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.
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.
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 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,”
“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
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.”
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.”