi people an “unprecedented opportunity to live in peace and prosperity inside Iraq, within the region, for their children,” Dempsey said.
“Because of the courage and resilience of our military and our partners – those in our own government, throughout the world and in Iraq – 30 million Iraqis are free today,” the chairman said.
“It’s a time to recall what we have achieved, what we learned and how we made a difference,” he added. “And it’s a time to remember those who served and those we lost. We all have our memories.”
The deputy defense secretary said the returning troops are beginning “a new chapter of their lives.”
“Some will go to college on the post-9/11 GI Bill. Many others will seek to enter or re-enter the workforce,” Carter said.
“Last week at Fort Bragg, the president underscored our commitment to help our veterans successfully make this transition home. As he said, ‘After years of rebuilding Iraq, we want to enlist our veterans in the work of rebuilding America.’”
Carter reaffirmed the Defense Department’s commitment to ensuring veterans and their families are taken care of.
“On behalf of Secretary [of Defense Leon E.] Panetta, I want you to know that this department, in partnership with agencies across the federal government, will do everything in our power to make good on that promise,” he said.
“For nearly nine years, you answered America’s call,” Carter added. “It’s now America’s turn to answer yours.”