December 15, 2011
By Sgt. Jessica M. Kuhn, XVIII Airborne Corps PAO
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — “As your commander in chief and on behalf of a grateful nation, I am proud to finally say these two words — welcome home,” President Barack Obama said, causing a loud joyful roar from the crowd at Pope Army Airfield here, Dec. 14.
More than 3,000 service members gathered to witness Obama’s speech marking the end of the war in Iraq.
“Fort Bragg, we are here to mark a historic moment,” Obama said. “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 while sacrificing greatly from the first waves of the invasion to some of the last troops to come home.”
Prior to the president’s speech First Lady Michelle Obama also expressed her admiration to all the service members as well as their families.
“When I look out at this crowd, I have to tell you I am simply overwhelmed and proud because I know the level of strength and commitment that you all display every single day,” she said. “Although your children, spouses, siblings and family members don’t wear a uniform, they serve right beside you.”
Moreover, the president spoke of how the U.S. military’s work during both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“All the fighting, all the crying and all the bleeding as well as the building, training and partnering has all led to this moment of success,” Obama said. “Iraq is not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead, but we are leaving behind a solid, stable and self-reliant 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 a final march home — an extraordinary achievement that was nine years in the making.”
After hearing the president’s praise during his speech, many Soldiers felt they had really contributed to the success in Iraq, said Staff Sgt. Luis Figueroa, a paratrooper with 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
“His speech made me feel like I actually accomplished something while serving in the Army,” Figueroa said. “We helped build Iraq to where we can leave and let them run their own country.”
However, the war in Iraq ending only meant one thing to the airborne Soldiers of Fort Bragg: now they can focus all their training and attention on Afghanistan, said Sgt. Michael Way, a paratrooper with 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Abn. Div.
“It’s nice to know the war in Iraq is ending so we can close that chapter and focus primarily on Afghanistan,” Way said. “We will always do what we need to do, and hopefully, eventually we will bring home everyone from there as well.”
Besides talking about the ending of the war, both the president and first lady spoke about their plans for service members in the future.
“We are going to keep finding new ways to serve all of you as you have served us,” Mrs. Obama said. “The man leading the way is standing right here. He is fighting for you and your families every day. He is helping veterans and family members go to college through the post 9/11 Montgomery GI Bill, improving mental health care, cutting taxes to business’s who hire veterans, and he has kept his promise to bring you home from Iraq.”
“I plan to make sure you get the benefits and opportunities that you deserve,” Obama said. “You are the finest our nation has to offer. We are committed to doing everything we can to extending opportunities to those who have served our nation.”
In the end, the president couldn’t stress enough how impressed he was with the U.S. military’s commitment to completing the mission.
“You have had to be more than Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen. You have also had to be diplomats, developers, trainers and peacemakers,” Obama said. “In all of this, you have shown why the U.S. military is the finest fighting force in this great world.”