44 @ Fort Bragg
Today, I’ve 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 the 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 that country. Some of them 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’re
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, 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.
Now, we knew this day would come. We’ve known it for some time. But
still, there is something profound about the end of a war that has
lasted so long.
Now, 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. And since then, our efforts in Iraq have taken many
twists and turns. It was a source of great controversy here at home,
with patriots on both sides of the debate. But there was one constant
-- there was one constant: your patriotism, your commitment to fulfill
your mission, your abiding commitment to one another. That was
constant. That did not change. That did not waiver.
It’s harder to end a war than begin one. Indeed, everything that
American troops have done in Iraq -– all the fighting and all the dying,
the bleeding and the building, and the training and the partnering -–
all of it has led to this moment of success. Now, Iraq is not a perfect
place. It has many challenges ahead. But we’re leaving behind 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.
This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the
making. And today, we remember everything that you did to make it
We remember the early days -– the American units that streaked across
the sands and skies of Iraq; the battles from Karbala to Baghdad,
American troops breaking the back of a brutal dictator in less than a
We remember the grind of the insurgency -– the roadside bombs, the
sniper fire, the 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 campaigns of assassination. And in the face of ancient
divisions, you stood firm to help those Iraqis who put their faith in
We remember the surge and we remember 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 the Iraqi army and police, you helped turn the tide
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
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. And here’s what the local Iraqi deputy governor said: “This is
all because of the U.S. forces’ hard work and sacrifice.”
That’s in the words of an Iraqi. Hard work and sacrifice. Those
words only begin to describe the costs of this war and the courage of
the men and women who fought it.
We know too well the heavy cost of this war. More than 1.5 million
Americans have served in Iraq -- 1.5 million. Over 30,000 Americans
have been wounded, and those are only the wounds that show. Nearly
4,500 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice -- including 202 fallen
heroes from here at Fort Bragg -- 202. So today, we pause to say a
prayer for all those families who have lost their loved ones, for they
are part of our broader American family. We grieve with them.
We also know that these numbers don’t 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 you’ve endured the pain of seeing your friends and comrades
fall. You’ve had to be more than soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and
Coast Guardsmen –- you’ve also had to be diplomats and development
workers and trainers and peacemakers. Through all this, you have shown
why the United States military is the finest fighting force in the
history of the world.
As the Mayor of Fayetteville put it, “War is not a political word
here. War is where our friends and neighbors go.” So there have been
missed birthday parties and graduations. There are bills to pay and
jobs that have to be juggled while picking up the kids. For every
soldier that goes on patrol, there are the husbands and the wives, the
mothers, the fathers, the sons, the daughters praying that they come
So today, as we mark the end of the war, let us acknowledge, let us
give a heartfelt round of applause for every military family that has
carried that load over the last nine years. You too have the thanks of a
Policymakers and historians will continue to analyze the strategic
lessons of Iraq -- that’s important to do. Our commanders will
incorporate the hard-won lessons into future military campaigns --
that’s important to do. But the most important lesson that we can take
from you is not about military strategy –- it’s a lesson about our
For all of the challenges that our nation faces, you remind us that
there’s nothing we Americans can’t do when we stick together.
For all the disagreements that we face, you remind us there’s
something bigger than our differences, something that makes us one
nation and one people regardless of color, regardless of creed,
regardless of what part of the country we come from, regardless of what
backgrounds we come out of. You remind us we’re one nation.
And that’s why the United States military is the most respected
institution in our land because you never forget that. You can’t afford
to forget it. If you forget it, somebody dies. If you forget it, a
mission fails. So you don’t forget it. You have each other’s backs.
That’s why you, the 9/11 Generation, has 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.
That’s part of what makes us special as Americans. Unlike the old
empires, we don’t make these sacrifices for territory or for resources.
We do it because it’s right. There can be no fuller expression of
America’s support for self-determination than our leaving Iraq to its
people. That says something about who we are.
Because of you, in Afghanistan we’ve broken the momentum of the
Taliban. Because of you, we’ve begun a transition to the Afghans that
will allow us to bring our troops home from there. And around the
globe, as we draw down in Iraq, we have 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 this Earth.
Because of you, we are ending these wars in a way that will make America stronger and the world more secure. Because of you.
That success was never guaranteed. And 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. This is who we are. That’s what we do as Americans, together.
The war in Iraq will soon belong to history. 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 have lived through the fires of war. You will
be remembered for it. You will be 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 light in the darkness.
And 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 our
grandchildren. And 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; you
helped forge a just and lasting peace with Iraq, and among all nations.
I could not be prouder of you, and America could not be prouder of you.
God bless you all, God bless your families, and God bless the United States of America